Pippa Collett – Vice-Chair, European Sponsorship Association

March 1, 2011

By Martin Laurence

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.

How did your career start?

My original career was in the hospitality industry and that led me, post gaining an MBA from Cranfield to work with American Express. That’s where I had my initial experiences with sponsorship, including working on the Olivier Awards and with Disney and the rest is history really!

How is working with the likes of Shell and American Express, as you have in the past, different to what you do now?

Well I think there are some similarities firstly; particularly in terms of consulting different parts of the business internally which is very similar to the sort of work we do as consultants; only we do it with different businesses now, externally. Financial management and successful team working are also similarly important.

One of the things that I do differently is being able to sense what’s going on in somebody else’s organization and how that impacts what they’re trying to achieve.  I am much better at managing stakeholder expectations and internal politics within clients’ businesses than in my own! I also think that one of the really interesting things about my current work is the variety of the organizations, and indeed industries, which one gets exposed to. This helps to round out your understanding and to spot similar symptoms but in a different organization or industry sector, so you can leverage past experiences and apply it in to new situation.

Leadership is another skill I have acquired.  Running a business is quite different to being a middle manager in a global organization.  This is still work in progress but I think my team appreciates my efforts.

You also have experience of working with brands like Ferrari in Formula One. Do strong brands within sport have a lot in common with strong brands – American Express, for example – outside the industry?

If both the sport and the sponsor have well-managed brands, inevitably when you first try and put them together there is going to be some tension as to how they should be associated. Ferrari, a very well-promoted brand with a clear persona does not, at first sight, sit particularly well beside the Shell brand; Disney and American Express had a similar challenge The solution comes from identifying relevant shared brand territory and aligning around that – fanatical pursuit of excellence in R&D for Shell and Ferrari, or quality family experiences for American Express and Disney.

The point of sponsorship is that both organizations believe that, through partnering together, they will create either greater brand equity in the balance sheet or indeed greater profitability on the bottom line.  So it’s in their interests to work through any challenges they might perceive at the outset in terms of how they align at least some elements of their brands.

Your focus is often on maximizing returns for sponsors. What are the most important factors sponsors should consider in this area?

I think the first issue is that brands should focus on optimizing their returns, not necessarily maximizing them, because the law of diminishing returns definitely has had a big part to play in sponsorship.  Gaining a return is hard enough and therefore activation programmes should centre on achieving a limited number of clearly defined objectives.

For sponsors, objectives largely fall into one of three types.  The first is building their brand – creating brand awareness at one end of the brand ladder, through consideration and preference to promoting brand advocacy at the other. The second type concentrates on commercial objectives – ‘how can this sponsorship help us sell more in some way?’ This can be as direct as a beer brand sponsoring a football club where 70,000 fans will be thirsty at half-time. Alternatively, by being seen to invest in a new market through sponsorship, a brand may gain a much-valued license to operate that conveys competitive advantage over those that are not perceived to have invested similarly. The third set of objectives congregate around engagement, whether that’s business building through hospitality, employee engagement programmes or cementing stakeholder relations.

It’s really important that brands have no more than 5 SMART [specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timebound] objectives for what they want to achieve from a particular sponsorship. That discipline will then help inform how they allocate their scarce  resources, whether that’s time,  money or people, as opposed to trying to do everything in the hope that something will work – inevitably resulting in a poor outcome for the brand.