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.
If your sponsorship program has any of the following traits, you are operating in the First Generation of sponsorship:
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.
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 is a big step up from Second Generation, with sponsors having the following traits – some good, some not so good:
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:
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.
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:
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.
You may be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.
If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large and/or diverse organisations.
Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.