Taking sponsorship to another level

A few years ago, Port Harbor Marine President Rob Soucy was on the phone with Sea Ray, discussing the Brunswick brand’s success with event sponsorship. In the spirit of partnership, the boat builder sent Port Harbor a PowerPoint presentation containing the details of its sponsorship program.

The PowerPoint has proven to be extremely useful for the dealership, which has customized it – and the associated sponsorship package – to fit its own event needs.

“We hold a lot of events, which gets very pricey,” Soucy explains. “They have the potential to benefit a lot of people, not just Port Harbor Marine.”

But the file didn’t contain any company secrets, according to Soucy. It detailed the same kind of multi-tiered sponsorship opportunities that most businesses receive all the time from organizations looking for financial support.

While the Maine dealership’s sponsorship sales have varied in the years since it began using the program, its Ride of Your Dreams event is one of its biggest success stories. The sales promotion takes place on a Friday night in July from 4 to 9 p.m. at the dealership’s Spring Point Marina location. During the event, attendees have the opportunity to enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres from an on-site restaurant while they demo boats ranging in size from 28 to 50 feet in length.

Port Harbor sends the sponsorship PowerPoint it has developed for the event to “anyone who could benefit from it,” says Soucy, including boat builder partners, engine companies, banks, insurance companies, car dealers, motorcycle dealers, powersports dealers, restaurants, local vendors and more. Sponsorship packages range from the Platinum Sponsorship – which is priced at $5,000 – to the Bronze Sponsorship – offered at $500. When Sea Ray first received the PowerPoint, it gave the dealership $5,000 toward the event.

“They said they’ve sent it to a dozen dealers, and we were the first ones to take advantage of it,” Soucy explains.

While some companies choose to donate money toward the event, Soucy says others donate time, treasure or talent. That might come in the form of hats, t-shirts, cozies or key chains, which Port Harbor uses to offset the cost of providing customers with owner’s bags. Or it might come in the form of display time and product. A Mercedes dealership, for example, brought cars and salespeople to the event one year. They sold two Mercedes. Soucy says some dealers might see the cars as competition for customers’ discretionary funds, but he doesn’t.

“Our customers are buying Mercedes anyway,” he explains. “One customer told me, ‘My wife got the Mercedes, and I got the boat.’”

Port Harbor doesn’t sell personal watercraft, so it has also worked with a powersports dealer to offer PWCs, scooters and motorcycles on display.

Sponsorship continues despite downturn
Since the downturn began, the percentage of event costs covered by sponsorship has declined, but it is still significant. While sponsorships offset the entire cost of producing Ride of Your Dreams one year, half the cost was covered this past year.

“While three years ago, I could get vendors to participate at some level in most of our events, now they say, ‘Pick which event you want me to support,’” says Soucy. “Now, you have to be more creative and find more vendors.”

In addition, he explains that collecting money from sponsors has become a bigger challenge than in the past. However, despite the additional work involved, it’s still worth the benefit the dealership gains from the program.

Not all events have the same potential to attract sponsors. But by putting together such a sponsorship package, it helps underline the value each event does offer and legitimize the event.

“You have to show them what you’re going to do for them,” he says. “It’s all laid out so there’s no miscommunication.”

Now that many manufacturers have done away with their co-op programs, alternate strategies to acquire funds are even more important. There are always unclaimed funds, says Soucy.

“You’re only going to get what you ask for,” he concludes. “A lot of dealers are afraid to ask. But there’s someone out there that has funds. And if the manufacturers and vendors see the value in it, they’ll be willing to pay.”

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