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In ‘Media in Focus‘ (page 43 if you’re interested) Les Binet and Peter Field identified sponsorship as the media with the highest potential for long-term brand building. We asked Sophie Morris, Board Director of the European Sponsorship Association (ESA) and consultant at Millharbour Marketing, if it was fulfilling its potential.

ESA will be presenting at the #EffWeek satellite event at the IPA along with our other industry partners on Friday 13 October. Book tickets here.

Sponsorship is an incredibly powerful tool to engage with audiences in a way that advertising alone can’t. It has the power to change lives and, on the more humble scale, improve experiences and increase access to events.

It has excellent potential as an effective marketing tool, integrating right across the promotional mix, employee engagement and CSR activities. It can harness engagement from audiences that couldn’t otherwise be reached, as effectively by any other single means.

However, problems occur when it isn’t managed properly as part of the promotional mix and therefore with the same scrutiny in selection, planning, implementation and measurement as other marketing activities. Brands need to make sure that the sponsorship is selected based on its ability to contribute to marketing objectives, that the assets selected are aligned to achieving those objectives, that those assets are activated in the most relevant, appropriate and innovative way. And of course the measurement of effectiveness must be built into the planning from the outset.

There are many companies that use sponsorship very successfully to meet their marketing objectives and contribute to the bottom line. But there are also many more that don’t use it well at all. This results in poor opinions of its ability to be effective and makes them unlikely to keep investing in it.

“I’ve seen too many companies doing sponsorship as a vanity play”

In my opinion sponsorship still lacks the necessary marketing discipline needed to make it an essential element of the marketing mix.

I’ve seen too many companies doing sponsorship for the wrong reasons, either as a vanity play or because the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) is loudest and a company ends up sponsoring an event of that person’s preference, usually to show off or get VIP treatment. This results in the wrong assets being selected for the wrong reasons and a missed opportunity for engaging with both customers and employees.

In the worst cases, some sponsors don’t activate at all beyond handing their logo over at the start of the agreement, they don’t utilise all assets, they don’t integrate with the rest of their marketing and don’t measure any aspect of impact. Often this is because they lack the expertise to know how to best use sponsorship or even what they could expect from it.

Even larger companies can be easily distracted by a great creative idea behind a campaign or, getting the best celebrity ambassador without tying that back to the objectives. Measurement then often relies on getting YouTube Views and social media impressions, measuring the effectiveness of one particular activation but not the whole sponsorship and what affect that had on the objectives in the first place.

Some companies choose to sponsor a particular team or event as a blocking tool to prevent a competitor acquiring that property. Some in this situation then also choose not to invest any more money in activating any of the associated assets. This not only devalues the relationship with the rights holder and their audience, it is also missing out on the opportunity to leverage the initial investment.

“The most important thing to ensure effectiveness is to get the right capability behind it, whether in-house or external.”

Rights holders have a role to play in this too. It is in their interest that sponsors have the most appropriate assets for their objectives, that they activate their assets well, are able to measure impact and receive the expected level of service to want to renew their agreements.

I really do believe that all organisations should consider sponsorship as part of their promotional mix. It might not be right for all, of course, but the most important thing to ensure effectiveness is to get the right capability behind it, whether in-house or external. It is critical to select the right sponsorship property, agree the most appropriate assets, plan the most effective activation of those assets and implement the relevant measurement frameworks in order to best assess impact and inform future planning.

Sponsorship runs a real risk of not being able to prove its effectiveness, if it is not linked to objectives and not measured appropriately. With the very big numbers we see in the press about commercial deals, we have a duty to use that spend wisely and prove the impact it makes to the business.

Effectiveness Week 2016

“Just what the industry needs, great collaboration between clients and agencies on the topics that drive business growth.”

Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

“It’s great to see the IPA in the UK bring the whole industry and particularly the trade bodies together to focus on effectiveness. This new Marketing Effectiveness initiative will enable people across the industry to work together to build on best practice.”

David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS

“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”

Bart Michels, Global CEO Kantar Added Value and Country Leader Kantar UK

“The time spent at #EffWeek was extraordinarily effective. It was great to hear the diverse views from all areas of the industry. All tied together with the common themes of accountability and effectiveness.”

Andrew Canter, Global CEO, BCMA

“It has been a privilege to be part of the inaugural Effectiveness Week. The agenda is one which we at O2 UK feel passionately about. To see and hear perspectives across the industry demonstrates how the breadth of marketing effectiveness is increasingly being valued within businesses. Data, insight, social, customer experience, test and learn, ROI, these are all fundamentals and were covered expansively at the event”.

Sandra Fazackerley, Marketing & Consumer, Telefónica UK Limited

“The full week of effectiveness events brought into clear focus the need for marketers to use data and insight to achieve the key business objectives of growth and profits. Marketers today are in a better position to quantify their knowledge of customers and measure the ability of investments in marketing to increase brand and shareholder value.”

Chris Combemale, Group CEO, DMA