Jun 10, 2009 at 08:17 PM
written by Kevin Hanft

The END of Sponsorship Marketing?

This is the fourth posting in our "Key Learnings" blog series, which is a regular collection of insights and stories from thought-leaders within the sponsorship industry. Today's key learning comes from Kevin Hanft from Marketing Leverage LLC.

Thankfully, we have seen the end of the populism trend of bashing every company that had a sponsorship, ran client hospitality or rewarded its employees for working hard. I understand the sentiment that people cannot walk away rich for failing or manipulating the markets. But, where accountability exists and results can be demonstrated, I support most any activity that makes solid business sense.

Clearly sponsorship took it on the chin for a while in 2009, with auto makers and financial services firms as leading sponsors, it is hardly a surprise. Other industries have been affected too, but in a less public way. Their shareholders and industry watchers are rightly asking about the contribution and investments in sponsorship.

Let’s be honest, spending in sports & sponsorship grew explosively from the late 1980’s until 2007. It was a great period to be in property and rights sales, as brands fell over themselves to match competitors and gain advantage. Look at the growth in sports, leagues, teams and networks, nearly uncontrolled. Yes, much of this is related to the growth of media and the need for content. It also reflects the increasing fractionalization of the market and niche interests.

But just like real estate and Wall Street, there was an extreme case of exuberant optimism running amok. I say this based on the continuing din in the industry regarding metrics and ROI. Given the noise, it is clear that many brands engaged in sponsorship are using a compass and sextant in a GPS world. To me it is not about the magical ‘black box’ everyone is waiting for. Rather, it is about sponsorship managers rolling up their sleeves and engaging with marketing peers to decipher what matters and how to account for it – as simple as that. (Clearly it is not THAT simple – but most make it far too complicated and hard)

Returning to my argument for the day; Sponsorship will continue to be a viable and important marketing tool. Why? Simply because when it is done well, there is no more effective way to reach, influence and move customers through the relationship cycle – faster and with more commitment. The intersection of a brand, a sport and consumer passions is hard to beat.

Now it will never be the same as the ‘90s, and thank goodness. We will see a more measured, strategic and smart application in marketing plans. Properties will be better prepared to aid partners in proving the value and may take on accountability, too.

If you were Saturn and looking for a way to convince the market of the engineering expertise, sophistication and durability of your cars, would you look to an ad campaign, viral web, social web or sponsorship of a racing team? Probably some of each, but only by taking your cars onto the track will demonstrate those qualities and truly bring the brand to life.

Kevin Hanft is principal at Marketing Leverage LLC and has 20+ years experience practicing strategic marketing and communications for brands such as AT&T, Avaya, Johnson & Johnson, Lucent and Mayo Clinic. Most recently, Hanft was VP Global Account Director at IMG developing and executing global marketing programs for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Hanft's insights can be regularly found at http://kevinhanft.blogspot.com.