Among the many presentation decks in my content library, there is an evergreen slide that has existed since the days when it was an actual 35 mm cardboard-mounted transparency that I hauled around in a Kodak carousel.
In the image on the slide, sponsorship is represented at the center of a hub-and-spoke system with multiple branches reaching out to illustrate the connection between the medium and all of the many parts of a business that it has the potential to positively impact.
Although it has been digitally transformed, updated and graphically re-designed multiple times over the decades, this image continues to simply and elegantly depict the beauty and power of sponsorship, namely the ability to achieve so many objectives, both in marketing and throughout the enterprise.
No doubt many of you have used something similar in proposals and presentations when making the case for sponsorship. It is the medium’s unique selling proposition.
But in recent conversations with brand marketers, a common theme has emerged that casts sponsorship’s role as an all-purpose business-building catalyst in a negative light for the people who manage partnerships day-to-day: Because sponsorship works best when it does not stand on its own, the team responsible for it often is deprived of the attention and recognition they deserve.
In other words, sponsorship departments are akin to the outstanding offensive lineman in football or the multi-tool utility player in baseball—absolutely essential to the team’s success but never getting the notice, accolades and riches commensurate with the role.
The primary reason for this situation can be found in one of the essential truths about sponsorship. The contracted rights, benefits and deliverables of partnerships with sports, entertainment and other properties are not responsible for a sponsorship’s results. The activation of those elements is what drives return on investment and objectives.
In many cases, while the sponsorship team is responsible for researching, evaluating and negotiating sponsorship agreements—as well as being the liaison between the brand and rights holder and executing some of the foundational on-site experiential and visibility elements—credit for the multi-channel consumer campaigns that use the sponsored property as the hook, or the B2B engagement that builds relationships and business with key customers goes to the marketing, sales and other departments that, to continue the sports metaphor, get the ball over the goal line or push the tying run across the plate.
This is not an issue of concern from the corporate perspective. Sponsorship played its part in delivering a successful outcome. But on an individual level, where people are working to build careers, such recognition does matter, and the lack of it certainly contributes to the struggles that many sponsorship professionals have experienced as they seek to advance within or outside of their current organizations.
Ultimately, if this situation persists, it will, or should, become an organizational concern, given the potential it has to dissuade exceptional people from pursuing sponsorship positions in favor of those departments that live in the spotlight rather than the shadows.
This is where the sports metaphor ends. The 300-pound lineman cannot simply choose to play wide receiver, but smart college grads and early-career superstars can opt to pursue multiple positions. They need a reason to follow a sponsorship path and unfortunately many companies don’t give them one.