We are in a so-called fourth generation of sponsorship, where we aim to create win-win-win sponsorship relationships. The recent times have taught us that we are not alone in this world, and more importantly, we don’t want to be alone. Therefore we need to look after each other. Maybe it’s time that we include the fourth win in our win-win-win sponsorship relationships, and make the wider community benefit from our partnerships as well?
Evolution of sponsorship
1st generation sponsorship was sold based on the benefits gained from being exposed or associated with an event. This is when the logos were put onto everything. Trouble was research showed there was in fact a zero measurable return on this.
2nd generation sponsorship progressed to becoming an opportunity to anchor or activate a sales promotion. However this only resulted in producing short term gains.
3rd generation sponsorship developed into offering sponsors the chance to drive their marketing objectives through an event. While this was great for the sponsors it ran the risk of detracting from the audience’s (or fan’s) experience. Picture a sponsor pursuing their goals to the detriment of the event – there’s no winners.
4th generation sponsorship is aligned with the way we think about our event design. It’s all about focusing on your delegates and enhancing their experience. This means drilling down to exactly who they are, what they care about and why they come to your event and then finding a sponsor that shares their attributes and helping this sponsor to make a genuine connection through adding to the delegate’s experience. The key shift is realising that it is not about you, it’s not about your event, nor it’s about the sponsor. Instead, it’s about your delegates/audience/fans. It’s about creating win-win-win situations.
Then Covid-19 came along…
Over the past few months, we have seen major disruptions to the world we live and operate in, due to Covid-19. People who have suffered before, are now suffering even more. People who thought they were safe and sound, found themselves vulnerable, losing jobs, living of government support (if they are lucky enough). I am one of those. Some, on the other hand, have accelerated and prospered like never before. The point is, no one imagined we will be where we are today.
In these times, when we find ourselves in and out of lockdowns, when our freedom is compromised to some extent, when we are discouraged to socialise and hang out and feel uncomfortable even just walking past each other, I think a lot about people as human beings. I think about people in need and what can I do to help them out. And how can my line of work do better and have greater impact on the society and on the world we live in.
So, I can’t help but stop thinking that it might be the time for the next generation of sponsorship where there will be four winners:
- the sponsor
- the rights holder
- the audience
- the wider society
The rise of social enterprises
Lately we have seen and heard more and more about social enterprises – organisations that apply commercial strategies to improve financial, social and environmental well-being (and not just their own profits). One that comes to mind is Toms, the shoe company that gives a pair of shoes to those in need each time a pair of their shoes is sold (although many would argue that the company may not deserve the pedestal so many have placed it on). Or Ikea, for example, that buys back old Ikea furniture so it could be reconditioned and resold. The programme demonstrates that Ikea is taking a greater responsibility for the products it produces, while the programme also provides new revenue streams. Maybe it’s time that we consider expanding ‘these models’ to sponsorship as well.
As mentioned above, in the win-win-win-win sponsorship model, we should think of the fourth winner of the relationship between a rights holder and a sponsor. So, what can we do in order to not only enhance experience of the fans, but contribute to the wider community as well. And this fourth aspect could be anything, whatever the sponsor, the rights holder and/or the fans care about: ethical supply chains, employee engagement, environmental impact and/or social change.
‘Cause Sponsorship’ has actually been around for a while, ever since corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been an indispensable tool for brands looking to set themselves apart from the competition. Furthermore, there have been many studies conducted to scientifically support the benefits of cause sponsorship. In particular, there are two marketing research tools that explain the effects of event sponsorship as part of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs:
- According to attribution theory, the event attendees infer why the brand sponsors the event; they infer the sponsoring brand’s motivations.
- According to congruity theory, there is a string interplay among events, sponsorship, and CSR.
You have read more about the cause sponsorship here, including some great (and not so great) examples of it.
Going forward, we should bring the two together: win-win-win-win sponsorship and cause sponsorship. I believe the groundwork is already done – most sponsors have corporate social responsibility strategies in place and contribute large sums of money to the causes they and their consumers are passionate about. We just need to bring this into sponsorship now. So, whenever we are looking to partner with someone and support an event or a project, let’s think about not only how our audience will benefit, but also how we can bring in the social causes we care about. Instead of running two different strategies, a SCR strategy and a sponsorship strategy, let’s think about how to bring these two together each and every time.