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Account For Sponsorship’s Real Value

PR News, September 24, 2012

By Jim Andrews

When companies and brands partner with sports, entertainment, cause-related or cultural events and organizations, they can forge powerful, emotional connections that change perceptions and behavior by tapping into the passion of their audiences.

But determining the value of that impact—both its potential when choosing where to focus a brand’s sponsorship efforts, as well as the actual return on an existing partnership—is not as simple as calculating cost-per-thousand or reviewing ratings points.

This, of course, is familiar territory for PR professionals, who often must justify the value of their efforts to leadership more comfortable with the “hard” numbers associated with advertising buys.

Too often, communicators take the easy way out when it comes to sponsorship evaluation, merely transferring advertising surrogates such as media equivalencies and impressions to sponsorship, or using intermediate metrics such as exposure and recall to gauge performance.

But this misses the mark. It doesn’t consider the vast differences between a sponsorship and a media buy. It doesn’t account for the fact that sponsorship’s real value lies in passion and engagement. Nor does it recognize that sponsorship’s impact is not one-dimensional; a partnership’s ability to reach its goals depends on a series of interconnected variables.

The issue of how to determine sponsorship’s worth is far from academic for marketing and communications professionals. Not accounting for sponsorship’s real value leads to bad decisions, missed opportunities and wasted resources.

On the front end, marketers often assess the value of a sponsorship opportunity based solely on its tangible benefits, such as number of signs, ad spots and display space—without accounting for the intangible factors such as loyalty and positive image.

That mistake has led many companies to walk away from potentially successful sponsorships because the numbers “didn’t add up” when comparing the fee to the cost of acquiring comparable tangible benefits through traditional media and promotions.

As for measuring a sponsorship investment’s return once a deal is underway, consider the spirits brand that engaged IEG Consulting to assess whether it was getting its money’s worth from a multimillion dollar investment with a NASCAR team. An initial assessment of broadcast metrics showed the brand received significant visibility during telecasts of races. Translating impressions into advertising equivalencies showed a 2:1 return versus the sponsorship fee. Far too many sponsors would stop there, share the glowing report with leadership and accept pats on the back for a job well done.

In this case, the sponsor recognized it needed to understand more than the amount of time its logo was visible. It required evidence of whether that visibility impacted consumer behavior.

The brand commissioned market research to see whether it was tapping into fan interest through its communication and promotional platforms. The results were eye-opening: Despite its visibility, there was little to no recognition of the responsible drinking campaign that was the focal point of the brand’s messaging through signage and on-car exposure—a key goal of the sponsorship.

Had it not committed to a true assessment of actual outcomes, rather than intermediate outputs, this brand would have continued to invest in a partnership that was not delivering positive business results.

Those responsible for selecting, optimizing and evaluating sponsorships should include the following best practices as part of their plan:

  • Define and Benchmark Objectives on the Front End: Having specific goals is the only way to determine alignment between sponsor and partner up front and to be able to measure success as the sponsorship progresses.
  • Consider Intangible as Well as Tangible Benefits: Sponsorship’s true worth lies in its ability to do far more than deliver a message to an audience. It is not a form of media, and should not be viewed as such.
  • Focus Activation on Relevant, Meaningful Experiences: Ask the question: “As a sponsor, would we be missed if we left?” In other words, to influence behavior ensure you are doing something to enhance the fan, participant or member experience and receive credit for it.

Evaluation of sponsorship’s real value isn’t a simple process. But the clear understanding of its outcomes makes it well worth the effort.

Contact

Jim Andrews is senior VP, content strategy for sponsorship consultancy IEG, LLC. He can be reached at jim.andrews@sponsorship.com.