Never Sell Title Sponsorships, (Unless You Have To)


Toys for Teens


It’s Christmas time in the States and American’s open their hearts and their wallets to causes of all kinds.

Since the early post-WWII years, one of the organizations that Americans have responded to generously is Toys for Tots, now known as the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. In 2005 they took in $233 million in receipts and gave out $221 million in toys.

The original mission was to give at least one toy to a child orphaned by the war at Christmas time. As the orphans grew up, the mission changed from giving toys to war orphans to giving them to children in poverty. Toys for Tots remains very much a military operation. Here’s their stated mission, for instance:

“The mission of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is to raise funds to provide toys to supplement the collections of local Toys for Tots coordinators; defray the costs of conducting annual Toys for Tots campaigns; provide administrative, advisory, financial, logistic and promotional support of local coordinators; provide other support that the Marine Corps, as a federal agency, cannot provide; and conduct public education and information programs, which call the general public to action in support of Toys for Tots.”

They have toy drop-off locations in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. A few days before Christmas Marine Reservists in uniforms and volunteers pick up the toys and they’re delivered to waiting children.

In 2001, with the sponsorship of Best Buy (a national electronics retailer), they launched Toys for Teens, which is probably self-explanatory. The logo for Toys for Teens incorporates Best Buy’s logo. This kind of title sponsor co-branding is very tricky. You have to balance the support you get from the title sponsor against the question, could I get more (from more sponsors) if I don’t sell the title?

When I was at Children’s Miracle Network the immortal Tim McInnis (now in development at the University of Utah) sold a poster child campaign called ‘Champions Across America’ and ‘Champions Across Canada’ to IOF Foresters (nee 'Foresters') for a cool $3 million. In time I got that account. When I left Children’s Miracle Network, two of the lessons I was sure I had learned was never sell title sponsorship and try your best to keep exclusivity off the table, too.

The problem, as I saw it, was that title sponsorship crowds everybody else out. A charity program is not like a sports arena which can be named for a sponsor on the outside of the building, but still have plenty of room for other sponsors on the inside. You just can’t pack that many sponsors into a nonprofit campaign when there’s a title sponsor.

Toys for Teens and Best Buy cleverly straddle the issue by calling the campaign ‘Toys for Teens’ rather than ‘Best Buy Toys for Teens.’ The logo says ‘title sponsor’ but nothing else does.
As for Children’s Miracle Network, the fact is, when Tim sold the Champions campaign, we were darn glad for it. It was only after a few years of building equity into the campaign that we begin to wonder if we couldn’t get more for it.

The lesson? Don’t sell a title sponsorship (unless you have to). And try to get away with ‘splitting the baby’ like Toys for Teens has.

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