No Excuses: It’s Time for Developing Sponsorship Markets to Grow Up

Sponsorship sophistication varies around the world. There are mature, sophisticated sponsorship markets, developing markets, and some in-between. There are even some pretenders, where the market appears to think they’re oh-so-sophisticated, because there’s a lot of money being thrown around, but the underlying approach is anything but.

Developing sponsorship markets include large parts of Asia, parts of Africa, the Middle East, and the South Pacific, and a handful of other markets. These are markets where sponsorship is bought and sold like a commodity, leverage is cursory (at best), and visibility is king.

This is not to paint every sponsor and rightsholder in these markets with the same brush. There are great sponsorships and crap sponsorships everywhere, and the degree of sophistication in any market is really a matter of proportion.

But, if the above description fits, it’s time to grow up. Actually, the time to grow up was ten years ago, but now is the next best option, because you’re missing out on so many opportunities and, even more importantly, results. There’s no reason not to make the change, and so many reasons to do it. I’ve outlined some of the big reasons below, as well as provided some guidance and resources for upping your game.

Mature markets have learned the lessons for you

I’ve been in the sponsorship business for over thirty years. I started in America, just when second generation sponsorship was coming into play. We’re now at fourth, or Last Generation Sponsorship, and have been for two decades. (What are the generations all about? Read “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux”.)

How can we have been at Last Generation Sponsorship for twenty years, when sponsorship is always changing? Easy, because Last Generation Sponsorship has the focal point in the right place – on the fans, the people who care about the property and/or its larger themes. So, sponsorship keeps changing because our lives keep changing, and the focal point means sponsorship is responsive to those changes. I digress.

Through trial and error, missteps and epiphanies, mature sponsorship markets have slogged through all of the lessons to get there. But developing markets don’t have to follow the same trajectory, spending decades figuring out best practice sponsorship in isolation. You can simply make the leap to best practice, but only if you turn outward for guidance.

Dinosaurs are holding you back

Following on from the previous point, logo-counting “measurement and valuation” agencies are holding you back.

The relevance of these agencies in developed sponsorship markets has been on the wane for years, but in developing markets, not only are they capitalising on the old-school fixation on visibility, they’re actively promoting it. That’s not about your results; that’s about their own bottom line. Don’t fall for it.

For more on this – and what to do instead – read these blogs:

Upping your game gives you a huge competitive advantage

So, you’re in a developing sponsorship market – great! That means if you commit to increasing your sophistication, you’re going to have an enormous advantage over your competitors that aren’t there yet.

Brands will be reaping big benefits against objectives, while competitors are still getting themselves all in a lather over low-value logo exposure. Rightsholders will position themselves as savvy commercial partners, not interchangeable commodities.

But these best of these competitive benefits are going to go to the first movers, so don’t sit around waiting for the market to catch on. You’ve got a planet full of case studies showing best practice sponsorship delivers, so just bloody do it!

Consumers are just as savvy in developing markets as they are in mature markets

Consumers aren’t dumb. It’s well-established that fans tune out logo slaps, and respond to sponsors that add value to their fan experience. This isn’t something that just happens in mature sponsorship markets. It’s human nature.

I’m not saying you can’t have logos on things, but that if you think that’s what’s driving results, you’re wrong. Sponsor leverage that makes the fan experience better is what drives results. That’s what builds alignment and advocacy. That’s what opens fans up to helping sponsors achieve their marketing goals.

It’s not about your budget

I’ve heard the same thing over and over from sponsorship pros in developing markets. They point to a sponsor that is doing really great things in their market, and claim their success comes from having a huge sponsorship budget.

Maybe they do have a bigger budget. Maybe the fact that they’re doing great leverage just makes it look that way. But even if they do have a bigger budget, what if they invest more because they’re doing sponsorship well and are seeing great results from it? What if sophistication came first, and the higher investment level followed?

It doesn’t take a huge budget to do sponsorship well. In fact, doing sponsorship really well can be more financially efficient, while also delivering bigger results. Get the approach and structure right, see the results, and watch your sponsorship budget grow.

It’s a global marketplace, you’re part of it, and that’s a good thing

One of the hallmarks of best practice sponsors is that they leverage their investments outside of the immediate geographic area of the property. This is a great thing. It means that smart sponsors can leverage benefits for their brands across a much broader audience, and over a much broader timeframe. And harnessing that broader leverageability makes properties all that much more valuable.

For more on harnessing a broader fanbase, these two blogs are worth a read:

How developing sponsorship markets can make that leap

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve got access to the internet, and that’s really all you need to benefit from best practice sponsorship resources from mature sponsorship markets around the world.

If you’ve got no budget, there’s still a lot you can do to elevate your approach:

If you’ve got some budget, invest in building capacity and sophistication:

Bigger picture, government departments of major events, sport, culture, families, and more can elevate the sophistication level of their stakeholders:

The upshot

No matter where you are, or how sophisticated your market is, there’s no excuse for doing sponsorship poorly, and there are huge upsides to raising your game. But the first thing you need to do is stop looking at your local market, and your peers in it, as the benchmark for how sponsorship is done. That perspective is doing you no favours.

Stop looking at your local market, and your peers in it, as the benchmark for how sponsorship is done.

Instead, look to mature markets for that benchmark. Look to similar organisations to yours in those markets, because there are organisations of all sizes and shapes doing great things. There are people with MBAs and fancy offices doing great sponsorship. There are also tiny organisations being run from a kitchen table doing the same.

There’s nothing difficult or complicated about best practice sponsorship. It just requires a willingness to let go of old habits, and an openness to learn new ones.

Now, go get ‘em!

Need more assistance?

You may 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 both sponsors and rightsholders. Interested? Check out the Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass for sponsors and 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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