The Irish Sponsorship Summit 2016 was a great chance to connect with clients, partners and friends outside the office environment. The event itself felt like it had upped it’s game so kudos to Bruce and his team on taking feedback from the industry and looking to make it a serious event on the calendar.
To me there was an overriding sense of positivity and the inherent knowledge that good sponsorship is the most powerful tool in the marketing arsenal. However, there’s also a sense of frustration that maybe that message is hard to get through at the C Suite. When we attend events like ISS it means we can take our learnings back to our agencies, brands and organisations to help share our passion for sponsorship with our colleagues and clients. There was nothing at ISS we hadn’t heard before. But there was lots there that we have never implemented before. And, to learn from others who have is where our opportunity lies.
I’ve summarised the 10 things that stood out to me at the event. If anything resonated with any readers I’d love to hear them.
1. Ask Fans what they want.
The most basic of questions that we usually forget to ask. Fans are the No.1 asset of NGBs and the most energised of customers for brands. But we often create our ideas in isolation of our audience. It’s pretty simple these days to ask fans directly what they want and build the strategy around their needs.
2. Listen. Start Small. Repeat.
This is a build from Point 1 but we all bring our assumptions and biases to everything we do. Jim Collins (author of Good to Great, Built to Last) has a great mantra; Fire bullets, then cannonballs. So, don’t risk the farm on your first outing into fan engagement. Listen to your audience, create something interesting for them that won’t get your fired. Then go again. And again. The base will grow from there, guaranteed.
3. It’s not sponsorship. It’s partnership.
Partnership is one of the most cliched words that is thrown around these days. But we see what can happen when a brand delivers more for a sport than just signing a cheque. And when a rights holder delivers more for a brand than just space on their jersey. I think it comes down to taking the time to really work out what each side wants and working together as a tightly knit team to deliver.
4. You need to challenge the objectives.
Matthew Leopold from British Gas made the point that British Gas’s objectives set by the board was an improvement in their Net Promoter Score. He had to dismantle that objective and create new ones. That takes real confidence and expertise that measurement is not enough, it has to be appropriate to the brand and the sponsorship. We should remember that we are experts and we need to create the right measures for success.
5. Start with the most energised fans first.
We’ve been banging this particular drum for some time. When we create the fan funnel for our clients they usually realise that 80% of their revenue comes from 20% of their audience (The Pareto Principle rears it’s head again) and yet 80% of their marketing usually goes on the least energised or interested fans. So, going after the mass market is expensive and pretty pointless.
6. Advertising delivers short term gains only.
Advertising is at the heart of a lot of our work but it is important that it is seen in the right context. If a brand needs a short term spike advertising will drive that. But if the brand needs to create long term behaviour change it needs a longer term strategy and therefore a different set of tactics- eg EDMs, data capture, fan engagement, loyalty schemes, events.
7. If you have infrastructure, use it.
Michael Cole, formerly of BT Global Services, showed us a broad range of solutions for London 2012. One simple but really effective idea was to have a live digital display on top of the BT Tower in London which flashed when a GB athlete won a medal. So, if you’re a brand or an rights holder with real estate or assets, look to make the most of these first - before looking at paid media.
8. Follow the data
Jon Stainer from Repucom took us through some really interesting data and insights. Some of the key ones for me were:
- The shift from club membership to being part of a group. For instance, runners may not join a running club but that doesn’t mean they’re not part of the running community. Savvy rights holders and brands can connect with this group if they use the right tactics and incentives.
- It’s all going East. Investment by brands in the Middle East are up 20%+ whereas in Europe it’s 5% and in North America it’s 10%. So, if you’re a rights holder and are struggling to get a sponsor why not take a leaf out of organisations like Cricket Ireland and look to the East?
- Women are the future. This won’t come as much as a surprise but Repucom’s research suggests that opportunities for sport participation and viewership will be driven by Women. So, engaging with 50% of the population isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have.
9. Business Objectives First. Deliverables Second.
Tim Hunt from the European Tour made the point that helping their partners achieve their business objectives is paramount to their growth. The actual rights and deliverables are now found in the Appendices.
10. Be provocative
I went to an IAPI event later in the evening so technically this insight didn’t come from ISS. Piet Wulleman talked a lot about provoking responses from clients and audiences. Being provocative doesn’t necessarily mean being outrageous. It’s more about creating the prompt so that fans react and engage. The world doesn’t need more content or more bland advertising so if as a rights holder or brand you want to connect with an energised fan then you need to do something to provoke that conversation.
Stephen Quinn is Founder of Atomic Sport.