The IEG Performance Research Study, which came out earlier this year, clearly supports what we were already seeing. This study supports the July release of the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study and the findings of the 2012 Consumer Sponsorship Rankings, which will be released in highlighted form at the SMCC Western Sponsorship Congress in two weeks.
As IEG notes, “Sponsors are letting go of some of the more traditional and less engaging ways to communicate and evaluate their partnerships. In terms of activation, traditional advertising was used far less as a leveraging tool than in any previous year. Although 72 percent of sponsors still buy media to activate, that figure is a long way from the high of 86 percent in 2005.”
The traditional sponsorship activation channels of media buying are being replaced by social media integration, hosting, hospitality, and leading the way are PR and internal communications. When I entered this business over 25 years ago, we were pioneering corporate imaging through sponsorship. My professional sports sponsorship sales career focused on assisting non-retail corporations in garnering goodwill, publicity, and internal support and employee engagement. Of a million dollar account list, less than 20% was from traditional retail outlets that invested in sponsorship to drive retail traffic and sales. The bulk of my work was developing programs that made the public and employees of law firms, oil and gas companies, accounting firms, and other non-traditional sponsors feel good about those companies. They were building brand internally and externally. They were about image, and activation was PR and internal communication.
One program was for Gulf Canada, an oil and gas exploration company known today as ConocoPhillips. The head office was being moved to Denver to appease the president of the day. The company needed to ensure that the public and its staff were engaged, and felt that Gulf Canada was a great company to work for and to have in the community. Goodwill needed to be built up before the announcement of the pending move. This gave rise to a sponsorship program that raised the company’s profile in the community and internally. The activation was about 10:1. Every time the Flames goalies made a save, a contribution went to charity. Every year, five charities each received $25,000. The activation was in hosting, hospitality, and media broadcast exposure for the charities and Gulf Canada about the “Gulf Canada Caring for the Community Campaign.” There were no 30-second messages for Gulf Canada, just tag lines in charity messages.
Today, retailers are getting the picture. Sponsorship activation is no longer served best by just running media sell messages. It is about delivering a feeling, compassion, and emotion through media and other sources. The P&G Olympic commercials around “moms” were a fantastic example. Also, retailers are recognizing the power of engaging their employees to “believe” as CIBC has done with the 100% commitment pledge (and delivery) of its staff to support the CBCF-CIBC Run for the Cure.
Today, retail sponsors know that activation means an investment beyond just a commercial sell media buy. It must be emotional and experiential. One of the best examples of tracking of great experiential marketing activation ideas is Partnership Activation – The Think Tank for Connecting Brands with Fans. It is focused on sports properties, but it is also a great resource which can be found at http://www.partnershipactivation.com.