With more than 20 years of sponsorship experience, Dockery Clark has been on the front lines as the industry has evolved, and classifies the changes she has witnessed as mostly, but not entirely, positive.

Having held sponsorship decision-making positions at Bank of America Corp. and MillerCoors, LLC for more than a decade, Clark successfully developed, negotiated and implemented a wide variety of sports sponsorship deals across the Olympics, NASCAR, stick-and-ball teams and venues, and pro tours.

After serving nearly four years as senior director of sports and entertainment marketing at MillerCoors, Clark left the Chicago-based company in July and returned to her native North Carolina.

IEG SR recently spoke with Clark. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: Having left the day-to-day of sponsorship a few months ago, you are probably in a better position to reflect and comment on the big-picture issues facing the industry. What are some of those issues?

Clark: There has been an ongoing issue that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and it became more apparent at MillerCoors. Many companies, especially consumer packaged goods companies, are getting away from using sponsorship to build their brands, and are instead viewing it purely as a retail hook for short-term sales promotions.

Sponsorship is best when you use it to drive passion and commitment to your brand. Sponsors have the opportunity to create campaigns around a sponsorship and lock in consumer engagement through the shared attributes with the property.

Clearly retail push is important, but so is consumer pull. You can’t depend on an 8.5-by-11-inch case card to do that. If companies are no longer using sponsorship to drive brand equity, that’s a long-term problem.

When you operate only in that type of short-term environment, there is less of a chance to drive equity measures. I put it in terms of considering property inventory versus property value, and that has implications for both sponsors and properties. A property’s value should be so much greater than its individual inventory.

If all a sponsor wants is retail activation for certain promotional periods, when it comes to negotiating they are not going to be willing to pay for the other aspects of sponsorship that are big revenue drivers for properties. In response, properties need to package their opportunities differently than most currently do, in a way that tells a bigger story than tickets and other individual assets.

Properties need to define what they stand for and the value of their brand, and sell the story as it relates to a potential sponsor’s brand and how the property can drive value for that potential sponsor. If they don’t, the days of the fully integrated sponsorship will be gone.

IEG SR: What are the biggest differences in the job of a sponsorship decision-maker now from when you first joined Bank of America in ’93?

Clark: The good news is that sponsorship now is perceived as a much more important part of the marketing mix.

The bad news is that many sponsorships have become very expensive and there are more people asking questions about what the company is getting out of them. It’s all about ROI.

While that in itself is not a bad thing, it is a primary cause of the focus on short-term promotions we just talked about, because it is easier to demonstrate results from sales promotions than from equity measures.

What happened in Washington earlier this year around the TARP issue only further exacerbated the situation. Look at Bank of America. They are still sponsoring, but you see a lot more product advertising than brand advertising associated with their partnerships regardless of whether the product is related to the sponsorship or not. By linking a sponsorship with products, they are hoping to get around some of that unflattering chatter about sponsorship being “wasteful.”

That political reaction to sponsorship really was detrimental to our industry. Why should sponsorship be more targeted than advertising or any other marketing medium? If anything, sponsorship can holistically deliver more than other elements of the marketing mix, and we need to do a better job defending that.

IEG SR: In your experience, what impact has the economy had on sponsorship?

Clark: Properties face a different set of competitors. As the marketplace gets tighter, your one-time partners may become competitors, and by that I mean TV broadcasters who are willing to do more to maintain their advertisers by providing benefits that are more akin to sponsorship.

A potential way to get around expensive property rights fees is to work with these broadcast partners. As the economic situation continues to unfold, media partners become more valuable because they are a one-stop shop.

At MillerCoors, we asked ourselves about considering ESPN–based on our advertising spend with them–more as a property in terms of using the relationship for activation and brand-building. We negotiated with ESPN in that vein and less as a spots-and-dots provider, with the end goal of driving retail activation and brand equity programs.

As a result, ESPN has provided on-air exposure, marks for product packaging; they do product integration in a TV spot and other production elements–such as (Miller Lite-sponsored NASCAR driver) Kurt Busch doing a SportsCenter spot–and offer other brand-relevant quick hits that get a lot of play and visibility.

IEG SR: What impact has the economy had on negotiations with properties?

Clark: Companies are looking for more flexibility, shorter-term deals and credit for value in-kind against activation.

Exclusivity may or may not be as important anymore. At MillerCoors, we felt we could out-execute our competitors, so it was less important. But again, if sponsors are only looking for retail promotion, they won’t be willing to pay for exclusivity either.

If exclusivity and other activation is not important anymore, at some point there has to be a reset of the value of the property. Properties and sponsors need to start speaking the same language. If you’re open and honest and have good dialogue, both parties will get to a win-win solution that drives value for both.

IEG SR: Can you identify a major challenge that you faced as a sponsorship buyer and how you addressed it?

Clark: A big issue was always the natural internal conflicts, whether between branding and sales objectives, marketing versus sales, and especially corporate versus local activity.

When buying a local sponsorship, I always tried to work with the local offices to help them understand the opportunity from a management-by-fact perspective. You need to take the emotion out in those situations and use data as much as you can. Properties like emotional buyers and the price tends to go up when emotions get involved.

Helping the local markets understand the true value of a property, and how they may or may not be able to use it, is huge in helping them negotiate the right deal.

IEG SR: Why did you leave MillerCoors? What are your future plans?

Clark: Pragmatically, the job had evolved and it was different from the job I went there for. It was becoming more about planning and less about sports marketing.

I want to continue to grow and be challenged. It was a good time to come back to North Carolina and see what else I can do to expand my horizons.

I’m looking at a number of different opportunities. I’m not necessarily married to sports marketing but would like to leverage my experience in the industry.

I would like to have the opportunity to run my own P&L and see what kind of management opportunities may be out there. I’m going to look at a number of things, some entrepreneurial, and some with corporate America.