Brand Experience: Getting away from sponsor****
by Mike Silver (@stretchmike) It’s a catchy title, I know. Having been on both sides, I can attest to sponsorship having become somewhat of a sh*tshow. With tighter and tighter deadlines and larger and larger egos, the opportunity to use existing events as platforms to engage consumers is becoming increasingly difficult. Given the growing popularity of live-event properties, brands face a conundrum between not being able to ignore the channel while simultaneously getting honest about real ROI (beyond logos!).
Below is a recommended sponsorship playbook that should help ensure that the ‘you know what’ doesn’t hit the fan.
1. Avoid FOMO
While the larger properties (eg Olympics) are negotiated years in advance, more on-trend millennial-focused properties such as music festivals are, for some reason, treated differently. The earlier you can start negotiations, the calmer the process and the more receptive the promoters are, both to your coming on board and any campaign around activating your sponsorship.
But, for some reason, clients wake up incredibly late (probably due to drawn-out brand-planning processes).
In the promoters’ defense, when negotiations are left to the last minute, they have to worry not just about your brand but their brand, too (in terms of an entire production that needs to be staged).
Sponsorship should really form a channel — ideally alongside experiential — with negotiations, many months in advance. While your creative might not be set, no doubt your territories (eg rugby) and your target market (eg students) should have already been defined.
2. Influencing the experience
There is a growing trend from brands looking to influence the live performance. LG famously had rugby players running out of their branded tunnel with clean shirts, ready for the second half (goes in dirty, comes out clean…). Ram gave away R1M for catching a ‘six’ at the cricket. Coca-Cola allowed you to ‘download’ the band if you engaged with its social media channels at a concert. This influence (or as someone promoters call it ‘disruption’) is clearly on trend as brands correctly move beyond just badging. It’s worth noting the complexities around influencing a live performance. As such, it’s worth agencies (and their clients) not forgetting they are influencing someone else’s property and as such there are limitations to what they can and cannot do. To plan this properly, please refer to #1.
It’s all very well that you’ve cosied up with your chosen promoter when the drinks and lunches are following. Once your agreement is reached, though, you as a brand aren’t that special or different, as you take a number and get in line with the other sponsors involved. So it’s critical to ensure the tightest of sponsorship contracts is drawn up
A common issue is around the territorial bun fight that takes place between brands. Remember, you buy rights, not concepts. If your creative agency is any good, it will probably be developing concepts on trend and, as such, potentially similar in terms of the leverage they are looking for. If you want to be the only brand disrupting live performances, you’d better put that in your contract.
4. When to leave the party
Remember the last time you were at a party and things started to get messy? Friends began slurring, glasses got broken, YMCA stayed on repeat… Sometimes getting out of sponsorship is better than staying in an over-priced, half-baked, cluttered one. Without sounding too fatalistic, if it feels like a square peg in a round hole, maybe a last minute ill-suited property just wasn’t meant to be.
What choices are left?
If there’s internal pressure for activity over this period (and assuming the cash has to get spent in this fiscal), you can look around at smaller options. Potentially two smaller growing properties will get similar reach while allowing you to remain on-trend and create a larger and longer campaign.
Alternatively, there’s always the option to create your own property. Certainly, it costs money and is risky in terms of becoming an overnight promoter but you will have 100% ownership and control. Roping in the right media and influencer partners also ensures you have stakeholders with real skin in the game.
Nike did an amazing job of not only creating its own property in London but theming the challenge each year with different challenges for city dwellers:
Some things will never change in the sponsorship game and many things can’t be entirely controlled. You will deal with difficult promoters at times. Artists will be divas. ‘Acts of God’ will always decide if the show goes on or not! Both clients and agencies may mitigate these risks, though, through proper planning.
The sponsorship game will only get more cluttered and complex, with new and edgier properties emerging each year. Astute festival-goers value the peace of mind, ability to plan properly and ease on the pocket that early-bird ticket specials bring. Surely brands should start embracing similar benefits when it comes to sponsorship spend?
Mike Silver (@stretchmike) is managing director of Stretch Experiential Marketing (www.stretchexp.com). He established Stretch — a communications agency specialising in developing strategies and concepts for integrated brand-experience campaigns — after working in sponsorship consultancy and experiential marketing in the UK. He contributes the regular “Brand Experience” column, focusing upon broader integrated ‘brand experiences’, to MarkLives.