Event Sponsorship: ‘Authenticity Is King’


How to build meaningful connections with attendees with relevant sponsor engagement and immersive brand experiences.

From Pepsi’s longstanding relationship with the NFL Super Bowl to Rolex’s partnership with TED conferences, event sponsorship offers companies the chance to deepen levels of engagement with fans and delegates, as well as tapping into a wider audience.

According to Natalie Ackerman, who serves as executive vice president, greater China, at event agency Jack Morton, the whole purpose of sponsorships is to build a meaningful relationship with people.

“Authenticity is king,” she said. “If this does not exist you can expect people to actively tune out of the brand connection. A key job of any live activation around the sponsorship is to help build relevancy — to help establish a genuine reason for the brand being connected with the property.”

She added that the immersive nature of live experiences means they are uniquely well-placed to bring to life and commit to memory that very authenticity. Only once this is established can a meaningful relationship between people and brand grow and the real value of a sponsorship be unlocked.

To leverage loyalty and engagement, Jackie Fast, former founder and managing director of sponsorship agency Slingshot, which has offices in London, Singapore, and Oslo, recommends establishing clear event goals in order to manage expectations around sponsors. For example, some questions event organisers need to ask themselves before bringing on sponsors, include: Are there plans to take the event global? Is the idea to reach millennials? Do you want to give attendees a better customer experience?

“By understanding what both parties are trying to achieve,” said Fast, who is also the author of Pinpoint, a book about corporate sponsorships, “you will be better able to create engaging content that resonates with your specific audience.”

In 2017, fast food chain McDonald’s terminated its 41-year sponsorship of the Olympic Games (one of the oldest partnerships in sporting history) more than three years before the 2020 Games, citing a need to focus on “different priorities.” So how best can event organisers and sponsors pre-empt a parting of the ways?

It’s important to have a plan and process in place to understand whether a partnership is working for the sponsor. There are basic things like ensuring you know objectives each year because these can change. So it’s wise to maintain regular contact via phone or face-to-face meetings, and in the case of an annual event for example, make a point of getting in touch well in advance to establish ground rules.

There are also ways to check throughout the partnership to know if your sponsor is getting value. Schedule more formal meetings and ask some hard questions such as: Is the sponsor engaged with you and your event? Are they delivering the assets easily without you having to follow up multiple times, for example, chasing for their logo or quotes for a press release? Do you know what is going on — and are you keeping up — with the sponsor’s business, internally and externally?

Too often, Fast said, sponsorship teams wait until renewal to find out that the sponsorship didn’t work and the sponsor is dropping out, and then scramble to try and fill the place.

For long-term sponsors with multi-year sponsorship contracts, Ackerman believes event planners must walk a fine line between their events delivering brand consistency year-on-year, and ensuring a continual evolution of the experience or event.

You also need to be aware of conflicting goals. “You don’t want to ruin your professional relationship or risk losing a sponsor – so outline your goals early on and explain your expectations,” said Ambera Cruz, marketing director, Asia-Pacific, at business-intelligence software-provider Meltwater. If your objectives don’t align with a sponsor’s goals, she added, it can be difficult to find middle ground.

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