sponsorship activations

Dear Sam, I wish I knew this about activations …

October 18th, 2017 Posted by

In this ongoing series, Sam Irvine, SponServe’s Territory Manager, Australia and New Zealand, ponders his past life as a commercial manager at a rights holder and what he wishes he knew. Then, he pens a letter to his younger self. This one is on activations.

18 October 2017

Re: Activations

Dear Sam,

How are you? I hope everything is well at work and that you are looking forward to a big summer of W-League with Canberra United. They look strong this year.

I’ve seen some great activations recently. It was always a fun part of my role but I often didn’t navigate the whole thing very well. I was pondering what some of those missteps used to be, and what I could have done better, and I thought I’d share them with you.

I, and you, often use the term “activation” when putting proposals together, when determining the list of requirements at the start of a partnership term, and when looking for ways in which a partner can best leverage the available assets. What you don’t know is that because this term is usually used vaguely, used often and is considered all-encompassing, that you often got it wrong when including this crucial partnership benefit.

I remember a time when I had some sponsor blow up goals but I didn’t buy the right power cords or check the generators worked well. That fell flat … literally! Or, there was the time I didn’t organise enough players for the half-time game and we had to dumb it down so much that it was super boring.

To help you, I thought I’d suggest some questions that you can ask when offering up the concept of a partnership activation.

1. What are we trying to achieve?

Why is an activation, whatever it may potentially look like, important to the partner? Are they trying to have a physical presence at an event? Are they trying to leverage other partnerships in the one big opportunity? Try and tease out of the partner what their objectives are in this piece e.g. brand awareness, community engagement etc.

All of this will help you determine what the activation should or could be. Most importantly, it will help determine what success looks like in the eyes of the partner.

2. What resources are available?

Whether they are financial or physical, both in preparation for the activation as well as on the day, you really do need to understand the resources the partner has available. The answers will shape what you can achieve (which is much better than making assumptions and then not executing the activation well).

Be sure to identify any possible barriers from the outset. This is really important because one thing to understand is whether you will have additional funds to activate the partnership or whether it is expected to come from the fee already agreed. Too often, I just assumed that, if needed, there would be some extra money. Usually, there wasn’t. So, make sure you cover this key element BEFORE trying to get creative!

I know, I know, it’s hard not to get excited.

Another important element is whether or not the partner has access to graphic design or digital expertise to help give the activation a polished look. Or, will that fall to you?

If the activation centres around an event, what access to support staff will you have on the day?

3. What ideas do you have?

Someone needs to come up with the ideas. That’s why it is important to ask the partner, at the start, “Do you have any creative ideas you would like to consider?”

Too often, I put myself in the position of coming up with cutting edge, out of the box ideas. It’s not I didn’t have good ideas. Instead, it’s that the partner probably did as well, and they might have been better, but I didn’t ask. Bit rude.

Don’t put all the pressure on yourself to come up with the cool activation idea. It’s OK to use external advice where possible. You can’t see it just yet but you have an amazing network and lots of them could offer some activation ideas over a coffee simply because they want to help. Reach out.

Or, involve others from both businesses to get some creative input. You never know where the spark will come from. It doesn’t always have to come from you just because you are the commercial manager.

Finally, sometimes, you might have to talk to an agency. That’s cool. It’s all about the best outcome.

Most of all, don’t assume that you will be able to pull out a fresh idea at the last minute. Trust me, I know you.

4. How would you like the outcomes reported on this?

This is a special component of the partnership. Don’t assume that it can just be rolled into a mid or post-season review.

You should ask the question, at the start, “How and when do you want to be informed of the outcome of this activation?”

By identifying what is attempting to be achieved (Question 1) you will know what success looks like. Then, you can put this into the agreed format which may be a formal report or it may just be a brief slide for talking through during a coffee.

Whatever it is, ensure you report on this activation specifically, note the positives and the negatives, and learn from those for the future.

Sam, hopefully, this letter helps identify a whole bunch of things that will help you immediately. Now, go out there and ensure those partner activations are something special!

Yours sincerely,

Sam Irvine, the older one.


Sam Irvine // Territory Manager – Australia & New Zealand

Sam is passionate about helping organisations maximise their sponsorship programs and has worked with brands and rights holders at all levels. Sam is always looking for ways to improve himself and loves working with people who give as much as they take.


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