SBJ/October 24 - 30, 2005/Marketingsponsorship

Here’s the trick on how to treat 3 scary marketing characters

Most executives in the sports sponsorship and marketing industry are no different from those in other business fields. They are sincere, qualified, hard-working folks who honestly desire to advance their careers by doing a good job for their employers.

But the industry also has its tiny share of people who serve as impediments to good sports marketing.

So, in the spirit of the Halloween season, let’s see who’s knocking on our door and shouting, “Trick or Treat!”

Advertising, Public Relations and Promotional Agencies Disguised as Sponsorship Experts:

Many companies rely on their agencies as sources for marketing expertise, including sports sponsorships. The problem is that some agencies pretend to have sponsorship expertise they don’t have.

All agencies are wired to say “yes” to the client, regardless of whether the skills the client needs are present. That’s because an agency’s worst nightmare is that the client will look elsewhere for a specific skill, develop trust in the new agency and then move its business. Also, many advertising, PR and promotional agencies don’t know how to make money from sponsorships.

The result is that when clients ask these agencies to evaluate a sponsorship proposal, the agencies cannot do it, and they see the sponsorship as a competitor for billing dollars. So the agencies kill the sponsorship.

When a property is pitching a sponsor, and the sponsor asks the property to make a careful and critical examination of it through the sponsor’s agency, an alarm bell should sound. In response, properties should have in place additional, non-intrusive pathways of communication with the sponsorship decision-maker, aside from their communication with the sponsor’s agency.

Autocrats Wearing the Masks of Competent Sponsorship Managers:

This costume usually involves a sponsor company executive disguising himself as a take-charge leader with the best interests of his company in mind. In reality, the sponsorship milieu is the autocrat’s personal fiefdom.

He’s not such a big shot in the office, but he’s the company executive in charge of sponsorships. And when he’s on the road with the sponsorship, he’s The Man.

For him, the hotel, hospitality suite, catered food, merchandise and apparel, event signage, wine, restaurants, weather and limo are never good enough. He berates his agency account executive when that exec takes an entire hour to scrounge up 12 more hotel rooms for next week’s Daytona 500.

When the sponsorship is popular, he’s eager to take credit for it. But when the sponsorship’s effectiveness is questioned, it becomes clear that he hasn’t done the work to understand and measure it. He’ll be the first to ditch it.

Sports properties dealing with autocrats would do well to create broader relationships in the sponsor company by making sure executives at different levels understand the value of the sponsorship.

They also should spread a wide paper trail of successes linked to the sponsorship. Because the day will come when the autocrat is held to accounts, and he’ll get the boot. When he does, he’ll make a beeline for an agency job as a sponsorship expert (see above).

The Accountant Masquerading as a Marketer:

He spouts an understanding of the importance of building brands and creating loyal and frequent customers by reaching them through sports sponsorship. But he really doesn’t get it.

In his heart, he’s a green-eyeshaded, sleeve-gartered Scrooge, pinching marketing pennies and carping about wasting money on sponsorship. He believes that carpet-bombing the public through multimedia price promotions is the best marketing tool, and that shoddy advertising is more powerful than sponsorship.

This isn’t true, of course. According to International Events Group, a Chicago-based sponsorship think tank, advertising is good at communicating product attributes and pricing. But it also can clutter consumers’ lives and be intrusive.

Sponsorship does a better job of building brand imagery and creating brand awareness, leading to consumer loyalty. And sponsors are invited into consumers’ lives because sponsorships complement customers’ interests.

The problem is that somehow our masked accountant came through business school hearing nary a word about sponsorship, so he doesn’t understand it.

People like him rarely stay in the same job more than two years. Properties dealing with him should keep records of their successes, try to survive his tenure and hope his successor is more enlightened.

Unfortunately, he’ll probably be recruited as the sponsorship manager of a bigger company (see above).

When these three costumed characters approach, it’s best to look behind the mask to know who you’re dealing with.n

Mel Poole (mpoole@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is president of the consulting and marketing firm SponsorLogic.

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