The Sponsorship Consistency Conundrum for CMOs

You’re the Chief Marketing Officer of a large multinational, or a Group Marketing Manager, overseeing multiple major brands. Whatever your title, you’re a senior executive looking at millions of dollars being invested in corporate sponsorship across your company, and you know there are problems.

Some of the decisions appear to lack rigour. Some brands sponsor strategically, while others appear to be picking partners out of a hat. Some investments are leveraged well, some are barely leveraged, while others aren’t leveraged at all. When leverage – not the sponsorship itself – is what drives results, this should be unacceptable.

You may have noticed that the degree of sophistication applied to sponsorship is dependent on the individual people managing the brand, and can change dramatically when they move on. You may even be seeing some bright spots, and wondering how you can implement that kind of thinking, company-wide.

And measurement? It’s all over the map. God only knows what some of these brands and regions are achieving.

In other words, sponsorship sophistication, creativity, and accountability may be happening here and there, but it isn’t part of your organisational culture, and you know that has to change. But your company is big and diverse, and it’s all just too hard, so inertia takes over and the mediocrity continues.

Sponsorship is amazing, and what it can do for your brands and company is amazing. Don’t let inertia stop you from making the most of this uniquely powerful media. The meaning, the stories, the connections, and the passion it can bring to your brands is unmatched across marketing channels, but harnessing it does require sophistication.

The thing is, there’s no reason for settling for mediocrity. Organisational change around sponsorship is complex for big companies, and does require a commitment to actually do it, but it is doable. More than that, it is absolutely worth doing.

I’ve done this a lot, and if you’re looking at embarking on organisational change around sponsorship, I have some recommendations.

Create an overarching sponsorship strategy

Your sponsorship strategy should be about establishing a consistent approach to sponsorship across the portfolio. This will include the principles, structure, and processes that will drive sponsorship across your brands, regions, and business units. The strategy will define your company’s way of doing sponsorship.

You also want a sponsorship policy that spells out the company-wide rules of the game.

Then get specific

The larger and more diverse the company, the more tempting it will be to generalise with any capacity-building training or materials, but that won’t do any of your brands any favours.

If the goal is a consistent, sophisticated approach to sponsorship – one that maximises results across your portfolio – you need to accept that this consistent approach will look different from one area of your company to another. And the larger and more diverse the company, the more tempting it will be to generalise with any capacity-building training or materials, but that won’t do any of your brands any favours. Providing generic advice, like, “Leverage your sponsorship investments through all of your channels”, or, “Select sponsorships that achieve multiple marketing objectives”, falls into the category of being accurate, but not useful.

Channels, objectives, target markets, trends, and more will vary vastly from one brand and/or geographic region to another. If you actually want to increase your organisational capacity to do sponsorship well, and reap strong, measurable results from all of your investments, you have to be prepared to get specific, applying the strategic framework, and providing advice, examples, tools, and templates that suit each market and every major brand.

Balance education and resources

I could hand you a stack of tools and templates, but without context, your frontline sponsorship teams are not going to know how they work or why they’re relevant. Likewise, I could provide huge document, covering all of the theory and rationale around best practice sponsorship, but without specific how-to and supporting tools, applying that thinking is going to be patchy.

If you want to maximise uptake of a more sophisticated approach, you need to ensure that you balance vision with how-to, theory with case studies, and recommendations with the tools to back them up.

Balance ownership and shortcuts

I love to provide shortcuts – brainstorm options, idea springboards, etc – to give clients a good, running start on the creative process. But it’s very easy to go too far with this, and cross into the territory of telling stakeholders what to do, or giving them so little input in the creative process that they don’t take any ownership, and uptake is half-hearted, at best.

In providing a platform to elevate your sophistication, the whole idea is to make great sponsorship – the theory, creativity, and implementation – achievable and doable. Your job is to provide the framework and tools and inspiration so they get excited about it and can confidently make it their own. It’s a fine line to walk, but if you don’t do this, this whole exercise will fail.

Provide an expert safety net

I usually try to position a person or small team, internally, who can fill the role of expert safety net.

Even if you do everything else perfectly, a big component of elevating sponsorship across a big organisation is creating confidence in the approach. For that reason, you should endeavour to have a resource who can provide support, particularly in the first year or so.

There’s no reason you can’t use a sponsorship consultant, but I usually try to position a person or small team, internally, who can fill the role of expert safety net. The role is about providing as-needed advice, coaching, and even some facilitation, until your various stakeholders are comfortable carrying on independently.

Don’t underestimate the politics

The beauty of sponsorship, and why it’s so powerful for brands, is that people care about it.

The same is true for your staff, and this can be a challenge to manage, because when it comes to sponsorship, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Everyone. From the senior executive to the branch manager to the forklift driver, they all think they know how sponsorship works, and what your company should be sponsoring. The vast majority of the time, they’re wrong. Yes, even the senior executives.

A big part of this job is managing those politics, and that is equal parts creating an organisational vision, and ensuring there are ways for staff to be heard around sponsorship. How this works can be very different from one company to another, but if you don’t take those politics into account, the kick-back from staff could adversely affect your results.

Emphasise credibility

Some companies have a culture of putting a lot of trust in external advisors. Whether this is about objectivity or accessing very specific, granular expertise, it’s a fact of life in much of the corporate world. If this is the case for your company, I very strongly suggest that you hire a credible sponsorship consultant to spearhead this job for you. You don’t want an initiative that can have such a huge impact on your brands being seen as unimportant, because it didn’t come from an external, subject-matter expert. Using someone external can also mitigate a lot of the issues with politics, outlined above.

If, on the other hand, your corporate culture has a stronger focus on internal answers and in-house expertise, then there’s no reason that a manager or team with a strong understanding of best practice sponsorship can’t develop these resources. That said, because of the politics around sponsorship, this approach won’t work if it comes out as just a recommendation from one area of the company. You’re going to need heavy senior executive backing, for people to take it seriously – ideally, getting sign off by the Executive Committee.

Don’t skimp

If you’ve got a big company, this is a big job. Don’t pretend it’s not.

If you’re going to do this, make the commitment to do it properly. Don’t be like most companies, who create some kind of generic guidebook, refer people to their sponsorship policy and an agreement template, leave them to their own devices, and then wonder why nothing changes. Nothing changes because they skimped.

The issue isn’t about skimping on money, but skimping on the scope of the project. The project relies on understanding how sponsorship works, why that looks different across brands, target markets, and regions, and developing something that is relevant to all of them – both immediately and over time. If you’ve got a big company, this is a big job. Don’t pretend it’s not.

The upshot

If you’re ready to commit to organisational change, brief your team. Alternatively, brief a sponsorship consultant or agency with specific expertise in sponsorship capacity building. This Sponsorship Systems Design service is a specialty of mine, so you could absolutely brief me.

But whatever you do, get the process started, and before you know it, things will start changing. Your relationships with customers will deepen. Preference, intent, and loyalty will increase. Staff morale will rise. And advocacy will become part of your brands’ lifeblood.

And if you want another CMO-oriented sponsorship resource, read my white paper, “What Every CMO Needs to Know About Sponsorship”.

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got a self-paced, online sponsorship training course for sponsors, covering the whole process of sponsorship strategy, selection, negotiation, leverage, measurement, and management, with lots of inclusions. Interested? Check out the Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass. I’ve also got Getting to “Yes” for rightsholders.

If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer Sponsorship Systems Design for large and/or diverse 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.

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