Linking a corporate name with a "gold-plated brand" like Whistler's could have big payoffs for both the municipality and the corporate sponsor.
That's what the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is banking on as it sets the ball rolling for the development of a sponsorship program that leaves no public stone unturned — public parks, facilities, programs and events could all have the potential to attract sponsors.
"It will be interesting to see what comes out of this," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, of the recently released Request For Proposals (RFP). "There's not a lot of free money around these days but so much of what we do is successful and would be appealing, I think, for anybody who was interested in putting their name forward, or at least, their money forward. We'll see what happens."
The RFP is for an "asset inventory and valuation" that would pinpoint tangible and intangible benefits to potential sponsors and the sponsorship value of each municipal asset. What is the value, for example, of the naming rights for the library, or for Meadow Park, or sponsoring an event in Whistler Olympic Plaza during the summer? The budget for the RFP will come from the municipal Festivals, Events & Animation non-programming budget which has a line item of $125,000 for "research/marketing."
This evaluation is the first critical step in developing a program, said Dr. Lindsay Meredith, a marketing strategy professor in the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, who spends part of his time in Whistler and knows the community well.
"Once you do that, then you have something to define your brand," he said of the RFP. "You can't say 'I'm a nice brand, come and buy me.' It doesn't work that way. So, how do I do that? Step one — I've got to know what the hell I have to offer and that means I have to have an inventory of what I do have to offer."
The payoff could be worthwhile, added Meredith.
There is, he said, "huge" appetite for sponsorship opportunities. It's a way of making a name, making an impression.
This, despite the fact that Whistler's iconic World Ski and Snowboard Festival lost its title sponsor, Telus, last year, after a seven year run. Festival organizers were unable to find a replacement for the 2013 festival happening April 12-24.
But two things are happening in mass media right now, said Meredith.
The first is the clutter — that "massive overload of advertising and communication."
The average commuter in a big city, for example, is exposed to more than 5,000 ads a day.
"We'd go crazy if we tried to absorb the information so what do we do? We block it all out, of course. So all that money gets spent and it bounces off us like rubber bullets. We get immune to it because we can't afford to trash up our brain with all that extraneous junk. So, the question is: how do I get around that? How do I get you to pay attention to me because everybody else is trying to pull the same trick?"
The other issue at play is that the younger generation is absorbing information off the Internet, making the traditional forms of mass media less effective.
So what do you do to get your name, your brand out there and resonate with people? Potentially look to sponsorship to create that bond with the community and consumers, said Meredith.
"The RMOW and the mountains are pretty much what I would call a gold-plated brand," he added. "Everybody wants to be hanging out with a gold-plated brand."
But, he cautioned, Whistler has to be careful about who it's holding hands with.
"You're known by the friends you keep, is the old saying I give my kids," said Meredith.
"Classic example, the RMOW wouldn't touch a cigarette sponsorship with a barge pole."
"A lot of this is all about money and a lot of this is all about image and hanging out with the right kind of people."
Who would you rather have as your sponsor, asked Meredith, Mercedes Benz or the Polish Lada?
"It has to be consistent with your image. Both parties have to see a payoff in the alliance," he said.
Wilhelm-Morden recognizes that.
"We've put a lot of things out there," she said. "It doesn't mean we will go down the road with everything that comes back. If there are expressions of interest in all kinds of buildings, programs, so on, that would be probably a good thing but we will want to pick and choose."
She's not sure where any added revenue would go at this point.
"Certainly anything we can do to offset the requirement from property tax revenues is a good thing but I think we just want to see what's out there before we decide where it's going to go," said the mayor.
The sponsorship sales kits would be developed and distributed in 2014 with a goal of securing deals for 2015.