I’ve been doing sponsorship a very long time, and I’ve seen the growth of best practice through four very distinct generations. When we finally got to this generation, Last Generation Sponsorship, it was like a thousand gigawatt light bulb went off over the head of our industry. It was a collective, “Of COURSE that’s what it’s about! What HAVE we been doing before this?!” It’s exciting. It’s amazing. It’s massively creative and fun.
But not everyone saw that light.
Every day, I meet sponsors who are stuck in one of the previous generations. Sometimes, it’s a lack of skill in frontline sponsorship staff. Other times, the sponsorship or brand manager gets it, but the organisational culture doesn’t support the change.
The good news is that becoming a best practice sponsor isn’t that difficult. In fact, it makes a lot more sense than the approaches that came before it. But change requires an acceptance that what you’re doing isn’t best practice, and isn’t delivering the best result for your brand.
So, at the risk of looking like one of those “What colour is your aura?” or “Who is your Harry Potter soulmate?” quizzes, here is my take on the attributes of the four generations of sponsors. If you see your company in any of the previous generations, I’ve included some suggested solutions and resources to help your approach grow.
First Generation Sponsorship
If your sponsorship program has any of the following traits, you are operating in the First Generation of sponsorship:
- A preoccupation with exposure, awareness, or branding
- Little or no leverage activity, coupled with a belief that the sponsorship itself – the visibility, tickets, hospitality, etc – will deliver your results
- Measurement, if any, is of mechanisms, not results against overall marketing and business objectives
You need to totally overhaul your organisational approach to sponsorship. Education is your first and best option, but this is much more than just educating the person/people who look after your sponsorship. You need to educate both the frontline sponsorship and brand management, as well as stakeholders across your organisation, any or all of which could benefit from leveraging sponsorship against their objectives.
You will also need to redevelop your entire sponsorship strategy. You may be able to do that yourself, after some education, but you may also be better off working with an external consultant. In organisations where a big turnaround is needed, it’s often more effective if those recommendations come from an objective outsider.
Second Generation Sponsorship
Your company has realised that you have to do something with – leverage – a sponsorship in order to get results, but what you do is very narrow.
Classically, this would be running a sales promotion anchored on the sponsorship, and leaving it at that. But if you are only doing one leverage activity, and that activity is centred on only one very short term goal, you fall into this category. Other examples of this one-dimensional, short-term thinking would be sponsoring a festival, with your sole goal to sell insurance to festival-goers at your booth, or sponsoring something strictly for the hospitality.
You need to build on the understanding that leverage is critical to getting sponsorship results, applying that thinking across channels, departments, objectives, and target markets, in the short- and long-term.
Again, education is going to be critically important. Another very important part of this equation for you will be establishing a sponsorship stakeholder group. This group will work together to develop multifaceted leverage and measurement plans around your sponsorships, wringing every last drop of value from all of your investments.
The First Generation resources are all going to be useful for you. In addition, I particularly recommend reading my blog, “Why Be a Sponsor?”, which goes through the various angles that bring value to your whole company, not just one objective.
Third Generation Sponsorship
Third Generation is a big step up from Second Generation, with sponsors having the following traits – some good, some not so good:
- A range of brand objectives are driving your sponsorship program
- You know that your results come from leverage, not the sponsorship itself
- You’re doing several creative leverage activities for each of your key sponsorship investments
- Multiple departments/stakeholders are leveraging sponsorship across their objectives, often integrating them into already budgeted activities
- You’re measuring results against objectives
- Your leverage focus tends to be around on-site activities
- Your leverage is strongly brand-centric
- You want to be a “brand hero”
- You have been guilty of using sponsorship in a way that is intrusive on, or otherwise diminishes, the fan experience, in order to achieve your brand goals. Examples: Interruption signage, showing TV ads at a sporting game, making your presence and promotion overbearing. The list goes on and on
You’re so close, but what you’re missing is so critical. While the multifaceted and creative approach is fantastic, the brand-centred part of it is inherently selfish, and you won’t get optimal results until this changes.
You don’t need to change your skill-set. You already know how to integrate sponsorship across objectives, markets, and departments. What you need is an attitude adjustment. You have invested in the privilege of connecting with people through something they care about. Your choice, as a sponsor, is whether to understand, respect, and add value to that fan experience, or to disrespect it in a show of brand selfishness.
I’m here to tell you that if you disrespect something that people love, they’re not going to help you achieve your brand goals. If you make that fan experience better for them – really adding meaningful value – you’ll develop alignment and a real openness to your brand that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
You need case studies, and lots of them. They will give you that thousand gigawatt light bulb. You need to see the kinds of things sponsors are doing to add value to the fans’ experience, whether they happen to be at the game/event/whatever or not. A few resources to find cast studies and examples of best practice thinking:
- Read my newest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better” (PDF)
- The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit – This has the whole how-to, interspersed with many great, fan-centric case studies
- Regularly check out #sponsorship on Twitter
- Read the blogs in my Sponsorship Leverage Resources for Corporate Sponsors roundup
You would also be a good candidate for a leverage planning session with a best practice sponsorship consultant, who will provide the structure and guidance to keep you fan-focused. This is one of those processes where if you do it once, you’ll never plan sponsorship leverage the same again. You simply can’t unring that bell.
Last Generation Sponsorship
Why “last” and not “fourth”? Because we are finally focusing on the right thing: The fans.
If the following traits look like your approach, congratulations, because you are in the upper echelon of sponsorship sophistication:
- Your sponsorships are win-win-win; you win, the sponsee wins, and the fans win
- That third win comprises small, meaningful added value activities, generally centred around improving the bad stuff around what you sponsor, or amplifying the best stuff
- You know that aligning with the fan and your customers is more important than aligning with the property
- You understand that meaning, relevance, and fan passion is more powerful for your brand than just getting in front of a lot of people
- Your leverage activities take place across multiple objectives, target markets, departments, and channels
- You welcome fan collaboration, with crowdsourcing, fan-generated content, customisable experiences and content a centrepiece of your activity
- You have moved away from being a brand hero, and instead use sponsorship to make your customers, the fans, or your staff the heroes
- In addition to taking place within whatever you sponsor (at the game/event/whatever), you use the larger themes of the sponsorship to add value to your larger customer base. (Wondering what that means? Read “It’s Not the Size of the Sponsorship, It’s What You Do with It”.)
You don’t need a solution, but you can help to be one for the rest of the industry. Please, please, please share your case studies. Call out old-school thinking in social media, conferences, and your own meetings. Embrace the example you are to help this industry grow and shine.
Need more assistance?
For all you need to know about best practice sponsorship selection, leverage, measurement, management, and more, you may want to get a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.
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