Why are sponsorship evaluation budgets so tight?
There’s not an agency that doesn’t subscribe in principle to the importance of sponsorship evaluation – but relatively few brands that set sponsorship evaluation budgets commensurate with investment. Of the brands which evaluate, the majority rely either on syndicated rightsholder research or run moronic surveys of the kind discussed here to assess brand impact.
From our experience, resistance comes from some familiar places – and to understand them helps you to work around them!
Budgetary pressures are often cited – but clearly the decision to invest in evaluation or not is a matter of internal priority. When budgets are tight, it’s tempting to cut back on measurement in order to improve impact – but if budgets are tight (and when aren’t they?), it’s actually more sensible to focus on effectiveness and generating more value from investment.
Cultural resistance plays a large part : for organisations with a strong action bias, quite often businesses with a strong production or manufacturing base, measurement – as well as more conceptual planning – tends to take a back seat to execution. And the general culture of big business – with some notable exceptions such as Google which appear to value a learning culture – is not conducive to honest reflection. So, along with the pressure to demonstrate success, many businesses tends to favour the comfortable illusion of a quick survey.
If that sounds like your business, start small but focus on delivering quality intelligence. Don’t worry about covering the bases, look for areas where a low budget can deliver real insight. And check out number four in our post on the principles of sponsorship evaluation – making the most of the data you already have,
The relentless cycle of the annual budget and target-setting cycle and the difficulty to secure longer term commitments also mean that support for long-term measurement initiatives is hard to find, especially when so many tools (and benchmarking practices) require up-front investment and planning to draw the correct conclusions down the road.
Understanding of sponsorship and sponsorship measurement is another factor. To cite Francis Dumais from elevent once again, ‘A majority of executives are not familiar with ways to assess the performance of their marketing teams besides sales. Academic training in sponsorship is scarce, large organizations tend to move employees around in different roles for training purposes, and the experience of people who stumble into sponsorship is quite varied which affects the way they see the medium. On top of this, sponsorship measurement is a niche within a niche that requires some media knowledge, some market research experience and perhaps some academic training.’
Very well said, as usual Francis.
Another major obstacle to establishing a suitable sponsorship evaluation budget is simply the belief that proper evaluation’s impossible – or in the too difficult box. This position 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. Correctly attributing sales can be a challenge, especially for non FMCG products. Meaningful movements in key brand metrics can equally be a slow process, dangling a scary question mark over the entire practice.
This underscores the fundamentally intangible nature of evaluation. In our experience, sponsorship evaluations budgets can have an outsize impact on sponsorship effectiveness. But without the conviction of experience, to invest in sponsorship evaluation can easily feel like a potential waste of money, especially if everything seems to be going fine.
In all these cases, education is your friend. Luckily, there are plenty of positive evaluation case studies available just a Google away so inform yourself and, if you can, explore any hypotheses you may have about how to improve your sponsorship’s performance. A hypothesis – your instinct or hunch. really – can serve as the basis of an investment case, so work through the implications, assuming you’re right. If you can identify clear benefits, your case is half made.
So that’s the bad news. Now, here are a couple of good news stories to balance the picture.
We were supporting a recent client to evaluate two sponsorships, both marathons. One was only four years of age, the other of over 20 years’ standing. The company loved both of them, the sponsorship team loved them, the local media loved them, the rights-holders loved them. Evaluation of the two showed clearly that the younger, smaller event was completely outperforming the older, more prestigious event. By a factor of circa 4:1.
It took nearly two years to exit – a consequence of the pandemic, fear of jeopardising the value of two decades of investment. But with time, the brand came to realise that time and money invested are no guarantee of success – and that far more important was structure and nature of the partnership. And with that understanding came the realisation that it once again had discretionary budget – and far greater creative freedom to deploy that budget.
Another client, a beer brand, was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It had sponsored the national team for over a decade and, while it loved the brand association and its dominance in the national football landscape, activation possibilities were limited and – to boot – the national team simply weren’t performing at their best, meaning fewer matches and a weaker emotional platform. We were working remotely, with four day SWAT trips to meet with the marketing team, and after the first visit, we lay down some parameters for an evaluation exercise, which we expanded a little to better understand the national football culture.
The results were remarkable. Brand equity was strong. Fans loved the activations and we’ve rarely seen a brand that had succeeded so well in integrating itself into the sport. But the truly exciting thing that we learned was the strength of the local 5 a side culture. Nearly every village even, let alone town, had its 5 a side cancha – and even better, there was an unregulated, micro-enterprise industry supplying cold drinks to players and spectators. Altogether, evaluation opened up a national, year-round grassoots activation platform which dovetailed beautifully into the brand’s national sponsorship.
Evaluation is hugely valuable. It brings focus, clarity and can transform sponsorship practice. If your sponsorship evaluation budget isn’t up to the job, you have our sympathies, but don’t give up – start the groundwork, trust your instinct and work on your investment case. If you want any help, one of us will be more than happy to bounce ideas around with you.l