Great sponsorship is, by its very nature, a collaborative process. It only works if a critical mass of your stakeholders are integrating sponsorship across their activities. My experience is that if you create a multi-departmental stakeholder team and get them spooled up on the principles of best practice sponsorship, you will get the buy-in to the approach that you need.
The weak link for buy-in tends to be at the senior executive level. There is something about that potent combination of not knowing how sponsorship really works, benefitting greatly from the status quo (great tickets, meeting top sportspeople, funding pet charities, etc), and a healthy corporate ego, that makes it attractive to resist any major changes in how sponsorship is done. And if your CEO nixes the plan, you don’t have a lot of room to move.
I have three suggestions for handling this senior executive roadblock.
Your first and most attractive option is to work with your stakeholder team on the development of the overall sponsorship strategy and any leverage plans that are big enough to catch a senior executive’s attention. This means the plan will be highly credible and clearly delivering across a number of areas of the company.
The success of this option will be largely due to your corporate culture. If your senior executives have a culture of respecting, valuing, and empowering middle management, they should be quite open to a new approach if it is signed off by key people they trust.
The ideal scenario is that your CMO will table the recommendation to other c-level peers, providing you and your ideas with high-level endorsement. The CMO should also be able to advise you on whether this is the best approach with the executives you’ve got, or whether to move onto a different option.
If you’ve got a major sponsorship – beloved by one or more senior executives – and you want to change how it’s leveraged, you may see some resistance. In that case, you can provide a recommended course of action from the stakeholder team and include a pilot program as your Plan B.
A pilot program is a smaller version of something you want to roll out across a year, season, country, etc. For instance, you may want to do a comprehensive social media campaign around a league sponsorship or do virtual bounce-back coupons for fans, via their mobile phones.
If this is all sounding a bit wacky to your seniors, you could pilot some of your easier, lower cost, minimal infrastructure ideas – like the ones above – at one midweek game in a smaller city. There is no reason you need to put all the flashy bells and whistles on it if the point is to try it out. Add them when you get the green light to roll it out.
If you do propose a pilot program, the most important parts of the equation for your senior executives are the objectives and measurement plan, which must be strategic and detailed. That way, you can all be agreed as to what will be considered a success.
I am a firm believer that it is better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission.
If your stakeholder team is strong, and their day-to-day operations are not being micromanaged from above, there is no reason you need to even tell your senior executives about the new approach. Instead, embark on a plan that includes the best performing, most internally popular leverage ideas from previous years, and add a number of best practice, last generation** leverage ideas to the mix. The senior executives won’t have lost any of the activities that they think have value, but you have the opportunity to significantly improve the returns.
On the numerous occasions when I have taken this approach with clients, all the sponsorship buzz ends up being around the last generation leverage activities, the senior executive team is delighted, and you will have a lot more freedom to do great things – and get rid of old-school thinking – in the future.
If you go all out and do something really cool with your leverage activities, be sure to submit your case study to an influential marketing or advertising publication, like Brandweek, AdAge, AdNews, etc. The kudos your company and, by association, the senior executives, will get from this kind of endorsement of your strong strategic work will definitely free you up to do more of it in the future. I’ve done this with a few clients, and even the most stubborn Managing Director starts to see the light when a few of their peers phone up congratulating them on “their” innovation!
**Not sure what Last Generation Sponsorship is? Download my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship”. You’ll be in good company – it’s been downloaded about 400,000 times!