Media is a tough business, and it’s getting tougher every day. With declining revenues and, in so many cases, staff reductions, fewer people are expected to do a good job covering more subjects and more stories. Books and blogs about getting media coverage are always telling marketers to take advantage of their overwork and provide stories that journalists can simply cut-and-paste, making their job easy and making it more likely that the angle you want covered will, in fact, be the angle taken.
The problem with all of that is that sponsorship is a sophisticated, nuanced media, and has advanced well beyond being able to encapsulate its impact in some neat, headline-friendly number. It’s about passions, preference, and perceptions. It’s about changes in behaviour and developing alignment that goes well beyond an appreciation of functional benefits. It requires some expertise on the part of journalists to sift the meaningful information and case studies from the weak-arse propaganda.
The result of all of this is that our industry is often unfairly represented, particularly in media that has a broader marketing or business focus. And because those media have that broader focus, a lot of decision-makers who could be getting great information that gives them a vision of what sponsorship can do for their brands, are getting flawed information that doesn’t reflect the sophistication and impact of this amazing marketing tool.
Below, I’ve outlined a few of the big mistakes that media makes about sponsorship. I’m sure you’ll recognise at least a few of them.
Let me first say that many big-name sponsors and sponsorship seekers are outstanding at sponsorship, so I’m not for a second knocking the big players. I’m actually talking about media making the assumption that because a well-known brand paid a lot of money for a sponsorship, they automatically know what they’re doing.
As much as I wish every big contract came with an equally big dose of vision and sophistication, they don’t. And even if the sponsor does elevate their approach during the tenure of the contract, when the deal announcement is made – usually by the property – the rhetoric around the rationale tends to unsophisticated, oversimplified, and bordering on banal… and that’s exactly what makes it into media.
Uhh… no. Brands don’t spend marketing money just to be nice. Brands spend money to influence people’s perceptions and behaviours around their brands. That’s what marketing is.
Sponsoring charities and culture and community organisations is a very powerful way to create that influence, while doing some very genuinely useful, helpful things for the community. There is an expected return. It could be increasing trust or preference or alignment to the brand. It could be engendering advocacy or loyalty. It could be many things, but the one thing it isn’t is altruistic.
When media references broad-brush euphemisms, like “giving back to the community” and “good corporate citizenship”, it does a disservice to sponsorship. It also does a disservice to the really great sponsorship seekers in that community/cultural/charity space, who create outstanding, multi-faceted, commercial partnerships that allow them to bring even better services to the communities they serve.
If media could, instead, give great case studies, it would show potential community/cultural/charity sponsors what a powerful marketing opportunity it is.
Talking about the “mass appeal” of a sponsorship is missing the point completely. It puts everyone with even a passing interest in the property into the same pot, with the implication that just getting in front of all of those people is going to have impact.
Good sponsors know that sponsorship gets its power from the passion people have for what they’re sponsoring, and they leverage to align with those passions and add value to that fan experience. They know that creating 20,000 or 200,000 brand advocates is a far more powerful result for their brand than millions of eyeballs on logos, but no meaning or connection.
This is more about semantics, and appears to stem from the very outdated practice of using “marketing” and “advertising” as interchangeable terms. As marketers now know, advertising and sponsorship are both marketing tools, and although they do intersect, the basic premise behind each of them is completely different. Some media appear to have missed this memo.
Advertising is about using one or more of a set of media to deliver concise, paid, outbound messages to a target market. I’m not bagging advertising – and acknowledge that advertising can be a very powerful marketing tool – but it’s completely different to sponsorship.
Sponsorship provides the sponsor with the privilege of connecting with, aligning with, and adding value to target market relationships through something that target market has already decided they care about. Unlike advertising, sponsorship doesn’t work at all as a stand-alone investment. It’s what the sponsor does with that sponsorship – the leverage they undertake – that delivers those brand benefits. Leverage options are almost limitless – and include creating ads – and it’s the combination of this flexibility and the passion fans feel for the property that is the hallmark of sponsorship.
So, while it’s true to call sponsorship a type of marketing, it’s not a type of advertising.
This myth is often propagated by logo counting “measurement” agencies, who issue press releases equating results to visibility. Make no mistake about it; this is nothing but a desperate attempt to stay relevant, when the rest of the industry left behind this dinosaur thinking twenty years ago.
That’s five of the seven. And while the previous angles try to paint sponsorship in a more-or-less positive way, there are a couple of equally inaccurate portrayals of sponsorship on the negative side.
This is a direct shot to the heart of sponsorship, implying that results aren’t measurable against objectives. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The fact that sponsorship is so flexible and multi-dimensional means that measurement also needs to be multi-dimensional. There isn’t going to be a single, headline-worthy figure that will in any way reflect the real impact of a sponsorship. Great sponsors embrace this return-on-objectives thinking and create comprehensive reports on how the sponsorship performs against often dozens of benchmarks. The only reason someone would call sponsorship “unaccountable” is either that they have a vested interest in demonising sponsorship, or they live in the sponsorship dark ages.
For anyone interested in putting more rigor around your sponsorship measurement, and for journalists looking for a crash course on sponsorship measurement, these resources may shed some light:
You know who goes to the Super Bowl? Fat cats. The stadium is filled with them, and there is always some journalist who wants to go on and on about how sponsorship is just about corporate bum-kissing and isn’t that all just so unsavoury.
Those journalists seem to completely miss the fact that the Super Bowl is the culmination of the better part of a year of the draft, camps, pre-season, the season, and playoffs, and that most of those sponsors have been leveraging the arse off the sponsorship for the benefit of the fans and their brand objectives the whole time. They also seem to miss that most of the fans of many teams or sports NEVER see it live. Their fan experience is deeply held and passionate, but it’s remote, so that’s where that meaningful sponsorship leverage makes its biggest impact.
So yeah, when there is a marquee event and a sponsor gets a very limited number of tickets, they are likely to use it to reward, or deepen relationships with, their biggest clients or the intermediary markets (retailers, brokers, etc) who can make or break their sales. That doesn’t mean the fans are being ignored, because they’re not, but simply that sponsors have done the maths. 24 seats in a skybox is far too few to be a meaningful benefit to a fanbase of millions, so they’ve very appropriately used that one, visible benefit for the fat cats. Let the misplaced outrage begin!
If journalists simply asked a few follow-up questions of the sponsor, it would be a very straightforward task to reflect the impact of the sponsorship more accurately.
If the sponsor struggles to answer these questions, the story may be news – by virtue of the deal’s size – but it’s not a shining example of sponsorship done well.
You may be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.
Rightsholders, for all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
If you need professional assistance with sponsorship, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large, diverse, and/or decentralised organisations.
Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.
© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.