Sponsorship Essentials Part 5: Q&A w/ Jason Smith, VP of Corporate Sponsorships & Events at Mountain America Credit Union

By: Claire Lingley 

Jason Smith is the VP of Corporate Sponsorships & Events at Mountain America Credit Union, a Utah-based credit union that is making big waves in the sponsorship industry.  In this week’s edition of “Sponsorship Essentials” he speaks towards his experiences on both the property and corporate sides, the assets that a company should fight for to have a successful sponsorship, and the skills that have gotten him to where he is today.

Q:  You made the transition from the property side, being with BYU and IMG and the like, to the corporate side with Mountain America Credit Union.  Did you find it was an easy transition? 

A:  The transition has been interesting, and it’s been a matter of trying to understand the products and services.  That was especially true right when I came on board, but now I’ve been doing this for a while so I can speak to it very well. 

Overall, it’s been really fun to see both sides of the fence: the property vs. the corporate side. Both sides are focused on helping the company achieve certain marketing goals, but the overall business models are different.  On the property side you’re focusing on new companies to bring onto the property through sales efforts, etc. On the corporate side, working for a credit union for example, you have to understand different products and services, like checking and savings accounts, loans, and you have to understand how you can be successful with your sponsorship assets with the company as it relates to the sponsorship.  On the corporate side, you’re really focused on how you build the business through the sponsorship, rather than on the property side, you’re thinking, how can we add more revenue to the property through sponsorships?

My mindset has changed a little bit with the transition, but ultimately the goal of both sides should be to make sure the sponsorship is successful for the company.

Q: Can you give me one thing you’ve learned sitting on the corporate side, and one thing you’ve learned on the property side?

That universe that we live in is small, and everyone talks.  It’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. 

A:  On the corporate side, you’ve got an overall marketing strategy, however what may be the right marketing mix or asset mix in one area or region or state, may not be the same mix in another.  You have to be flexible in your sponsorships.  That being said, you do have to be consistent and have the right brand, and focus on the overall marketing strategy, but whereas you maybe focused on more branding in one market, you may be more focused on more activation in another market. The corporate side taught me that flexibility is key.

On the property side, there are two main things I have learned:

The first is relationships. The most effective way to be successful on the property side is to ensure you’re building the best relationships that you can, because they are the bloodline of your success.

The second is fulfillment.  I don’t think that gets talked about too much in sponsorship.  Properties that just focus on signing an agreement to hit the numbers, and who don’t really worry about the assets that were promised to be fulfilled, those are the properties and the individuals that wont be very successful.  There’s an element of integrity that must be given to make sure the assets are effective for a company.  When you show that integrity, you’re able to retain clients, maybe even increase their spending.

The sponsorship world is a very niche world, as we know; that universe that we live in is small, and everyone talks.  It’s important to do what you say you’re going to do.  If you’ve built a great relationship with someone, and you’re doing an amazing job on the fulfilment of what you’ve promised, then you’re going to be very successful on the property side.

Q:  In terms of credit unions as a whole, why do you think there’s been such large-scale growth in business over the last decade? And where do you see credit unions headed in the future?

The future is bright for credit unions. 

A:  People love the personal and community feel of credit unions.  We are doing a lot of good in the communities, and I think people are starting to recognize that. One thing we focus on at Mountain America is helping members achieve their financial dreams.  That’s our vision.  When a whole company garners that vision and has the same goal, you see a lot of really amazing things happen.   We’re not for profit, and we are created to serve and help people save money.  By helping the members save money, our members are able to put that money back into the community.  That’s why you’ve seen that growth because of what and how a credit union can influence the community.  We are able to help our members, enable them to save money, and help them truly achieve their financial dreams. 

As far as where they are headed, credit unions really have to maintain growth.  That growth is needed to provide the best rates, the best technology, the best products and services, and ultimately the best member experience that we can.  The overall credit union philosophy is people helping people.  We talk about that a lot here at Mountain America. We are the number one credit union in the western region, and number two nationally for business share accounts. We provide a vital role in helping the economy grow through what we do for our members.  The future is bright for credit unions. 

Q:  What would you say are the three most fundamental sponsorship assets that you look for when procuring sponsorship?

A:  #1 would be Media. Traditional media helps support a lot of the sponsorship assets, so making sure (if it’s available), that we have radio, TV, and some of those traditional media outlets is necessary because those are the elements that really help drive traffic.

#2 would be Assets with Repetitive Exposure.  In the world of sponsorships you have to separate yourself from the rest of the noise, and in some cases, there’s a lot of noise.  You have to make the decision, is there so much noise that maybe we shouldn’t even be there? But in order to stand out, it’s important to have consistent repetition of the brand.  You need to tie your name to something that repeats throughout the event that has a positive connotation to it, something that people can latch onto.

And really, the #3 most fundamental asset I look for is some sort of Community Outreach Program.  If you link a sponsorship with a cause, that makes it that much more powerful.  For example, with our Utah Jazz Sponsorship, we sponsor all the three-pointers: For every three-pointer that the Utah Jazz makes, we donate $50 to the Huntsmen Cancer Foundation.  With that you have a repetitive feature that’s tied in with a cause.  The fans see your brand consistently, and they have a positive association with it because you’re giving back to cancer research.  It helps tie your brand in with the community and really shines a positive light onto what you’re doing as a sponsor.

Q:  What is a sponsorship asset that would be a deal-breaker if you couldn’t include it within a sponsorship deal you were negotiating?

 A:  It would have to be ownership or an element with exclusivity. This goes back to what I was talking about before, with the increase in property numbers to hit.  There’s more and more sponsors, and the clutter can get higher and higher, and you have to be able to carve out at least some elements of exclusivity to separate yourself. Even if it’s not a full exclusivity, you definitely want to create some sort of type of ownership with your assets that you don’t have to necessarily share with someone else.  Make sure you have that separation.

That being said, some of the properties are going to want to split things up.  For example, if there’s 4 quarters of basketball and there’s replay sponsors, a lot of properties will separate it and say, “Okay, 4 separate replay sponsors”.  The more you can say, “No, I want to be the replay for the whole time, “ the better.

You have to really try and find those types of elements where you can carve out your exclusivity and own it.

Q:  Obviously, one of the reasons you’ve gotten to where you are today is because of your skills in negotiating.   What is the one piece of advice you would offer someone who is stepping foot into that boardroom?

A:  You have to do all your homework beforehand so you can be educated going into the discussion.  If you haven’t done your homework on what’s being discussed, then you’re really at a huge disadvantage.

You don’t have to create things, you don’t have to make things up, you just have to use the truth. 

The most important principle in negotiation is using the facts.  Being educated with the facts is, as I like to call it, your sword and your shield in negotiation.  Your sword, because you can use the facts to justify additional assets, and your shield, because you can explain and defend a fair and reasonable investment.

You don’t have to create things, you don’t have to make things up, you just have to use the truth.  The facts will always help you in negotiation.  It’s always been that way for me.  It takes a little bit more time and effort beforehand going into a negotiation to really get all your facts straight, but if you understand all the facts of the situation you will be so empowered to be able to negotiate effectively.

Q:  What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A:  I had a church leader tell me once that if you are kind to others, then any negative efforts towards you will be disarmed.  Treating people with respect and having integrity is probably the most important quality you can have in any business.  That’s really the greatest piece of advice that I’ve ever received from someone.

Q:  A lot of people have room to take that to heart, I imagine.  Lastly, what skills have been the most valuable in getting you where you are today?

A:  That is a good question.  The successes that I’ve been able to have are because I have been able to build strong relationships with people.  People like to do business with people they like, and being able to connect with others has always been a strength of mine.  It takes work and it takes effort.  You have to reach out and ask questions to people. You have to try and find out about who people are and also care about who they are.  It can’t be fake, you have to be real and genuine about it.  That’s the most valuable skill that I’ve been able to develop, just being able to connect with people.

There was a time where I wasn’t as outgoing as I am today.  It just takes having uncomfortable conversations and stretching yourself a little bit and then it becomes easier and easier.  Now, building those relationships is what matters most to me, and it is the thing I look forward to the most.


5 Quick Q’s

Favourite sport to watch?

College Football

Favourite sport to play?


What was the last book you read?

The Greatest Salesman in the World

How do you take your coffee?

I don’t drink coffee.

What 2 things would you want if you were stranded on a tropical island?

That is a tough one, I would want to be able to watch sports, and I want to make sure… well… I should probably flip flop those around!

I want to have my family with me, and I want to be able to watch sports!