Is sponsorship worth the money?

Maybe it’s just me…but has the world gone sponsorship mad?

It seems these days just about everything or anything has a logo on it.

In fact, the placement of logos in the right spot to maximise coverage has become an art form in itself.  I take my hat off to the person who thought of having AFL umpires sponsored by an eye-care company.

But does associating your logo with a sports team or individual start really make that much of a difference?  Or to go straight to the accountant’s version of that question: Is it really worth the money?

In my book sponsorship can play a critical role in helping a company raise its profile or position its brand in a way that makes it more appealing to existing and prospective customers.  But it has to be done right.

In terms of profile-raising, the best I’ve ever seen was here in Perth a few years ago when the mobile phone company announced it was in negotiation with the WA Football Commission for naming rights to Subiaco Oval.  There was outrage in the media, mainly from many older football followers, at the prospect of their hallowed ground becoming “Crazy Johns’ Stadium”.  I am not sure if it was intended, but it worked like a treat.  Up until then, Crazy Johns was a relative unknown in the Perth mobile phone market but after six months of pretty much “free” coverage in media reports, I am guessing their profile problem had been solved.  In the end they didn’t win the naming rights battle but I suspect they’d achieved far more than they could ever have hoped with at least a million dollars of free publicity without paying a cent in sponsorship. 

So yes, sponsorship can play a big role for companies wanting to raise their profile in a new market.  But for many of my clients, that’s not really an issue.  They have a profile, it is far more about how their brand is positioned or perceived – especially if they are searching for permission to broaden their trading base or begin to operate in areas outside of their historic base.

When it comes to positioning a brand, I am a big fan of the strategic use of sponsorship investment.  By “strategic” I mean a carefully thought-through and planned approach, which begins with a crystal clear understanding of the brand promise and the emotional linkages to your brand essence. I am amazed by the number of companies that simply hand out money in the name of “community investment” with little or no apparent logic.  The best example I can think of right now is the HBF Run for a reason.  HBF is on a journey to be recognised as far more than an insurance company.  It wants to be recognised and embraced by its existing and prospective customers as a company that can help with their broader health needs.  HBF’s sponsorship strategy involves careful alignment with community events that encourage people to walk, run, swim, cycle – essentially anything that increases their prospects of living a healthy life.  And this is where sponsorship can produce a great return.  HBF could stand up and just talk about its desire to help people get healthier.  But words are easy.  What really changes the mindset of an audience is when they see a brand taking concrete action that illustrates its commitment to the cause.  It is the old “actions speak louder than words” argument. 

So, here again, sponsorship can help companies who want to fast-track the way in which their brand is perceived – especially if there is untapped value in associating with a cause or community concern that is dear to the hearts of their customers or prospects.  Of course, it is a waste of money if the company can’t get the basics right and deliver on the core elements of its brand promise.  But used wisely, the accountants can rest in peace – sponsorship can be a very fruitful investment that returns value in spades.  The key, as always, is strategic planning and precise execution.