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The Sponsorship Handbook - an interview with Pippa Collett and William Fenton


Interview by: Giles Metcalfe

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The Sponsorship HandbookWilliam Fenton’s status as a sponsorship expert has been built through 18 years’ experience in sponsorship working with Sports Marketing Surveys and Sponsorship Research International/ISL on projects including the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and F1.

Pippa Collett joined Sponsorship Consulting as Managing Director in August 2006, following an extensive client-side career with Shell, American Express and Rank organization. Her global sponsorship experience includes the management of such high-profile platforms as Ferrari in Formula One and the Athens Olympics, as well as arts and entertainment projects that include The Olivier Awards and the Covent Garden Festival.

Their book, The Sponsorship Handbook, is out now.

What was the background to you writing The Sponsorship Handbook?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Sponsorship as a marketing discipline actually grew during the recession and looks set to accelerate as public funding shrinks. There is significant demand for sponsorship expertise from organizations, events and institutions and, although at least 80 per cent of sponsorship is still spent on sports, sponsorship is becoming ever more vital as a source of revenue for the arts, NGOs, environmental projects and even cities. Sponsors in turn complain of receiving up to 300 proposals a week, most of which have obviously done no homework on the sponsor or their business. We were getting more calls than we could possibly service and wanted to find a way to scale up in helping getting people started.

Who should read the book, and why?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

As a young industry, sponsorship suffers from a lack of formal training and best practice examples through which practitioners can develop their expertise. New entrants struggle to find the right resources to get them down the learning curve and even the more experienced recognise the benefits of exploring new ideas. There are a handful of academic journals but these are too narrow and specialist for everyday practitioners of sponsorship.

The Sponsorship Handbook is a practical guide that offers tips, tools and techniques for both those working for sponsors and those searching for sponsorship. Sponsor seekers will vastly improve the efficiencies of the whole process and have a much greater chance of having their proposal examined leading up the sale and then to servicing and renewing the sponsor. Managers of sponsoring companies will waste less money on poorly performing sponsorships, and those charged with maintaining a sponsorship can be accountable and show success to superiors using metrics rather than hearsay.

The Sponsorship Handbook is deliberately written to cover sponsorship from both a sponsor’s and sponsor-seeker’s perspective as we believe there is much to be gained in terms of improved sponsorship outcomes by both parties having a better understanding of each others’ key drivers.

In the introduction to the book, you say, “Sponsorship, correctly conceived and creatively executed, has unparalleled power to build brands, engage stakeholders and present profitable commercial opportunities” – how so?

Sponsorship is ultimately about “share of heart” and making a credible link between a brand and the people who are passionate about sports, culture, communities and even movements such as the environment or health. No other marketing discipline offers the same breadth and depth of opportunity to a brand to become integral to a fan’s experience over the long term.

Is sponsorship as a marketing tool right for everyone?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

It’s hard to think of any sector that could not benefit from a well-executed, creative sponsorship but sponsorship does work best when it is fully integrated across a company’s communications, PR, sales, CSR and advertising. However, sponsorship is not necessarily the best answer to every marketing challenge. The best sponsorships are those predicated on clearly defined objectives.

Should an organization’ sponsorship programme be handled internally, or outsourced?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Whilst a company’s direct employees are more likely to remain “on-brand” and close to their customers, external resources can provide an easily budgeted, transparent, flexible alternative. In particular, specialist resources provide both an expertise that may not be available internally and an independent perspective that can be invaluable when passions internally are running high around sponsorship selection or evaluation. Add to this their greater ability to flex quickly up or down around sponsorship activation and you have a compelling argument for calling in the professionals.

What role does a “sponsorship policy” have to play?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

We suggest that both companies and sponsorship seekers take some time to record exactly what the ambitions were for sponsorship in order to benchmark success, and because staff change and the original rationale can be lost. The policy provides a record of selection criteria, exclusions, resources etc. and defines the vision and mission for sponsorship for the whole organization.

What metrics can be applied?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

The most common measure is the level of a sponsorship’s exposure via the media. This is fairly straightforward to calculate and digital media has made it more precise - and cheaper! The second most common methodology is to assess whether a sponsorship raised brand awareness and consideration. The usual methodology adopted is market research that compares responses between those exposed to the sponsorship against a control group.

The key to successful sponsorship evaluation though is understanding what outcomes were achieved from both a brand an business perspective. The Sponsorship Handbook covers this in some detail and, in particular, deals with how to handle the biggest objection to sponsorship which is that it can’t be linked to sales.

What are the potential pitfalls?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

We see many companies and sponsorship sellers with far too many objectives for the sponsorship. It’s much better to pick two or three measurable and achievable goals. Selecting the wrong sponsorship or partner based on emotions rather than reason is another common mistake. A third issue is a gross under-estimation by both parties as to the amount of resources required to execute a sponsorship successfully. All of these can be easily overcome but it does require sponsorship to be treated like any other investment rather than a bit of fun on the side.

Are there any obstacles to adoption?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Apart from the usual suspects of firearms and tobacco, and to an extent alcohol, no. We are seeing sponsorship in completely new areas now and expect to see more essential services and some public venues sponsored in some countries. Brands will go anywhere where they think they can create a meaningful “consumer touch point” with the people they want to connect with.

What role does ROO (Return on Objectives) play, as opposed to the more standard ROI (Return on Investment)? What is the best measurement of ROO?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

ROI is usually expressed as the benefits generated from a sponsorship less its costs, but much of what makes sponsorship so powerful cannot be reduced to cash sums. Sponsorship is not advertising and does not need to masquerade as a media spend. It’s a flexible tool and companies can use it to reach diverse audiences such as NGOs, key digital influencers, policy makers, and investors. The objectives of each sponsorship are unique and need to be measured in that way. Therefore, ROO metrics should be tailored to each sponsorship project.

What about timescales – is it a “long game” proposition or can “quick wins” be achieved?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Whilst there are some opportunities to capitalise on tactical sponsorships, in general sponsorships perform better when they have time to mature. Usually it takes at least the first year of a sponsorship for both parties to get down the learning curve of how best to achieve the desired objectives. Years two and three can then be spent activating the partnership in the most effective way. Many sponsorships continue to pay dividends for much longer periods. One detriment of the recent recession is that average sponsorship terms have reduced and this has put pressure on sponsorship to try and achieve returns in two years or even one which is very tough – though not impossible.

Is sponsorship moving out of the shadow of advertising?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Classical advertising investment levels (except online) have suffered through the recession but advertisements still remain very powerful. Some studies suggest that sponsorship accounts for 7-10 per cent on average of the total spend on advertising in most countries so it will always be a proportionally smaller medium. Brands don’t become enthusiasts of one of the other and will use a mix to get the job done, but the rise of the “experience economy” has most definitely moved sponsorship away from the realm of the Chairman’s wife’s hobby, displaying some logos and giving away a few event tickets. It has become a marketing tool used by companies desperate to generate meaningful interactions with consumers on an almost personal level.

Why does “Gold, Silver, and Bronze” sponsorship get your goat so much that you state that you “hate” it? If this approach is anathema to you, what should replace it?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

We understand why sponsorships are still packaged in this way but it bores sponsors, who complain of “heavy metal fatigue”, and exposes a lack on understanding of how sponsorship works on the part of the rights-holder. Rather than tailoring benefits to a sponsor’s specific objectives they are simply divided proportionally across the tiers. The best rights-holders are those that listen carefully to what a sponsor is aiming to achieve from a partnership and then proposes a bespoke package of benefits rather than merely offloading inventory at a pre-determined price.

Where should a potential sponsor or “sponsee” start?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Whilst it is tempting to jump straight to initiating a search process for a property or sponsor, time invested in developing your sponsorship strategy will pay dividends over the long term. The Sponsorship Handbook devotes two full chapters to this subject to provide both sponsors and rights-holders with the tools and frameworks they need to create a robust strategy for their organization.

Is sponsorship a purely financial proposition?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Definitely not, and the book gives many case studies where companies such as Accenture expertise which their partners value more than cash or IT firms like Cisco giving equipment as benefit in kind. Many sponsors will also offer the opportunity to utilise the power of their own communications to amplify the rights-holder’s own marketing efforts including advertising, direct mail, on pack promotions and e-communications.

What can the promoters of an event or other “sponsor-able” function do to make themselves more attractive to potential sponsors? What are the ‘rules of the game’ (i.e. what typically happens before a sponsor “jumps into bed” with a sponsee?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Sponsors love to see a track record of retaining sponsors and they like to see that sufficient human resources exist to service them. Customised benefits packages are vital, with the biggest draw card being an event or “property” that offers them something they simply could not get elsewhere; especially “money can’t buy experiences” that their customers and their own staff would really value. Finally, data demonstrating how the rights-holder assisted its sponsors in achieving their objectives is compelling evidence that the rights-holder really understands the power of sponsorship as a marketing discipline.

How much of a minefield is the legal side of a sponsorship deal?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Sponsorship operates in a no more or less complex legal environment than other marketing activities. We advise on some tips for saving time and money on this which, in conjunction with some specialist legal advice, should help people avoid the worst problems.

What have been your personal sponsorship triumphs and disasters? Who, for you, exemplifies the best sponsorship practice?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

With almost 40 years’ working in sponsorship between us there have been many high points but inevitably there have also been a few mistakes along the way through which we have learned some hard lessons. Through The Sponsorship Handbook we share our combined knowledge and hope we can save people from some of the pitfalls and blind alleys we have experienced!

We are great admirers of HSBC, Cisco, Siemens, The Science Museum, BMW, Volvo, Emirates, and adidas to name but a few.

What do you think the future holds for sponsorship?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

Online and social media are changing everything as they offer such precision in targeting but care is needed to ensure a dialogue, not a monologue. We see the line between public and private money blurring and internationally we expect currently almost unknown brands in the West, from India, China, Brazil and elsewhere, to become household names in sponsorship.

Finally, are there any closing comments you would like to make?

Pippa Collett and William Fenton:

The Sponsorship Handbook is our contribution to increasing the professional practice of sponsorship. We hope we inspire others to follow us into this fascinating industry where enthusiasm, passion and creativity are juxtaposed with a requirement for rational judgement and discipline.

More about Sponsorship Consulting.