In this first blog in a series on Sponsorship as a Strategy, it seemed timely to address the issues for sponsors caused by the global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
With sporting events being cancelled or postponed in an effort to reduce the risk of infection for individuals and populations, what are the implications for sponsors? What steps can brands take to minimise the impact of exceptional circumstance such as these on their plans, objectives and return on investment?
Of course, the first point to make in this situation is that sponsors and sporting events are aiming to do the right thing in taking steps to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and to safeguard the health of their stakeholders including employees, customer, partners and fans.
From a commercial standpoint, the situation for a brand is largely dependent upon the motivation for, and objectives of, the sponsorship. Since its inception, SQN has been advocating that sponsorship should be viewed as a foundation for marketing and communications, not a point solution or tactic or after-thought added on at the end of a planning cycle if there is budget left over. Far from suggesting that the whole thing collapses if the foundation is weakened, this implies that the benefits and also the risks of the partnership are spread more widely and hence more easily mitigated.
Clearly the loss of a one-off event will have a much greater impact than the loss of one or even a few events in a multi-event championship. This risk is akin to that of partnering with an individual athlete, and simply follows the old adage of having all your eggs in one basket. This is something that should be thought about carefully at sponsorship strategy and selection stages.
In a similar way, the narrower the scope or perspective of the sponsorship, the harder the impact is likely to be from the cancellation of an event, whether one-off or otherwise. If a brand is only seeking brand awareness, using sponsorship as an alternative advertising platform with some hospitality opportunities throw-in for good measure, then obviously cancellation will result in all the cost but little benefit.
Viewing sponsorship as a strategic foundation means that it contributes to and integrates across the entire marketing and communications mix, providing context and content for everything from product marketing to PR and from ABM to lead gen to channel marketing. It’s not just about a logo or hospitality, it about telling a relevant story and engaging with a variety of different audiences with something meaningful. It is only by taking a broader perspective that brands can expect to unlock the true value sponsorship, using it to drive revenues, strengthen relationships with audiences and also enhance brand attributes such as reputation, relevant and awareness.
In this instance, value can still be extracted even in unforeseen circumstance such as a global health emergency. The story can still be told through a variety of platforms. If you have this broader perspective and you can’t tell the story at the event itself, tell it at your own event in an executive briefing centre, or an online conference, tell it though PR or digital channels. Inspire your influencers and channel partners and employees by telling them the story.
If the business case was created on the basis of narrow proposition, and you didn’t enter the sponsorship with this broader viewpoint, all is not lost. A rapid rethink of an existing partnership can still identify areas for value extraction.
The key learning point here though is, by not taking the strategic or foundation-based approach to sponsorship brands not only leave significant and measurable amounts of value on the table unrealised, they also expose themselves to greater overall risk.
To find out more or if you need help to reposition an existing partnership, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org