5 Principles of Sponsorship Evaluation

Evaluation drives analysis and reflection - which drives improvement

Here are our five principles of sponsorship evaluation –  the product of over 20 years of client work.

Businesses offer many weak excuses for not conducting sponsorship evaluation, but perhaps the most annoying is the belief that proper evaluation’s impossible – or at the very least in the too difficult box. 

This belief is based on sponsorship’s intrinsically integrated nature and the fact that sponsorship operates concurrently with other brand communications, increasing the challenge of isolating its impact. For sure, correct sales attribution can be a challenge for non FMCG products – and meaningful movements in key brand metrics can be a slow process, so it’s a tempting argument.

But we know from the experience of over 100 clients that evaluation is not only possible, it’s incredibly helpful – especially if you’re able to shift the perspective from ‘how can we prove our sponsorship is a success?’ to ‘how can we make our sponsorship even more effective?’.

So here we go…

1 . Measure what matters

Successful sponsorship evaluation is closely linked to sponsorship strategy. If the strategy is clear, evaluation is easy. A strong sponsorship strategy, as we described here, depends on clarity of objectives.

Sponsorship is at the same time strengthened and bedevilled by the fact that it can do so many things. We’ve sat in so many review meetings when the existing sponsorship is defended on the grounds of what we’d describe as incidental benefits. The staff love it. The marathon raises so much money for charity. It really embeds us in the community. Everybody knows we’re a sponsor. None of which relate to the strategic challenge – the thing that’s really going to shift the needle for the business.

This makes sponsorship incredibly sticky – something for everyone – but likewise incredibly unaccountable; and infuriating for anyone trying to measure clear impact.

So the first principle of great sponsorship evaluation is to measure the right thing. To identify single-minded, meaningful objectives and define the key performance indicators for your campaign.

2. Separate outputs from outcomes

An important part of this is to differentiate between outputs and outcomes. The terms are more widely accepted now and the distinction is simple but critical. It’s the same distinction as with any list of objectives: some are higher order – the ones you really need to achieve; and others are enabling objectives, things which you need to do in order to reach your higher objectives.

It’s the same for sponsorship evaluation. Outcomes, or business outcomes, are what you want your sponsorship to achieve, the business-critical measures – such as sales figures, or customer acquisition, or changes to brand metrics. Outputs are the ways how well you are executing your sponsorship – such as brand exposure, event attendance, positive media sentiment, SM following etc etc.

They’re important, because if your sponsorship isn’t performing at this level, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll achieve your business outcomes. But I can’t count the times that evaluation has consisted of a battery of outputs, most of which with little direct connection to outcomes.

So the second principle of sponsorship evaluation is to be clear about the difference.

An illustration of the difference and relationship between outputs and outcomes

3. Make the connection

To take a concept from the not for profit world, you need a solid theory of change here. 

A theory of change explains in logical steps how your sponsorship is going to achieve your commercial objectives. In the not for profit world, a theory of change is fundamental to securing program support – the key component of the business plan. Does your business have a clear understanding of – and a high level of confidence in – how your sponsorship is going to contribute to the delivery of your business outcomes?

We actually consider two orders of output metric.

Theory of Change developed for National Citizen Service

Activation measures, as described above, benchmark and track how well activation is being executed. Other outputs are outcome indicators, and have a close relationship to business outcomes. The sponsorship’s impact on audience perception of brand metrics for example is a credible and dependable indicator of changes to overall brand perception, the outcome. In the same way, progress along whatever CRM tracking system the client uses is a credible and dependable indicator of sales. By contrast, positive media sentiment, is great – but not of high relevance if your sponsorship is targeting product trial.

It’s your theory of change that embodies the key data you need to track.

4. Make the most of what you have

Businesses today have a wealth of data at their disposal. This includes, for most, digital engagement and extensive sales data, as well as brand, media and social media tracking. Before we recommend new research, we spend quite some time to dissect both the information already within our clients’ possession and the research channels at their disposal.

Online activity and redemption mechanisms allow simple tracking, if not of outcomes, of closely related outputs. Although space within the brand tracker is generally fiercely protected, just one or two questions here can provide invaluable information about sponsorship impact and create stronger and more informative connections.

The fourth principle of sponsorship evaluation is to explore your owned data. If you’re heading up sponsorship, dig around for data. It’s quite possible that nobody has thought to join the dots with existing internal data sources.

Do this before you commission research.

5. Think scorecard, not score

We’ve posted on this before. Whether it’s the assessment of new sponsorships or the evaluation of existing ones, don’t be seduced into the single metric solution. Or, in Kim Skildum-Reid’s no punches pulled language, ‘Reporting isn’t about mashing all of this good, solid, benchmarked information into some kind of neat little ratio, just because that’s what your senior executives are used to.’  (From Sponsorship Measurement : How to measure what’s important)

Vendors which offer to condense data into a single score aren’t doing you any favours. They aren’t helping you to see and understand what’s happening within your sponsorship – they’re just asking you to accept a simplified view of what’s important.

As a reporting mechanism, we favour a dashboard, ideally, a balanced scorecard. The balanced scorecard presents a combination of key metrics and is structured clearly to demonstrate the respective roles of each metric.

It should reflect the three types of metric we discussed above – activation output, outcome indicator and outcome and can also include resource metrics, to reflect the format of a logic model. What you’re aiming for is an overview of the big picture – along with the salient details which are relevant to understanding the big picture.

This provides you with outcome-led metrics for upward reporting – along with executional metrics to assess and review performance.

These are only principles, I know, but if you seriously want to address your sponsorship evaluation – and your research debriefs are currently leaving you with a gnawing empty feeling – then do work through these – or give us a call!