Evaluation: Sponsorship’s Holy Grail – Pippa Collett

July 15, 2011

The awards judging season for sponsorship has come to a close, with many great projects gaining recognition for a job well done.  The sponsorship minnows from the charity, community and grass roots sectors have rubbed shoulders with ‘blockbusters’ at Awards ceremonies across Europe.  Trophies have been distributed, congratulations received, commiserations exchanged and next Autumn will see the cycle start all over again.

As a judge, there is nothing better than a well presented entry, written from the perspective of the sponsor, with a few visuals to bring it to life embedded in copy that follows a logical order of strategy, planning, activation and evaluation.  The problem with most entries lies with the latter – so few have anything approaching a robust post investment review.  There is usually something about the advertising value equivalent of the brand exposure and occasionally details of guest feedback on the hospitality, but rarely is there evidence of a prima facie relationship between a sponsorship and the P&L account or balance sheet.

The reason for this is that too many sponsorships are still entered into as a result of senior management interventions that are then handed down to disparate departments to justify through activation.  Whilst you as a Director like rugby and, anecdotally, your customer base appears to also favour the sport, this does not constitute appropriate due diligence prior to entering into a relationship with the Six Nations.

The key to successful sponsorship, and therefore to appropriate sponsorship evaluation, is setting clear objectives in advance of the selection process.  The European Sponsorship Association has defined three core groups of objectives: brand building, commercial benefit and stakeholder engagement.  The key is to look at how objectives will be measured, the M in SMART objectives with which I am sure you are familiar.  I’m the first to admit that this is easier said than done, but it is definitely not unattainable.  It is better to settle for a few relevant measures that demonstrate exactly what the sponsorship delivered rather than to hide behind a load of easy to capture but meaningless statistics.

The critical issue is to look beyond inputs to outputs and, ideally, outcomes.  Take perimeter board brand exposure as an example.  This input measure is the same as that for advertising: how many eyeballs were exposed to the sponsor’s brand, then calculating the advertising value equivalent.  That usually amounts to a nice big number (particularly if you don’t discount it to take account of the fact that it’s not quite the same as carefully crafted  30 second commercial that builds the brand’s attributes and delivers the desired messages) which, when presented to a Board pre-disposed to enjoying the sponsorship, goes unchallenged.

The issue is that, although thousands of spectators and millions of viewers were exposed to perimeter signage,  this in itself has no value to the sponsor.  More relevant is what they took away as a result of that exposure.  This is normally measured by market research: did spectators and viewers notice the sponsor’s brand and, if they did, how did that impact their perceptions of the brand and their consideration to purchase it in future?  The problem with this is that people are increasingly research-savvy and will say almost anything, including educated guessing, to satisfy the researcher.

The Holy Grail of sponsorship evaluation is establishing outcomes: what actually happened as a result of the sponsorship investment?  Did they buy more?  This is challenging to calculate but significantly easier if the metrics to evaluate outcomes are established in advance of activating the sponsorship.  For example, it may be possible to establish a control group against which results of those exposed to the perimeter board can be measured.  This might be by market, individual preferences or channels depending on the brand and how customers access the product or service in question.  You may think this is an issue but, if Coco-Cola seems is able to identify a global 40% uplift in sales in the months leading to an Olympic Games to justify its sponsorship investment,  it is clearly not impossible.

So I throw down the gauntlet to all involved in sports sponsorship, be they sponsor, rights-holder or agency: if you want to win awards think now about clarifying what a sponsorship is aiming to achieve and how you can evidence the link between objectives and outcomes. Not only will you increase your chances of a trophy to display, you will also be sure that your work is augmenting corporate value.

Pippa Collett: Since gaining and MBA from Cranfield, Pippa Collett has become a leading sponsorship practitioner with an extensive client-side career at Shell, American Express and Rank Organisation. Her global sponsorship experience covers the full spectrum from Ferrari in Formula One and the Olympics to cultural projects including The Olivier Awards and The Unilever Series. She joined Sponsorship Consulting in 2006 to work with blue-chip clients such as Siemens, Standard Chartered Bank and Cisco.

As Vice-Chair of The European Sponsorship Association, Pippa has led on key aspects of the developing sponsorship agenda including authorship of ESA’s Sponsorship Assessment & Evaluation Guidelines and introducing the concept of Continuing Professional Development.

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