Getting the best from your sponsorships
How can organisations still get bang for their buck from sponsorships in this digital age? Sarah Geel reveals all. Since the rise of large-scale events, sponsorships have become an invaluable opportunity for businesses big and small to get their brand in front of new and engaged audiences. When done well, sponsorships can provide organisations with […]
How can organisations still get bang for their buck from sponsorships in this digital age? Sarah Geel reveals all.
Since the rise of large-scale events, sponsorships have become an invaluable opportunity for businesses big and small to get their brand in front of new and engaged audiences.
When done well, sponsorships can provide organisations with an incredible return on their investment and complement all aspects of a business. But how can they be created and communicated successfully – especially as we enter a pandemic-induced era of digital, hybrid, and scaled-back events?
Authenticity: the secret to success
In its simplest form, sponsorship is a way of advertising your business’s brand through financial support of an event or campaign in exchange for brand exposure. And while some people may still think of the ‘name in bright lights behind a stadium’s goalposts’, sponsorships have evolved as events have. With brand partnerships getting larger and more creative over the years, the opportunities for businesses to sponsor have become much more diverse.
From my experience directing sponsorships throughout my career, the secret to success is authenticity.
As senior sponsorship manager at Vodafone New Zealand (not One NZ – it will take me a while to get used to that), I witnessed and was lucky enough to help coordinate some of the biggest and most enduring sponsorships. Known for their support of sporting and arts endeavours, Vodafone is synonymous with the NRL Warriors and the Aotearoa Music Awards – partnerships that have been cultivated and nurtured from shared values.
Your audience knows their stuff. People can sense when a name has been slapped on an event with minimal consideration of what the partnership represents.
Authentic sponsorship means finding brands that align with your organisation through a shared value and purpose. It involves finding a synergy between your culture, your view of the world, and your goals.
When you get a fit that works, a sponsorship is so cost effective in communicating the values of your brand. Unless you are doing a full brand campaign (that costs an absolute fortune), it’s difficult to find another way to live and breathe your brand as well as sponsorship – and those interactions with fans and customers can make lifelong advocates of your organisation.
Don’t believe me? Ask any Kiwi kid who was schooled in the 90s about ‘Apple Macintosh’ for Schools, or the ENZA Big Crunch, Coca Cola Christmas in the Park or ASB Banking.
At Anthem, we’re a sponsor and communications partner of Chapter Zero, the Institute of Directors’ chapter of Climate Change Governance. The team chose to sponsor the Chapter’s work because we saw a clear, close alignment with Anthem’s values of Care Deeply and Be The Difference.
When there is a clear value match, sponsorship is more than a way to get your brand in front of an audience – it’s a way to live your organisation’s values through working towards common goals.
Covid: a digital spanner in the works
Before Covid-19, sponsorships were primarily leveraged through activations and significant events. But during the pandemic, businesses grappled with the inability to host large fundraising, sporting or cultural events in person. Suddenly, there was a big question on everyone’s minds. In these uncertain times, do sponsorships still provide a good bang for our buck?
From the pandemic emerged a new way of thinking about sponsorships. When events became difficult to predict and plan for, digital events and sponsorships became an increasingly viable option for businesses looking to still connect with audiences and other brands in meaningful ways.
At Anthem, we too have had to navigate the world of sponsorships during the pandemic. I was lucky enough last year to work with the team at ANZ to communicate their sponsorship of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup. We quickly identified the enormous opportunity for ANZ to be a championing voice for women’s sport. The team commissioned a research report, Watch Women Win, into women’s sporting success, leveraging it to gain extensive media coverage (with 100% brand recognition). While we had initially planned a large in-person event to announce the report and sponsorship, lockdown meant we instead facilitated a digital webinar with over 250 attendees.
Having worked in sponsorships to some extent right from the beginning of my communications career, Watch Women Win was an enormous moment in my personal development and a healthy challenge. The sponsorship reinforced for me more than ever how crucial genuineness is and the importance of taking a stand and being a powerful voice – just like ANZ was for women’s sports development. (And not to toot our own horn or anything, but we ended up winning a bronze PR Asia Award for it!)
The key takeaways for any sponsorship
No matter how sponsorships will evolve, principles and certain measures remain the same.
- Budget. The general rule of thumb is that organisations should be spending three times the sponsorship fee on comprehensively leveraging the partnership. While there are ways you can cut corners, the full potential of a sponsorship can be lost if it’s promotion and communication isn’t given enough love.
- Being partners. When the two parties in a sponsorship have values that align and purposes that complement one another, the process becomes so much more than a brand awareness job. Sponsorship agreements often have pre-determined benefits, which involve finding the pluses for both parties.
- How many times can I say authenticity in this piece? The fact remains though that genuine, considered, and value-aligned sponsorships will always win compared to slapping a logo on something random.
- Having the team for the job. Activating and leveraging a sponsorship sufficiently is an intensive gig that requires time and energy in the lead up to the campaign – it isn’t something a lone comms person can manage on the side! An agency partner who understands the nuances of sponsorship is invaluable in making the most of a sponsorship opportunity.
As we emerge from the fog of Covid, I sense a new era of sponsorships emerging in which in-person events re-emerge but are balanced with the use of digital activations in equal measure to ensure accessibility and maximise content leverage during and post-event. As a communications and sponsorship lover, I’m immensely excited to see how the industry evolves and the ways in which organisations continue to champion sponsorships (and I certainly won’t take for granted in-person events ever again!).
Sarah Geel (pictured) is an executive director at communications consultancy Anthem with over 16 years’ experience in the PR and sponsorships space. Since joining Anthem in 2015, Sarah has successfully led major sponsorship campaigns, including the All Blacks/ASB Rugby World Cup campaign and ANZ’s Watch Women Win.
She is as adept at negotiating performance-based multi-year contracts as she is at putting up a step-and-repeat one handed in less than 4 minutes, and once led a full events team at Eden Park with absolutely no voice.