If your company sponsors a major event or professional sporting organisation, there is every chance that they will require you to submit your leverage plan for their approval, well in advance of the event or season. This seems reasonable enough. They are ensuring that sponsors are actually going to do something with their investments, and can run interference if two sponsors are planning very similar programs.
In the past few years, however, I’ve been seeing a new and sinister trend: Rightsholders stealing the best sponsor leverage ideas for their own marketing plans.
In one instance, a major sponsor of a top team had submitted the leverage plan, as required. This was a few years back, it was client of mine, and I created the leverage plan. A few weeks later, they were invited to the launch of the team’s marketing plan. Not one but three of the sponsor’s best leverage ideas had been appropriated by the team and presented as part of their own marketing plan. The sponsor was blindsided. This rendered those ideas moot for the sponsor, and gave them little time to reinvent the leverage program. There were threats of legal action, and a compromise was reached, but this is only one of dozens of instances I’ve seen in the past few years.
For years I have recommended that rightsholders include leverage ideas as part of their proposals, and many have contacted me, concerned that the sponsors will simply take the ideas and not sponsor them. I assure them that it is very rare for sponsors to do something like that, and that most sponsors want to work with organisations that are providing them with leverage ideas. Just to be sure, though, I also recommend including copyright wording on the proposal.
But what about sponsors, who are in effect putting the disposition of their leverage program into the hands of the rightsholder? How is ownership of the ideas preserved when approval to implement them is being put into the hands of another organisation? And what about the consultants or agencies, who have been paid by the brand for a licence to the creative ideas, and then seen their strategies appropriated by an unrelated organisation? (Like me!)
I didn’t know the answer, so I asked sponsorship law expert, friend, and trusted legal advisor, Lionel Hogg, Partner at Gadens Lawyers (Brisbane). His advice fell into the categories of best option and second-best option.
If you are already under contract and you have to submit a leverage plan, include confidentiality wording on the front page. Lionel suggested this:
This document is provided to you in strict confidence and only for the purpose of obtaining your consent to the proposals contained in it. Except to the extent necessary for that purpose, you must not distribute this document, or disclose its contents or the substance of any related discussions with us (Confidential Information), to any person. You must not use the Confidential Information for any other purpose without our prior written consent.
Copyright [name of Sponsor] [year]. All rights reserved.
This is an imperfect and far-from-watertight solution, but it at least serves as a warning that appropriating your ideas will be taken seriously.
This wording may not be appropriate in every circumstance, so (as lawyers do), Lionel recommends consulting a lawyer for specific wording/strategies that are applicable to, and most likely to protect you in, your situation.
Without question, your best option is to include wording in your sponsorship contract, prohibiting the use by the rightsholder of any leverage ideas provided for their approval, without your explicit consent. This would appear in the section where you are compelled to provide your leverage plan for approval and, as always, you should consult your lawyer to ensure the wording is appropriate and will protect you in your jurisdiction.
I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but it seems to be escalating, and it’s better safe than sorry.
You may also be interested in my white papers, “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “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.
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