Beyond Print Toolkit Toolkit: Sponsorships

A unique and varied advertising opportunity in the post-print era

By Shira Toeplitz Center

June 27, 2024

A hand coming out of a phone drops coins
Natalya Kosarevich / Shutterstock

The term “sponsorship” is better known in the sports world (“Proud sponsor of the Olympic Games”) or public broadcasting (“This program is brought to you by…”). For news publishers in the post-print era, however, they represent a unique way to package advertising to provide the client with closer alignment to a topic or program. They often include an event, but they can also refer to exclusive opportunities on a specific, predetermined topic, series or product. (This is different from sponsored content, which is reviewed in the sponsored content section). 

In any case, the term “sponsorship” connotes a closer, more supportive relationship between the client and the content. It’s not just a transaction: The sponsor is supporting this work. Think about the public broadcasting example again: There’s a difference between a regular television advertisement in a commercial break and an end-of-program message noting the corporate sponsor supports because they believe in children’s programming. 

There are upsides to this type of sales package: First, it will be unique to your publication, and something the client can’t purchase elsewhere. Second, for advertisers who are seeking an integrated partnership — more than ad buy — this solution delivers a lot of value for all involved. For the client, a sponsorship represents a great opportunity for brand awareness and alignment as opposed to buying access to an audience. From a marketing perspective, sponsorships also signal support for your publication. Another upside to sponsorships: Sponsorship revenue is tax-exempt for nonprofit publishers. (Though the line between sponsorship and advertising can be fuzzy, and it’s always best to consult with a lawyer.) 

For news publishers, the downside of sponsorships and integrated partnerships is that they require more thoughtful work in advance that might not pay off. For example, if the newsroom is producing the content for the sponsorship, then that requires collaboration to set a program and high-level expectations for content (such as general topics and timing). Those selling sponsorships may have to maintain editorial guardrails with clients, which is always a tricky discussion. You may also never find a buyer — a problem that will be exacerbated by hard costs for an event or section that you may be on the hook to execute anyway. 

Here are some of the more common uses for sponsorships in publishing, how they can be put to the best use, and what pitfalls to avoid: 

Events and more

The sponsorship approach and model is most easily applied to events, the type of which will determine what can be offered in a package (see more about types of events in the events section of this guide). However, sponsorship packages can be built for nearly every type of event. They can be a standalone, dominant revenue stream or complement to ticket sales. 

For that reason, it’s best to sketch out in advance what is included in each sponsorship package, and go to market with those in writing, even if they end up changing based on client feedback. Of course, you’ll want to measure the expected sales for these against your hard costs, minus any other revenue streams.

Typically, event sponsorships are tiered by investment level (price), such as a “Presenting” or “Supporting” sponsorship, or  “Gold” or “Silver” sponsorship. Today, most sponsorship packages will include logo placement on print and digital event promotion. For certain events, a sponsor could give opening or closing remarks. They may also have their logo on signage at the event, or in products and information given out to attendees.  

There are opportunities to be creative with sponsorships. For example, a local market could be the “official food sponsor” for an event, supplying both appetizers and a take-home snack in a gift bag. Consider the needs of the client, and stay open to possibilities: Event sponsorships are rarely a simple transaction — they are a consultative deal. You may also want to consider offering category exclusivity to lure some clients. 

Sponsorship packages should also include advertising across platforms. Any appearance of a client logo, even for event promotion (as mentioned above), can be calculated and included as impressions in a media plan. Additionally, sponsorship packages can include print, digital and social ads, too. It’s a great way to build out a full package with known products, especially if your publication is just starting to sell events. 

As you design these packages, consider how you’ll report metrics to the client following the sponsorships. In digital and print sales, you can always point to impressions and circulation, respectively. For events, consider a wrap report with attendance and photos (so you’ll want to take photos during the event). This is also where a blended media package comes in handy: You’ll have more metrics from traditional media to show ROI for the client. 

For news publishers, journalists often play a central role in events. However, if you are involving one of your publication’s journalists as a moderator, you’ll want to work out in advance how the sponsor can give opening remarks (some reporters won’t want to be on stage with an advertiser). Here, it’s also good practice to leverage your business staff, such as your publisher or CEO, as a buffer: Maybe he or she introduces the sponsor and thanks the sponsor before cuing the main event. 

Multi-platform editorial sponsorships

As news publishers move beyond print, some have offered sponsorship of editorial content, such as a series, feature or section. For example, a cable company would “sponsor” the pre-game coverage for the local NFL team. Typically, this means the advertiser would get 100 percent SOV around pre-game coverage throughout the season and across platforms. 

Very important: Editorial sponsorships are different from sponsored content — a product over which the sponsor has complete control (more on this in the native/sponsored content section of this guide). Multiplatform editorial sponsorships are just a way to package your newsroom content for sales purposes that offers the client closer alignment to a specific topic. 

For example, an editorial sponsorship, such as a series on new development in the region, might offer 100 percent SOV for a sponsor, including display advertisements around the content, co-branded social promotion of that content, print ads next to that content or even a company logo noting its support for the series. You can sell this as a package around the series instead of selling display, social, and more as individual products to different clients. 

The upside, again, is that this is a bespoke offering that only your publication can provide. If a client doesn’t just want to buy digital ad impressions in the sports section, this is a unique solution for them that lifts their brand alongside your publication. Ideally, it’s also leveraging existing work, so the hard costs are minimized. 

The downside is that they require planning and internal coordination and can be a tough sell. There’s a deeper level of collaboration required with your newsroom: For example, you’d have to coordinate when the pre-game coverage is published online, and how many stories they expect to publish each time to calculate the impressions. You’ll also want to make sure your advertising technology can target digital ads to that specific content or series. 

If there’s interest in selling this kind of sponsorship, a good place to start is the editorial calendar. Look for ways to package existing offerings, such as a sponsor for an upcoming local travel guide or the Thanksgiving food edition. Seek out what’s going to be minimal internal work but could still have unique value for your clients. 


This product is another great way to try out sponsorship sales that’s also a low lift for your sales team. It’s become best practice in newsletter advertising to have one client own 100 percent share of voice in each email sent, usually with a logo and a couple advertising units (Axios is a great example of this). The best case is for clients to purchase a package of sponsored sends each quarter or year, typically with a discount. 

Exclusivity and disclosure 

A sponsorship deal may include exclusivity, or 100 percent SOV across platforms. If that’s the case, news publishers will want to make it clear that this is a “sponsorship” – not “sponsored content.” As a result, especially in projects involving journalism or journalists, it’s best practice to disclose what role the sponsor had, if any. Even a simple tagline like the following can be sufficient: 

“This event/series was produced by the newsroom. The sponsor had no role in the contents or display.” 

Many times, it’s in the client’s interest to do this, too: They don’t know what will happen during a live discussion, or what content is coming in an upcoming newsletter or unpublished story. They may want that distance. 


Sponsorship tiers: 

  • The Texas Tribune’s TribFest serves as one of the gold standards for event sponsorships in publishing, and its annual conference offers “Premier,” “Major” and “Supporting” levels. 
  • The Atlantic Festival calls their sponsors “underwriters.” 

Editorial Sponsorship: 

  • Boston Globe’s Bold Types features video interviews, stories and more about the region’s business leaders. 
  • Axios Local offers different sponsorships for its email newsletters and other editorial products. 

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