From the outside, the sponsorship landscape looks pretty simple: There are rights holders (those looking for sponsors) and there are brands (those looking to sponsor). Rights holders reach out to brands, they meet, they pitch, and deals are negotiated and eventually done. In reality, the landscape and the process is entirely different and more involved.
For those looking to succeed in this space, understanding 3rd parties, who exert influence on the relationships, and are vital to their success, could be the difference in you being great at your job or not surviving in this cut-throat industry.
Who Are These 3rd Parties?
There are many ways of breaking this down but, to simplify it, I am going to group the different 3rd parties, who sit around the edges (and sometimes quietly in the middle) of sponsorship programs, into some broad but easy to explain and understand groups.
1. Internal Influencers
These people are the talent at your disposal such as athletes (in a sports rights holder) or success stories (in community/charitable organisations). More importantly, they also include your board and executive.
Agencies play a big role in sponsorship on both sides of the fence. Finding, keeping, managing, and correctly utilising agencies, and what they provide, can literally be the difference in profit and loss or success and failure.
3. Speciality Services
These can come from within or from the outside of your organisation but, again, are vital in the success of your program. For example, speciality services would include such people as graphic designers, printers, and merchandisers.
While new to the space, technologies are now established as something rights holders and brands cannot do without if they want success across all of the internal functions. In fact, those who lead in best practice sponsorship are making the most of technology to deliver ROO and ROI.
What Do They All Bring to the Table?
Each of the groups have far deeper aspects then I am able to go into here, however, even on the surface, there are many things which need to be understood; particularly with what roles each of the groups do and can play for your organisation. These include:
1. Internal Influencers
The talent provide the engagement and the faces to drive emotional attachment to your brand. In some cases, they are also vital to providing asset availability which can be sold to meet the objectives of your partner.
Your board and executive’s role is to unequivocally support your commercial goals, targets, and activity in any way they can add value. One of the key functions of the board is to support the operational practices rather than dictate it. For me, the old adage “Give, Get or Get Off” still rings true for board members at the rights holder level who are actively in the sponsorship marketplace.
There are many types of agencies. Some offer a broad range of services, which they are generally great at while some are average, and others specialise in specific parts of the sponsorship eco-system.
To break it down, and this is important to understand so that you can clearly define your use and engagement with the right agencies, the following are now widely present within our industry:
- Sales Agencies – Help you find partners and, more often now, also work with specific industries and brands to source opportunities.
- Activation Agencies – Help both brands and rights holders to activate partnerships in line with set objectives.
- Event Agencies – Are often the ones responsible for putting together and executing entire events or specific pieces of content at events.
- Marketing Agencies – Working on both sides of the fence, these agencies help with creative and brand elements for rights owners as well as positioning and market opportunities for brands. Often, they are able to work across the activation and selection space too.
- PR Agencies – Working on the brand positioning element on the brand-side, PR agencies are an important sideline that can help drive the promotion of outcomes achieved in sponsorship. Underutilised by rights holders in their own positioning, these agencies could help prepare for positive engagement at the time of sponsorship acquisition.
3. Speciality Services
These are a mixed group of people who are best to group together for the purpose of fitting this blog into anything but a white-paper! People within this group include:
- Strategic consultants – Helping both sides of the fence with their sponsorship strategy.
- Digital consultants – Very important in the current day and provide strategy, execution, and measurement services which are arguably the most attractive and vital elements of a sponsorship recap and review when a sponsor is assessing the effectiveness of a partnership or opportunity. These can come from within and larger organisations play a quasi-internal agency role themselves for their partners which is a very positive move when considering who best knows how to reach their audiences and how to engage them.
- Measurement Services – Measurement can be done by yourself, however, when operating in large markets it is important to be able to benchmark against your competition and other markets that your sponsors are active in. Measurement services, especially the big ones such as Nielsen Sports, are the only way of getting large scale benchmark reporting and using a quantifiable currency to compare your results against. Portions of these roles are commonly played from within large organisations with data and analytics roles now playing a key part in making sense of data for sales and partnerships teams.
The emergence of specialised technologies for sport is never ending and can become a minefield. You’ve got CRM, ticketing, membership management, fan engagement, staff engagement & happiness, customised apparel technologies, customer success measurement, and, for me the most important, specialist sponsorship management technologies.
Rather than looking at what they each can provide you (there are too many functions to mention), I will instead pivot to help with not drowning in this newly emerging field.
The important point with technology selection is that you must have a pain that is can or is being solved by technology to create efficiency and organisational improvement. It is important to mention that finding a technology that is ‘best of breed’ across all features is just not possible with speciality services which are instead specifically designed and developed to adapt, integrate and connect to existing platforms.
WARNING – some providers will lead you in the wrong direction. Thankfully, however, there are also eco-systems which allow clients to choose the right applications for themselves and insert them into their own eco-system with far more scalability than single providers can provide.
At the end of the day, technology is unavoidable and it will only continue to grow in importance. There are category experts available across all areas of technology so, for you, as long as the pain or problem is there, it can be solved. Thinking about solving specific pains and problems must be your approach in considering what, when, and who to buy if you are going to truly deliver ROO and ROI both internally and to your partners.
What is the future?
As we all hunt for speed of work and decision making success, the future lays with a mixture of in-built specialist staff appointments, selecting & utilising technology, and, importantly, the growing use of agencies.
Collaboration is the key to success when looking at your 3rd party sponsorship eco-system and whilst this has never really changed, and is not at all visible to the outside world, the diversity of our space, and the emergence of technology in particular, means that, if you want success, collaboration is imperative.
Mark Thompson // Managing Director
Mark specialises in sponsorship and diversified income strategies and has used this expertise across the Community, Semi-Professional and Professional Sports sectors. He combines hands-on experience in managing the expectations and obligations of sponsors with marketing and stakeholder engagement to deliver outstanding results.
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