Is Sponsorship Going Backward?

U-TurnThat was the working title of an opinion piece I wrote that was published in The Australian newspaper earlier this week. The gist of it was that our industry is amazing, but the news around sponsorship in the past six months or so has been heavily slanted toward stories that hurt our industry and our hard-fought credibility.

As examples, I referenced the heavy-handedness of Olympic rights enforcement, the gratuitous guilt-slinging around the comparatively low sponsorship levels of the Paralympians, and the recent, chest-thumping announcement by Cricket Australia that they had hired a company to “measure” their sponsorships 24/7.

Every one of these represents a backslide on sophistication. Every one of them contributes to making sponsorship look less attractive to sophisticated brands and our industry less like we know what we’re doing, painting sponsorship as less strategic, less accountable, and more risky than it really is.

These, and a number of similarly-toned stories around the world, are body blows to the industry and hurt us all, but as much as I wish they hadn’t happened, they have. My point in The Australian is that we, as an industry, need to work extra hard right now to tell the great stories, to promote what best practice is and all the great case studies, to counter-balance the bad news. I specifically called on our industry bodies to step up, as defending and promoting our industry at critical times is at least as important as planning conferences or retweeting industry content.

Well, didn’t that stir the pot?!

The President of Sponsorship Australasia (defunct as of mid-2013) came out a couple of days ago, stating that I was “outdated and completely ignore the huge advance in sophistication that’s occurred in sponsorship measurement over the past few years”. Umm, no. Actually, what I said was that Cricket Australia hiring a company to count logo exposures, sticking a number on it, and calling it “measurement” was circa 1992, and that such a high-profile organisation visibly touting such a backward approach to accountability was bad for the industry.

Yeesh, if there were awards for missing the point, they would surely get one. (Don’t get me started on Sponsorship Australasia and awards…)

That tempest in a teacup aside, I’m going to do what I wish I had the word-count to do in The Australian and make some specific suggestions as to how our industry can help itself.

Associations

Credible sponsorship industry associations are well positioned to promote best practice case studies and advances in sophistication to broader marketing and business media. A big part of the brief of an industry association is to caretake the image and reputation of the industry, and speak up if that reputation is under threat. Some associations are great at this. Some don’t even seem to see it as part of their mission.

If you are a member of a credible sponsorship or event industry association, and they aren’t advocating for the industry at a time when it’s taking some knocks, it’s not a bad idea to suggest that they do – to basically say, “What we’ve seen in the past few months is not reflective of where this industry is or the advances we’ve achieved.”

Case studies

If you’ve got an amazing case study of best practice sponsorship, by all means, provide it to relevant media. Do ensure that you provide details of what was accomplished and how you did it, not just the news that a particular sponsorship happened. Bonus points (for the industry) if you contrast what you’ve done with some of the recent bad news, such as, “Unlike the heavy-handed approach to controlling the fan experience taken by some recent Olympic sponsors, we’ve embraced the best practice approach of enhancing and adding value to the fan experience.”

Spread the word

Pay attention to good case studies when you see them and spread the word. A lot of what we see coming across Twitter is more news than case study, but advocate the good stories you see.

As I typed that, I realised I need to be more proactive about promoting great case studies, as well. If you’ve got one, by all means send me a link by email, Twitter, or message me on the Power Sponsorship Facebook page. If it’s really win-win-win, I’ll help spread the word. (What’s win-win-win? See “Last Generation Sponsorship“.)

If you want to go looking for great case studies, one of my favourite resources is Brian Gainor’s Partnership Activation blog. Get it on RSS for non-stop inspiration.

Stand up for our industry

This is probably the most important point of them all. If you see a story that could damage industry credibility, speak up. Comment on that newspaper story. Blog a rebuttal. Even tweet a rebuttal. Every industry professional that puts their hand up and says, “Just because it’s in the news doesn’t mean it’s reflective of this industry” is helping. Every little bit counts.

As for me?

I will continue to promote best practice sponsorship and do my utmost to provide advice and resources that make it doable for industry professionals at all levels. Plenty of others cover the news of the industry really well – better than I could, I’m sure. My gig is how-to.

I will also stand up for this industry until my dying breath. I DON’T think sponsorship is going backward. Not at all. But it would be easy to think so for the high-profile coverage given to situations that don’t put the best light on our industry.

Sponsorship can and should be, and has largely become, an amazing, sophisticated, and accountable marketing media. We are all incredibly lucky to be in this industry and should be proud of the huge leaps in sophistication we’ve achieved in a relatively short amount of time. But as passionate about what’s happening in our businesses and on our desks, we owe it to this industry we love to channel some of that passion into singing its praises.

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