Best practice sponsorship is strategic. It’s creative. It’s amazingly multifaceted, measurable, and just bloody amazing. But it’s also different, and a lot of companies just aren’t good at change. Change requires vision, so if that’s what’s needed, establishing that becomes your job.
Before we get into how to fix it, let’s talk about a few of the major categories of vision-challenged sponsors.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
This is a big one for market leaders. So many market leaders are terrible sponsors. They haven’t changed the way sponsorship has been done for at least ten years – aside from some uninspired social media activity – and seem to lack any sort of vision for what sponsorship can accomplish for them.
The approach is hinged on the idea that the fact that they’re market leaders mean they’re already doing everything right – or at least right enough that they don’t need to upgrade their approach. Corporate arrogance rules the sponsorship portfolio.
This is the company that has handbooks and checklists for everything. EVERYTHING! Efficiency rules the day and true creativity is seen as a flaky indulgence for other companies. Real marketers don’t last long and managing sponsorship is seen as an admin role.
Sponsorship is an expense
This is an oldie, but a goodie. The C-suite, particularly finance, sees sponsorship as an expense, not a marketing investment. The portfolio is marked by me-too and defensive sponsorships – costs that are driven by the actions of competitors, not the needs of brands. The unique power of sponsorship is not understood and totally undervalued by those who approve budgets and policies.
The consultant said so
There are consultants who are great strategists with the courage of their convictions and the experience to back it up. Then there are consultants who make a living by telling people what they want to hear. If you’ve got a strategy that was developed by one of those, you may have influential people who believe it’s the best thing going and simply don’t look past the recommended fine tuning to what’s really possible with an overhaul.
What to do about it?
There are two main options for establishing vision in an entrenched sponsorship culture. You can do one. You can do both. But you have to do something.
Do a pilot
The longest journey starts with a single step, and your single step is a pilot program – that one sponsorship that you can use to showcase a new approach and develop a vision for what sponsorship can achieve for your company.
Your first step is to assemble a team of decision-makers and influencers from across departments and business units that could potentially benefit from sponsorship. Set a date, schedule 90 minutes, offer sandwiches if you have to, and tell them it’s a bold new approach and you only need them to commit to one session.
That session is going to be – above all else – about directed creativity. It is about coming up with a range of ideas for creating the third “win” for target markets (see “Last Generation Sponsorship” for more), achieving your marketing goals if you could do anything, and integrating it across your marketing activities. Need a framework? You may want to get a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit for all of it, step-by-step.
If you’re getting into a big, new sponsorship, that’s the perfect excuse to try something big and new.
If not, and if attitudes toward sponsorship are really entrenched, you may want to suggest trying something different to reinvent a stale sponsorship that has little care factor. You’re essentially suggesting a pilot program with a minimum of perceived risk. Of course, best practice sponsorship is actually less risky than old school sponsorship, but if there’s no vision, they won’t see that. Just take what you have to work with and run with it.
The other option is to simply get a stakeholder team together and develop a leverage and measurement plan for a key sponsorship. Document the recommended course of action alongside what has happened with that sponsorship in the past and put it forward to key people as an alternative approach – one in line with best practice. Given the cross-departmental buy-in, it’s unlikely the C-suite is going to ignore it.
Whichever approach you take, your job is not just to do the best job of leveraging you possibly can, but to document and report the results.
Hire a consultant
I’m a consultant – that’s not a secret. What most people don’t know is that a big part of my job is giving senior executives the advice and recommendations that their teams can’t. I wish that wasn’t the case and that fear, conservatism, and politics didn’t permeate some corporate cultures like it does. But the fact is that some companies value outside advice more than they value the opinion of their own staff, and if that’s the case, you may need help.
If you’ve already got a draft strategy and the main issue is politics, hire a sponsorship consultant to run your planning session and prepare a recommendation off the back of it.
If you need an overall sponsorship strategy and policy, and it’s going to be more likely to be approved if a top consultant creates it, that may be your best bet. The cost may be significant, but it will pale in comparison to the increases in results you’ll get by elevating your results.
If you’re going to go down the track of getting a consultant, do ensure that you get someone very credible. If all you need is ideas and advice, you can get anyone with some talent. If you’re trying to effect organisational change around sponsorship, credibility and a track record is essential.
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