It is a source of endless frustration among my colleagues in the sponsorship industry that so many sponsors choose to go it alone. It is hard to find a single major organisation in Europe that is not a sponsor of sports, arts, broadcast or the community. Yet the vast majority prefer to use internal resources, rather than enlisting the help of a sponsorship agency.
For years, sponsorship specialists sought to overcome this reluctance to use their services by insisting companies did not understand sponsorship. If they did, they would ipso facto appreciate the added value they could bring. Unsurprisingly, this argument found few converts.
More recently, the sales pitch has switched to sponsorship’s bÃÂªte noire – how to evaluate its success or failure. Octagon Marketing president Alasdair Ritchie, who runs Interpublic’s new sports agency, expresses a familiar sentiment when he says clients “considered sponsorship more of a whim than a serious marketing discipline”. Apparently, companies are turning their back on sponsorship because of the lack of an effective measurement system. Hence his organisation’s launch of an evaluation model.
There isn’t a serious sponsorship agency in the world that does not have a rigorous and professional approach to evaluation. And frankly nor is there a new business plan that at some stage hasn’t included the old chestnut of launching its model as a product to entice potential clients.
I know this, you know this, and sponsors know this. Evaluation remains an issue, but it requires an industry-wide solution – one that is independent, academically sound, recognised by clients and agencies alike, and properly funded. Until then, any bespoke agency model is tainted by that agency’s business agenda.
Sponsorship decisions will always include an element of the “whim” factor: emotional championship is a vital component of every element in the marketing mix. As for companies turning their back on sponsorship, it’s the fastest growing sector in town. Valuable though they may be, bespoke agency evaluation models barely scratch the surface of the real issue. Namely, most sponsors do not see the value of using a sponsorship specialist.
The surfeit of “dodgy geezers” who plague our industry doesn’t help. The propensity of agencies to represent both sides of a deal is a major conflict of interest if ever there was one. The word “strategic” is used glibly without people having the first idea about what it means. It often accompanies a commitment to client servicing which extends only as far as the occasional drink with some old sporting chums. And, most criminal of all, is the smug belief that being good is good enough.
For the thousands of sponsors which go it alone, there is only one combination that will change their minds: talent, informed strategic insight, ruthless servicing, eyebrow raising creativity, independent evaluation and great work. Put that lot together and the results will speak for themselves.
Matthew Patten is chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sponsorship