The ABCs of sponsorship research

Daniel Buckley and Christopher Rigney are the principals of R.O.I. Sports & Entertainment Research Canada, which opened an office in Toronto last September. The firm provides sponsorship research services for such clients as General Motors of Canada, Air Canada, Sears Canada...

Daniel Buckley and Christopher Rigney are the principals of R.O.I. Sports & Entertainment Research Canada, which opened an office in Toronto last September. The firm provides sponsorship research services for such clients as General Motors of Canada, Air Canada, Sears Canada and Tim Hortons.

As an industry, sponsorship marketing is still quite young. Sponsorship research, however, is even younger.

In recent years, corporations have placed their sponsorship programs under increasing scrutiny. Their understandable desire to measure the return on investment from sponsorship – particularly in light of the way that rights fees are growing – has resulted in the rapid evolution of the sponsorship measurement industry.

As in any new industry, the body of knowledge upon which methods and practices are based remains very much in development. Right now, sponsorship research is still striving to find a balance between art and science in its use of qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Based on what we’ve learned to date, here are the ABCs (and Ds) of sponsorship research.

(A)ccumulate and employ normative data to evaluate sponsorship performance.

Companies with a broad sponsorship portfolio should make a concerted effort to develop normative measures against which they can evaluate the performance of their sponsorship programs.

Having the ability to analyze the results of a sponsorship against a reliable benchmark is vastly preferable to evaluating sponsorship in a vacuum. Comparing data from a specific event or program to normative data lends invaluable context to the findings, and answers the inevitable question: ‘Are these results good or bad compared to other events or programs?’

A key is understanding which elements of a company’s sponsorships are critical to measure, and then constructing research questions that will effectively address these issues. Take the necessary time to develop good questions early on: A poorly constructed question is difficult to eliminate from a research survey once it’s being used for benchmarking and trending purposes.

(B)e sure to establish sponsorship objectives up front.

To measure the performance of an event sponsorship, a company must articulate its specific objectives before the program actually launches.

While this may sound like a basic step, convincing a company (or its agency) to take it can prove a challenge. But without an understanding of what the organization hopes to achieve through sponsorship efforts, it is virtually impossible to conduct the post-event measurement exercise.

Measurement of the sponsorship program should be based on its performance against this pre-determined set of objectives. Did the sponsorship increase awareness, improve the corporate or brand image, fuel product trials and drive sales? Or all of the above?

(C)onduct ‘pre-search’ whenever possible.

Many organizations now commit a portion of their sponsorship budget to the return-on-investment post-measurement of programs. But few actually conduct research prior to making a sponsorship investment.

Research at this stage may not seem like a necessity, but it offers an invaluable opportunity to gain consumer insight into the investment that the corporation or brand is pondering. In some cases, it may raise concerns that prompt organizations to back away from investments, thereby ‘saving’ themselves a considerable amount of money.

By establishing a line of communication with consumers – whether through surveys, focus groups or in-depth interviews – companies can answer a number of key questions. Do the target consumers see a natural alignment between the organization and the property that it plans to sponsor? Does the sponsorship make sense to them? Does the idea resonate with them in any meaningful way?

Corporations and brands should also ask their target audience what they would like to see offered as part of a sponsorship program. Promotions? Ticket or travel giveaways? In-store athlete appearances? Online contesting? Try to assess this input from consumers objectively – don’t discount what they have to say. By gaining an understanding of the targeted consumer’s behaviour and attitudes toward sponsorship, organizations can decide whether investment in a property is worth pursuing, and determine which activation strategies merit consideration.

(D)on’t rely solely upon on-site research.

In some ways, measuring the impact of an event sponsorship can prove a good deal easier than measuring other types of marketing programs, given that the universe of consumers affected by the event is generally quite well-defined: People either attended the event or they didn’t.

Where problems arise, they often have to do with the means by which we collect information from attendees. All too frequently, sponsoring organizations try to conduct quick-and-dirty consumer research on-site. This generally entails writing their own questionnaire, and deploying ‘interviewers’ armed with clipboards and pens to intercept as many event participants as possible.

If all we wanted to do was to collect general behavioural information (who accompanied the respondent to the event, how far they travelled to get there, how they obtained tickets, and so on) this approach would be perfectly acceptable. To get a true evaluation of the program, however, the event sponsor needs to pose a battery of key questions that are best asked off-site – questions dealing with issues such as sponsorship recall, general attitudes toward the sponsor and willingness to try the sponsor’s product or service.

For this reason, sponsors should consider employing a ‘recruit and callback’ method, whereby respondents are recruited at the event, and then interviewed later by phone. Conducting the interview process a week or so after the event increases the likelihood that respondents will give ‘true’ responses, rather than the ones they think the on-site interviewer wants to hear. The ‘recruit and callback method’ also offers a more accurate measure of sponsorship awareness, since the interview takes place away from the actual venue, with all of its readily visible sponsor exposure.

Sponsorship research is capable of delivering relevant, timely and accurate information that helps corporations and their brand marketers gain a better understanding of their sponsorship investments. In the years ahead, sponsorship research will continue to employ both qualitative and quantitative techniques. But as the knowledge base matures and grows, methodologies and practices will be refined and standardized.

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From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group