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How to get sports sponsorship right in B2B

More B2B brands are looking at sports sponsorship as a way to build resonance with customers. Ross Arnold explains what, and what not, to do.

The big money sporting sponsorship has long been the bastion of the B2C brands. Think Nike, Coke, McDonalds and the leading telco companies and the picture is pretty clear to see. Sponsorship provides an awareness platform, and with clever activation an engagement opportunity too, for consumer brands wanting to reach their target audiences directly. When done well, it can be mightily effective.

However, recently more B2B companies are seeing the value of sponsorship investment. Why? The simple answer is that B2B brands are starting to behave much more like B2C brands by trying to build a resonance directly with end consumers. In addition, trying to define and categorise brands as either B2C or B2B in today’s world is much harder and as such, the varying objectives of such brands can be achieved by using sponsorship as a platform to communicate.

Broad opportunities for B2B

Traditionally, a B2B brand would invest and see value in the more ‘classic’ kind of sponsorship assets. Hospitality, brand presence, business showcasing opportunities. But as the platform of sponsorship develops, and rights holders become more open and willing to craft non-traditional sponsorship packages, the opportunities for B2B brands are broadening and as such, so are the number of brands featuring prominently at the sports and entertainment events and venues that we all attend in our droves.

If we cast our minds back a few years for a moment, let’s look at Procter & Gamble’s 10-year investment in the Olympic Games, which started way back in Vancouver 2010. A consumer company to its core, for the first time in the company’s history the P&G brand name was thrust into the public eye, uniting all of the brands we use day to day under this overarching B2B brand umbrella. Household brands that we buy and use every day, yet how many of us have ever bought these products from P&G itself? None. We buy from P&G’s retail partners and this is where the value of their Olympic sponsorship came into force. Leverage their rights, P&G took the Olympics into the stores of their business customers, and when combined with the evergreen P&G ‘thank you mum campaign’, you have a pretty powerful communications platform which is still going strong.

Then we have the storytelling opportunities that sponsorship platforms can provide. Why does the global logistics company DHL invest in global sponsorship platforms such as the Rugby World Cup, Formula 1 or previously Cirque du Soleil? Because its provides an opportunity to demonstrate their role in moving these global events around the world, the accuracy and specialisms required to move F1’s infrastructure and the global network required to move something of the scale of Cirque to all corners of the globe. And of course, not forgetting the traditional B2B hosting opportunities that these events provide and the opportunity to pass local activation opportunities to regional and local teams.

Or Gallagher Insurance, which raised a few eyebrows when it was announced as the new headline sponsor of Premiership Rugby. Who are they, people asked? But that’s exactly the point. The audience that rugby attracts, loaded with business decision-makers is bang on brief for Gallagher and their growth objectives in the UK.

This desire to tell a story and use the assets available is also music to the ears of the properties. Commercial investment is still the most important benefit. However, what is becoming increasingly important is the desire by properties to partner with the right companies – businesses that will activate their sponsorships properly. No rights holder worth their salt wants its commercial partners to remain dormant, they want them to activate, activate, activate as it benefits them too.

As the assets available to activate sponsorships grow and develop, the relationship needs to become more symbiotic.  Sponsorship can be expensive and tricky to sell and it needs to be worth the investment, if both sides can squeeze the most of out of the opportunity, then it is a much more appealing prospect.

However, as always, it’s not just as simple as signing a deal. There are things you simply must do and things you definitely need to avoid.

How to do it right

  • Be clear on your objectives and invest in what you need, not what you are being sold. Seek independent advice on deal values and whether a partnership opportunity will work for your objectives.
  • Sponsorships are only as good as your activation. You need a clear activation strategy and budget to back it up.
  • Look at what your competitors are doing and steer clear of copycatting. Find your brand's white space or you’ll get swallowed up.
  • The most effective partnerships are those done collaboratively with rights holders. Don’t complete with them, work on mutually beneficial activation and communication strategies.

What not to do

  • There is still a lot of deal completion done on what we call 'Chairman's instinct'. Be more scientific in how you choose and evaluate sponsorships and then decide how to show up in the most effective way.
  • Don’t put all of your money into rights, save money for activation!

Making the most of your event sponsorship

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Making the most of your event sponsorship