The gold standard


The debate about standard evaluation metrics has crawled around for years.

Conference organisers probably have shrines devoted to it – it always helps them off to such a good start. I can just hear the guys at Haymarket: ‘So what are we going to talk about this year, it’s the same discussion year in year out… Yeah, but the standard evaluation question gets them every time…everyone loves some freakin thought leadership.’ (Seriously, when is one of the conference organisers going to employ someone who’s actually done sponsorship?)

There are two typical responses to the question of course.

One is a Borges-like, labyrinthine exercise in homogenising and framing assessment criteria, and multi-variable plotting, with an inevitably large dose of rounding and subjectivity. This approach generally emerges from a desire to appropriate a methodology: either small research agencies wanting to differentiate, or from WPP agencies wanting another ‘bespoke tool based on the largest benchmarking and analysis exercise ever conducted’ to reassure clients and provide a substitute for actually thinking.

The other response is laughter of course.

After all, we haven’t even been able to standardise visibility metrics successfully. To argue that the difference between TV exposure and local print is simply a difference in rate card value completely sidesteps the whole question of channel planning and forgets the old maxim: the medium is (a big part of) the message.

It also presupposes that the big broad world of business would agree, or even see the sense in agreeing, on a common vision of brand – what it is, how it works, and then, how you measure it? Kevin Roberts expressed it perhaps best, in Defining Sponsorship: how do you measure engagement?

And a hundred other reasons. We can’t even define sponsorship clearly!

But maybe we’re asking ourselves the wrong question? What if, instead of entertaining the thought of standardised evaluation, we could identify a single dominant metric, a lead indicator for, if not the entirety of a sponsorship, then at least a large part of it?

For me, that metric would be: do employees feel proud of this sponsorship?

A few conditions:

  • the employee sample need to be drawn from different levels and functions of an organisation, from top to bottom
  • the stimulus would consist of a business case, articulated in writing in one page, accompanied by a full budget, and activation plan….
  • evaluation would be against a number of measures including anticipated impact on business, alignment with brand, relevance to customers and directly against pride (strength of feeling)

Why pride?

Very simple.

Pride, in the positive sense, according to our Wiki-friend, ‘refers to a satisfied sense of attachment toward one’s own or another’s choices and actions’. It is strongly linked to the concept of social identity: how we feel we are viewed by those around us. It’s also associated with praise, a fulfilled sense of belonging, and positive self-evaluation. It has also been shown, according to researchers, to have enhance creativity, productivity, and altruism. Not that we need research to tell us that – we have all experienced in personally.

On a more human level, when we feel proud of our employer – not just in the context of sponsorship, but more broadly corporate performance, reputation and citizenship – we are better able to integrate our personal and our work life, more likely to become an advocate and more likely to enjoy our work. And ask anyone in the banking sector the impact on social identity. And, as reputation as a good corporate citizen is increasingly recognised as a real driver of brand, the reaction of employees has to be the best barometer.

Many factors affect our happiness at work: the level of fulfilment it offers, a sense of direction – both individual and collective, our working conditions, the quality of our relationships, confidence in our ‘leaders’ and many more. Many of these areas sponsorship can’t touch – but many it can.

When we interviewed him for Working the Olympics, Tom Shepard, formerly XXXX at Visa International, told us: I remember HR coming in and saying: ‘You know, one of the big reasons that people join Visa is because we’re an Olympic sponsor’. And I remember thinking, shouldn’t it be the job description, or the compensation package, or the opportunities?’

It’s easy to treat the Olympics as an exception because it is such a powerful property. But many sponsorships have the potential to make employees proud if they’re managed right and if investment is reweighted.

Okay, so maybe lead indicator is over-stating the case. And I’m not seriously suggesting that employee pride is the determinant of sponsorship success. But what I am clear about is that, unless employees are proud, your sponsorship is under-performing.