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Sponsorship: When Precision Fuels Passion

9 min read.

Jill Downey, Managing Director

by Jill Downey, Managing Director

Core Sponsorship

Some of the industry’s most revered campaigns are, in fact, brilliantly activated sponsorships, be they teams, events, venues or personalities – think P&G’s ‘Thank you, Mom’ for The Olympics or Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy.’ Sponsorship provides a platform for powerful communications when armed with deep human insights. Why? Because sponsorship is rooted in fan passion which, when harnessed with precision, provides magic for brands.

However, playing with passion is akin to playing with fire; you better be careful, and you should have the following insights before you start:

1. A thorough understanding of fan dynamics.
2. A firm grasp of a sponsor’s rights and assets.
3. The knowledge of how and what to measure.

An expert sponsorship team will bring these three elements together in a seamless fashion. But do you always have the right experts in the room?


Sponsorship experts are channel-neutral because genuine fan insights guide their thinking. Sponsorship campaigns rely on authenticity to cut through and be meaningful. Vital to achieving this is the full understanding of the fan perspective (not just the brand’s customer) and the depth of their passion. In many ways, sponsorship resembles advertising with purpose. At its best it means tapping into cultures and subcultures and deciding to stand for something. This requires careful analysis to unearth the right insights.


Sponsorship experts apply the same rigour when assessing a sponsor’s rights and assets. Most sponsors activate a fraction of their rights and do so with little understanding of where the real value is within the rights schedule. Sponsorship experts who can measure this value accurately naturally know how to unlock more value.

At the same time, a fundamental understanding of what a rights holder can deliver, both legally and practically, is often missing from the creative process. Creative ideas must be developed with due diligence given to the rights holder’s position. Harnessing fan insight alongside a thorough understanding of rights enables much more effective briefing and allows agency partners to maximise value through activation.


There is a well-worn argument in sponsorship that it is difficult to prove return on investment or isolate its effectiveness. In this market, the conventional wisdom has been to accept far too readily that ROI cannot be proven, and in the process seemingly forsake all good measurement practices. Instead, resources are poured into activation, at which Irish marketers excel. The irony here, of course, is that great activation is fuelled by great measurement.

In many sponsorship contracts the bulk of the tangible value is delivered from brand exposure and this is not difficult to measure. So why don’t brands capture this exposure accurately and account for it in the overall marketing and media plan? For example, if you are concerned about the balance of your brand versus product messaging but you only assess sponsorship spends and not exposure, then you may be over- or under-investing. Understanding the euro value of the exposure is only half the story. You must understand the full extent of your brand’s visibility and that of your competitors. This is the only way to know your true share of voice as seen through the eyes of your customers.

So, what is getting in the way?


The enemy to great sponsorship is siloed thinking. Sponsorships sometimes fall under the remit of a different team outside the primary brand team. This team may even have their own agency relationships and are sometimes tied into limiting contracts. It becomes painfully clear that a lack of channel-neutral, sponsorship-specific expertise is at the heart of the problem. As a result, it is not surprising when sponsorships get caught up in a cycle of short-termism, and struggle to deliver their true value to the brand.

In client companies, sponsorships should not sit in a silo but should be managed within the brand team or, if handled by a team adept in sponsorship management, they should work very closely with the brand team. This facilitates a streamlined approach to all communications coming from the brand and maximises the opportunity sponsorship presents.


By the time it is given adequate attention, too often the sponsorship plan gets to an apparently inflexible rights holder who won’t (and often can’t) help execute the creative idea. This can delay potentially great work, cause unwanted frustrations in the partnership and ultimately lead to the weakening of ideas. This contributes to the idea that the sponsorship doesn’t offer value for money.

A creative idea that falls at the final hurdle with the rights holder is a complete waste of time and resources and will far outweigh the cost of bringing in the right expertise in the first place. Marketers and their agencies must have the right intelligence feeding into the process. Get the right people in the room, with the right information and then unleash the creative experts.



Despite taking large chunks of the marketing budget, sponsorship is not always the biggest priority in the calendar for the marketer. This is often for good reason; perhaps a brand refresh or a new product launch must take precedence. The intention to create something amazing behind that ‘sleeping giant’ or ‘Trojan horse’ of a sponsorship is resolute at brand planning stage, but it invariably gets constrained by time, resources, or is simply re-prioritised. This is the case in both the marketing team and in the agency teams that serve them.

Therefore, as a marketer, you will potentially sacrifice great opportunities for the brand by side-lining sponsorships in favour of other priorities or by allowing a siloed team to control the thinking.

Marketers should ask their agencies to provide a team of experts who can unlock the potential of their sponsorships. Giving the whole sponsorship brief to one integrated team, who must fully understand the wider brand context but whose role is to focus on the sponsorship, is the right way forward. It gives due prominence to the sponsorship, awakens the sleeping giant and will be that Trojan horse in the battle for consumer attention.

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