Get the value from sponsorship

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The rock band The Who, in their classic "Won't Get Fooled Again," sang "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." How appropriate that is for a discussion on sponsorship evaluation. We have new bosses everywhere-and they all want to know if sponsorship works. In my days as a brand manager, I remember purchasing sponsorships, checking on them six months later and wondering if I'd won, or lost, the battle of "mutual exploitation."

That was the problem. I should have known who was winning. Today, as a consultant, I'm amazed to find marketer executives responsible for corporate sponsorships still uncertain about the value of their deals and unwilling to fully research their investments.

Ad Age recently reported National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern phoned long-time sponsor American Express Co. last year to suggest American Express was so underutilizing its $20 million per year NBA sponsorship that it was getting little from it. Lucky for American Express, it had a partner like David Stern. In this metric-crazy, "show me the ROI" world, it's hard to imagine any sponsor buying anything without committing to comprehensive measurement.

How to measure ROI

But the strange question is this: Will the sponsor create and use the right measurement tools? I asked that very question to a group of sports business executives recently. I gave them the answer David Letterman-style: "Ten Ways to Measure Sponsorship ROI":

10) Your company's stock price rose dramatically after your event.

9) Your brand's market share grew by a 1/4-share point the month of your sponsorship.

8) Your quarterly volume vs. year-ago did not decline.

7) Awareness measures increased vs. the time of the previous manager (the one you replaced).

6) Preference trends were confusing enough to survive the annual off-site meeting.

5) Public `atta-boys' from your VP kept corporate back-stabbing to a minimum.

4) Eight drunken clients in your hospitality tent agreed to Memorial Day end-aisle displays.

3) The number of signed photos, balls and jerseys your deal generated finally motivated the sales staff.

2) The accounting department trolls approved your purchase orders and invoices because you got them pit passes.

And the No. 1 way to measure sponsorship ROI was:

1) You got promoted before the new VP crunched the numbers

That's the point isn't it? A marketing executive gets promoted if he or she makes smart business decisions that grow company value. Technically, it shouldn't be hard to measure investments. We have scoreboards in sports. So check the Jumbotron first. Start with market shares. Then move to measures like trial, sampling, awareness and, most often, usage. A company may have different names but these measures have to be framed around the intent of the sponsorship.

But which "players" carry the team? Advertising and sales promotion? Direct marketing and public relations? Deals closed? Each "team member" contributes. Some play offense, some defense or special teams. They all need to be measured. A company's marketing executives should agree, up front, which role sponsorship plays in its marketing mix.

Sponsorship isn't advertising, so it can't be held to the same yardstick. Sponsorship does things advertising can't. It is experiential marketing. Brand marketers use sponsorship to entertain big shots, to quickly increase awareness, to enhance brand salience, to create sampling opportunities and to move cases. Great! But then the Boss calls up and says, "Alright, prove that it works." What does a marketing executive say?

The only way to win that discussion is to create a baseline before the sponsorship started-a baseline for measures the sponsorship can influence.

Identify all measures

Ultimately, the process goes back to a holistic approach to brand management. Did we move the needle in total? To respond "yes," a marketer will have identified every possible measure the sponsorship could have reached: distributors, retailers, consumers, pass-through partners, the media.

To do otherwise is like managing a basketball team but not checking the stats. A good coach looks at the box score and understands the game-shaping data. The same approach works for sponsorship. Did it score at retail? Assist advertising on awareness and trial numbers? Help in a weak market where we needed to rebound?

By all means, read more research reports. But that's hardly news. The vital next step is to get a proactive box-score mentality going. Recognize when league play begins and ends. Think of a sponsorship as a coach thinks about a coming season. Make time daily to look at player development (departments, partners, sellers). Can't tell if a sponsorship is creating gains vs. a previous period (or an existing measure)? Then you're out of touch. Be out of touch long enough and you won't want to meet any bosses, new or old.

Rick Burton is executive director, Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business.

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