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.

- Get Carter: Toronto Raptor is proving Vince Carter is proving to be just as hot off the court as on p.25

- Does it work for the brand? There’s no point spending the money if the event doesn’t further your brand’s objectives p.29

- Creative Trust pools fundraising resources p.30

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.