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A plea to sponsors – it’s time for some direction

It’s been a tough year.

But I’m pretty bullish on the future of sports marketing.

It’s afforded many the opportunity to take a step back.

And reset their priorities to combat the turbulence. Long into the future.

Despite the optimism, there are still a few elephants in the room.

One in particular feels perpetual.

We need to talk about ‘the brief’.

Briefs written by sponsors for agency, media and/or rights holder partners.

Bad briefs have always been commonplace.

But, nowadays, there are more bad briefs than there are good ones.

The challenge isn’t the 80 pages of gobbledegook masquerading as, say, an RFP.

(Rights holders, agencies and media partners are well accustomed to wading through treacle).

It’s the lack of a clear and distinct ‘problem’ at the heart of the brief.

Or, more specifically, the business problem behind the brief.

It’s the single most important bit of information in a briefing document.

And, it has to come from the sponsor.

Sadly, many sponsors seem unable or unwilling to articulate the problem behind the brief.

They often rely on their partners to do it for them (which is kind of lazy).

This is achievable, but it takes some leg work.

Surely it’s much better (and faster) coming straight from the horse’s mouth?

Here’s an example from a recent brief authored by a sponsor of a premium sport.

You’ve definitely heard of them.

They wanted a digitally led big idea.

It must use available sponsorship rights.

It must build the brand.

It must drive commercial return.

It must drive awareness and consideration.

It must make them famous.

It must build trust.

It must reflect their purpose.

It must talk about sustainability.

It must have a clear benefit for society.

It must reflect their broad commitment to inclusion.

It must talk to customers and employees.

It must work in four major continents with varying degrees of maturity.

It must be delivered in two weeks.

That leaves one week to decode the brief.

And the other to panic.

Some would say that a sponsor’s complex ‘stakeholder map’ makes this level of carnage inevitable.

But surely this complexity calls for simplicity.

When done properly, the business problem can often be boiled down to a couple of sentences.

Sometimes framed as an exam question.

Without a clear exam question, it’s nigh on impossible to land upon a satisfactory answer.

Without a clear exam question, there’s nothing meaningful to measure success.

Here’s a good example:

We’ve been a sponsor for over fifteen years and our brand growth amongst fans plateaued.

Ahead of renewal conversations, how do we use the sponsorship to drive stronger commercial return – from consideration to intent and conversion?

There’s still a lot to do to answer the question.

But the starting point is much tighter.

Which means the end is already in sight.

Overall, it’s hard to say why many sponsors keep getting it wrong.

Why the majority are unable to see that their approach is inauspicious.

Perhaps it’s because relationships are becoming more transactional and less consultative.

Or our industry is focused on being functional rather than high performing.

But I’m pretty bullish on the future of sports marketing.

There’s a lot of unfulfilled potential within almost every sponsorship.

The industry is modernising.

And the market is currently in favour of the buyer.

Partners just need much clearer direction from sponsors.

Direction that stays front of mind throughout.

And sets the rest of us up for success. ​ Feel free to send the 80 pages of gumpf.

It’s the partner’s job to make sense of that.

But please ensure it’s spearheaded by a clear and distinct problem to solve.

Otherwise, no one knows where they are going.

The Secret Strategist works in sports marketing.

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