There’s much to be said for local pride, and chances are your equipment dealership gets tapped to support nearly every local event and youth league around.

But ad budgets are limited, and so are the returns on well-intentioned, but ill-placed sponsorships. So it’s important to take a strategic approach to selecting your sponsorships.

Identify the Audience

Research is the starting point to any event or sponsorship opportunity you consider.

Get your OEMs involved wherever possible. They’re the “big stick” that can provide you with co-op dollars and other assistance, including booth staff and even products at large events. Consider how Montana Tractors is the official tractor of the Professional Bull Riders and Mahindra sponsors NASCAR and works with its dealers in local markets.

Leawood, Kan.-based SFP, which produces AVAIL phosphorus enhancer and NutriSphere-N fertilizer manager, found success with a NASCAR sponsorship. SFP sponsored Peyton Sellers as he raced in the 2008 NASCAR Camping World Series and the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series. SFP worked with dealers to invite customers to meet Sellers. The partnership between manufacturer and dealerships made the sponsorship a success.

Demand Exclusivity

Identify the advantages of sponsoring an event by considering how much exclusivity you will garner. Whether you initiate the sponsorship yourself or a group approaches you with the idea, it’s critical to establish in writing exactly what your sponsorship entails. Negotiate for as broad and deep exposure as you can get.

For example, in September 2009, Michelin North America Ag Tires partnered with Purdue Univ. to demonstrate why moving up to large-volume ag tires can reduce soil compaction and improve efficiency. Otterbein, Ind.-based tire dealer Coogle’s Tire donated food for 100 attendees, the tires used in the demonstration and the labor to change the tires. As a result, the dealership got significant, merchandisable coverage in local media.

But Coogle’s Tire wouldn’t have wanted another tire dealer to help sponsor the event. That would split the attention of the attendees. Before you invest in a sponsorship, be sure you will receive — at minimum — segment exclusivity.

Dealers outside of your product segment who have a vested interest in the rural lifestyle market are fine, and frequently helpful. If you want to target equine enthusiasts, partnering with a feed or tack store makes perfect sense. This kind of partnership creates an event that is more compelling for customers, and both businesses stand to benefit by drawing attendance from a merged customer database.

When you negotiate exposure, you’ll want to maneuver for the best booth location if this is an event, or for the best position on the web site for a banner ad, or for the largest or most frequent mentions of your company’s name in promotional literature.

But don’t stop there. The organization that wants your sponsorship may have a mailing list, either electronic or old-fashioned. Push for access to it. A ready-made mailing list for later distribution will be invaluable.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask

Some dealers feel awkward asking for what’s due to them. Remember; it’s your money. Confirm that an event will attract both the quality and quantity of audience you want to reach. Then check the track record of attendance of the event. Then push for all the exposure, exclusivity and access you can get.

All they can say is no. And you can, too. The sponsorship has to work for everyone. But most important, it has to work for you.