Despite the fact that sponsorship has been a recognized marketing discipline for going on four decades, there is a tremendous divide between brands that understand how to use the medium to receive maximum benefit from their partnerships versus those that treat it as merely a form of advertising.
Across recent consulting engagements with a variety of properties and sponsors, I have encountered brands in both camps and have worked hard to understand 1) why there are marketers who still “don’t get it” when it comes to sponsorship and 2) what, if anything can be done to change the situation.
That second question is important, because as long as there are brands that “buy sponsorships” simply as a way to advertise—instead of investing in them as multi-dimensional partnerships—there will be sponsors who will mistakenly claim that sponsorship doesn’t deliver return on investment, and properties will continue to be denied full value for their marketing rights, assets and IP.
Returning to the first question, the biggest difference between those that invest in partnerships versus those who buy sponsorship inventory is that those in the first group understand that to deliver results, sponsorship requires time, effort and resources. In other words, VIVO: Value in equals value out. They put in the work in terms of establishing fruitful relationships with their partners, setting objectives, developing relevant activation programs and evaluating performance.
So what keeps other brands from adopting VIVO when it comes to sponsorship? Below are three reasons along with suggestions for addressing each.
Lack of institutional knowledge/support. Most brand-side individuals who are responsible for sports, entertainment and nonprofit partnerships know that they are leaving money on the table when they purchase sponsorship benefits to gain exposure and awareness and do nothing else with them.
In private conversation, they lament that they cannot do more and most often cite an inability to persuade senior leadership and others internally to approve the additional resources necessary for a fully activated partnership as the reason.
As an industry, we must continue to bang the drum and educate those outside of sponsorship practitioners about what the medium can (and can’t do) and even more importantly, what it can achieve if managed and executed correctly.
Limited resources. “We don’t have the budget” is the default option when companies say no to spending more, so it’s necessary to dig a little deeper. If there are truly cost constraints—and often there are—then the question becomes: “Why are you wasting money buying exposure through a partnership when you could generate the same amount of impressions for pennies on the dollar by buying digital or traditional media?
If a company can’t afford to activate a sponsorship, it shouldn’t buy it. If it has a legitimate need for visibility through signage or other in-venue media, or needs tickets for client hospitality and entertainment, it can buy those assets a la carte.
In many cases, the reason funding is limited is that the brand is spreading itself too thin, spending a minimal amount of money with multiple rights holders. Adopting VIVO requires a less-is-more approach, allowing a brand to go deeper and fully activate a much smaller number of partnerships.
Short-sighted partners. Too many properties are happy to close a deal and capture immediate revenue even if they recognize that the brand is not prepared to invest in making it engaging and relevant to fans and consumers. This results in sponsors that will not realize a positive return and rights holders that will soon be back in the market looking to replace them.
If sponsorship as a medium is ever to move beyond the current situation where some partners are maximizing their return while others are not optimizing their investment, properties must prioritize long-term value and sponsors who will renew their partnerships over making the quick sale.