The Sponsorship Industry Should Give Itself More Credit- Ben Wells

November 27, 2012

For a collection of experienced marketers, professionally-tasked with helping brands to communicate with their customers, we haven’t done a great job so far in telling the Sponsorship story.

We shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about this. Sponsorship is still a relatively new marketing discipline and the advent of the digital age and new marketing techniques has blurred the lines of what sponsorship actually is. I am not sure that definitions are overly important at this stage but I think that we as an industry need to be far more proactive in communicating our successes and trying to determine the industry agenda, rather than constantly having to react to uninformed comment in the wider media.

Major events like the Olympic Games come to highlight these issues. This is a time when the generalist marketing press and even consumer media want to write about sponsorship. This can be a double-edged sword: yes it’s great that our industry is getting more profile but when that profile is driven by lack of understanding – or in some cases, a malevolent agenda – then it can have a negative effect on the whole industry.

We all know that bad news helps to sell newspapers and certainly in the UK there were plenty of journalists in the lead up to the Olympics looking – and dare I say, hoping – for examples of where sponsors were having a tough time. There were definitely some examples of where sponsors got their Olympic messaging wrong – and we often don’t help ourselves by misunderstanding what sponsorship delivers, or should deliver – but we can’t rely on the press to tell the good stories. We need to be more proactive ourselves in talking about the success stories.

In the build-up to the Olympics, during and afterwards I read numerous sponsorship “evaluation” studies, determining the winners and losers based on brand awareness and other recall metrics. Such studies make for a great soundbite but in reality they mean nothing without understanding a brand’s objectives. We all know that, so why, in 2012 are we still seeing these “studies” gain so much coverage? It dumbs down and ultimately commoditises our industry. The issue is that nature abhors a vacuum and that in the absence of us providing something more useful, some enterprising soul has filled it with content which aims more to garner him cheap PR than to provide any meaningful commentary.

Coming out of the Olympics (as with almost every major sporting event) were countless stories asking how much athletes stood to earn in endorsements following their success. Again, it’s great to have journalists interested in sponsorship but when they are pursuing such a vacuous story then it’s a major missed opportunity for us all. We need to be educating them that endorsement is about more than just cash.

We have made great steps as an industry in the past few years. We’re more aware of the dangers of the “Chairman’s whim”, both buyers and sellers are increasingly approaching sponsorship with mutual aims and we’re constantly evolving the ROI model.

However we still have a long-way to go and it starts with us being a little more confident about the role that we play in the marketing mix in 2012. The world has moved away from the broadcast or one-to-many model and towards the realm of one-to-one. This means a great opportunity for social media, experiential marketing and genuinely strong CRM. However, without a theme to communicate through these channels the impact can be lost. This is where sponsorship can play a key role.

One of the downsides of the global financial crisis is that, spotting that they were likely to lose a few clients from their rosters, the big media agencies realised they had to diversify their offering to retain clients and all of a sudden, instead of buying media, these agencies were selling sponsorship advice. Fair play to them for spotting the opportunity but media and sponsorship are not interchangeable terms and it’s no surprise that we’ve seen sponsorship’s growth stunted by the insistence of influential voices buying, selling and measuring sponsorship based on media value. We should have been stronger as an industry, but there is no time like the present to start.

We have moved on a lot since the early days of sponsorship. We’re still a young industry and our growth curve has been steep. We’re taking ever-larger shares of marketing budgets and we offer brands enormous and unique opportunities to connect with customers in an increasingly fast-moving world. It’s time for us to give ourselves the credit we deserve and be confident enough to dictate the media agenda.

Let’s start with getting our own house in order: defining the role of sponsorship, agreeing clearly measureable objectives and executing with creative and innovative ideas. Then let’s not be afraid to ensure that our colleagues in the marketing press understand that sponsorship is about more than sticking a logo all over an event and are willing to drill down into the real reasons that sponsors invest as they do. It’s up to all of us to tell the sponsorship story.

This blog can be found at: and was originially published in Sporto magazine, and that version of this post can be found at:{jcomments on}

Ben Wells – Ben has fifteen years’ experience in the commercial side of sport. Having spent six years at Chelsea FC, where he was Head of Marketing, Ben launched Ishtar Consulting in 2011 with a view to providing specialist sponsorship and marketing support to brands, rightsholders and agencies. Prior to his time at Chelsea Ben spent nearly four years at Redmandarin, the strategic sponsorship consultancy. Follow Ben on Twitter @ben_wells1 or get in touch via This Blog appears regularly at

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