Be a super sponsor

Securing a suitable sponsorship property is only part of the story. To make an association work, sponsors need to ensure they exploit it widely and effectively. By David Benady

Whether it’s the John Smith’s backed Grand National or Coca-Cola allying its name to the World Cup football finals, brands linking up with events need to ensure they exploit the occasion to squeeze maximum value from their investment.

There is a constant search for imaginative ways to make these sponsorships stick in people’s minds. Coca-Cola wrapped its bottles with pictures of England players in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup finals. Guinness hands out miniature rugby balls and supporters’ hats to reinforce its link with rugby. Mobile network O2 backs its rugby sponsorship by inviting fans to a “scrum in the park” against their rugby heroes.

The key to a successful sponsorship lies in the way the relationship is exploited, whether it is an international property, such as the Olympics, or a small summer music festival.

Pay, then pay again

Dynamo managing director Peter de Wesselow says the money spent on the initial sponsorship should be matched by the funds spent on promoting it. “A sponsorship really starts to live when it is taken into the brand’s own market, and that is where creativity comes into play. The sponsorship is likely to have rights attached (tickets to an event, for instance) but it is how these are used that can really make a brand stand out,” he says.

He cites Budweiser’s sponsorship of the World Cup, which gives the brand tickets to distribute among corporate stakeholders and give away through prize draws. The way such draws are promoted can have a huge impact on the success of the sponsorship.

Budweiser uses mechanisms such as instant-win slips in cans and bottles. Another technique is to persuade customers in bars to take part in a virtual-reality football machine game to win places to matches at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, as a first step to winning a ticket to the World Cup Final. “The sponsorship is allied to innovation to send out a powerful brand message,” says de Wesselow.

With large-scale sponsorships for major events, there are usually in-depth discussions with the owner about how the event will be promoted and what sort of audiences are expected to watch.

But some sponsorships of lower-level events can turn sour because the sponsors themselves fail to decide on their brand objectives beforehand. They might assume that it is the event promoter’s responsibility to generate audience numbers, but forget that it is also their job to promote the event to the relevant target group. Sponsors also need to pay close attention to the contractual agreements with the promoter.

“There are lots of cases where people don’t get behind what they have invested in,” says Connexus managing director Alastair Macdonald. “Event owners are generally fairly decent people, but their priorities are different from sponsors’: their focus is on the event itself, getting the talent there and the logistics sorted out. The sponsor, on the other hand, needs to meet its brand objectives.”

He says sponsors are on the whole becoming “wiser” about the way they approach events and are checking contracts more closely to ensure that it is clear exactly who is responsible for generating media coverage, and that the signage is correctly positioned to satisfy the brand’s need for exposure without looking tacky. But he warns: “If the sponsor isn’t really active and on the ball, it can find the promoter is spending time making the event look as good as possible, but not helping the sponsor at all.”

Trying to find creative treatments that exploit sponsorships may mean bringing different brands together through a promotional tie-up. This divides the expense between brands and can enhance the benefit for all parties. Matthew Patten, deputy chairman of marketing agency SP Holdings, says: “Brands want to enhance their appeal to their target markets but to do it in a different and interesting way. They can achieve this by trading promotional collateral such as sponsorship rights.”

Breakfast television

SP ran a campaign for JVC, to extend awareness of the electronics brand’s sponsorship of the Euro 2004 Football Championships in Portugal. The campaign used JVC’s sponsorship to create partnerships with brand owners, including Cereal Partners. A prize promotion to win JVC home cinema and entertainment equipment ran on 8.8 million packs of Cereal Partners’ Shreddies, Nesquik, Cookie Crisp and Cheerios products, in six countries.

Patten says the advantage of such tie-ups is that no money changes hands. “Cereal Partners were able to use official Euro 2004 branding in June, when the championships were taking place. JVC doesn’t normally reach those types of places, but it did through bartering promotional collateral. It is a fast-growing model.”

Matt Hales, planning director of sponsorship consultancy Octagon, says that a sponsorship’s success can be measured by the way in which it manages to engage consumers. He gives the example of NatWest, which embarked upon a Sun Safety Campaign with Marie Curie Cancer Care and Banana Boat sun safety products to coincide with its one-day international cricket sponsorship. “The campaign raised awareness and educated fans at cricket matches about the dangers of prolonged unprotected exposure to the sun. It was both a relevant and emotive campaign, which resonated with cricket fans,” he says.

And he adds: “As sponsors are in essence imposing their brand on a sport (or other activity), to be accepted it must be recognised that first and foremost the audience are fans. To engage them needs an understanding of the relationship they have with that sport.”

It is no good simply sticking a brand on a few banners at an event and hoping the audience notices, but equally it is not merely the amount of money spent that makes a difference. Working out the most creative ways to promote sponsorships is essential to success.v

Hollis Sponsorship Awards 2005 The Royal Bank of Scotland’s sponsorship of Six Nations Rugby kicked other shortlisted entries into touch by winning the top prize, the Hollis Sponsorship of the Year sponsored by Sky Media, at this week’s Hollis Sponsorship Awards at the Café Royal, London.

According to the judges, the execution was excellent and superb results were achieved, measured against strong objectives. The Six Nations sponsorship offers RBS the opportunity to communicate with its favoured ABC1 target market across the European countries in which it operates, and to drive awareness and image of the RBS brands. Two years into the sponsorship, awareness levels among the target audience exceeded that of the previous sponsor (Lloyds TSB) by 70 per cent. Branded press exposure has increased by 86 per cent on 2003.

The Hollis Sponsorship Awards reward excellence in creativity, synergy of partnership and – of paramount importance – realisation of objectives with proven results. All these qualities are evident in the shortlisted and winning entries shown on the right.

The awards attract entries spanning the whole spectrum of the sector, from top-spending sports sponsorships through to lower-budget, but excellently executed, grass roots projects. They illustrate the diversity of the industry and the flexibility of the medium.

The winner of the Hollis Sponsorship Personality of the Year, sponsored by Sutton Gibbs Recruitment, is B&Q marketing director David Roth, the mastermind behind the chain’s sponsorship of Ellen MacArthur. Hailed as one of the most successful sponsorships of recent years, it exploited every marketing and media opportunity, resulting in unprecedented levels of media coverage for B&Q. It has also clearly brought sponsorship to the attention of a huge number of people who were not aware of just what sponsorship can achieve.v

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