Kim Benjamin
Nov 27, 2017

Brand break-up: When event sponsorship goes wrong

McDonald’s recently ended its 41-year-long sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Here's what we can learn.

Brand break-up: When event sponsorship goes wrong

One of sport’s most long-standing relationships came to a sudden and unexpected end this June, when fast food chain McDonald’s pulled the plug on its 41-year-long sponsorship of the Olympic Games, three years before it was due to officially end.

Other sponsorship break-ups this year include Siemens ending its 12-year partnership with the Walt Disney Company and the UK’s Football Association ending its deal with betting company Ladbrokes. It terminated the four-year contract after just one year, following a change of policy around gambling at the FA.

Darren Kerr, founding partner at event company Factor168, says that planners can regard McDonald’s repositioning as a timely reminder that they need to continuously audit the effectiveness and impact of any sponsorship arrangement in partnership with the sponsor and the target audience.

“Many sponsors sometimes adopt an ‘eggs in many baskets’ approach and widely bombard the market space—however, within the events and meeting sphere, this tends to only dilute the overall message and can often degrade the event-specific relationship and key messaging,” he says.

Kerr advises that if a sponsor is still skittish in terms of a singular focus, consider working with sponsors to embrace an ‘umbrella’ approach that sees them sponsor a number of curated like-minded events that are still in the same space.

This, he says, can generate cost savings but more importantly, it can continue to deliver a single strong message across all platforms. 

Creative brand sponsorship can extend beyond a single event

For long-term sponsors with multi-year sponsorship contracts, Natalie Ackerman, SVP Greater China at agency Jack Morton says it’s a balancing act to provide the brand consistency in the activation year over year as well as ensuring a continual evolution of the experience.

“We work hard to put forward a consistent agency team each time,” she says. “Their experience of the brand and legacy on the project allows for efficiency and understanding of the sponsorship intent and eye for detail in brand consistency, but one of their critical tasks is to make sure they are looking with fresh eyes each and every time. As the brand and the sponsorship property evolves, tweaks will be needed each year to ensure alignment and relevance.”

Brands are becoming increasingly proactive with their sponsorship decisions, while evaluation methods are more advanced. Furthermore, the landscape is more competitive in terms of the variety of platforms used to reach consumers and more events are cropping up each year.

Jackie Fast, managing director of agency Slingshot Sponsorship, which has offices in London, Singapore and Oslo, says brands need to put a plan of communication in place with sponsors—helping them understand what needs to be delivered and when. This is important from the outset.

“If you are wanting to create sponsor activations for your event, ensure that you have enough time to brainstorm and plan together to implement these,” she says. “There is nothing worse than buying some USBs with logos on them just because no one could think of anything more creative.”

Work collaboratively with brands

Don’t make compromises for short-term gain, cautions Rick Jenner, director of strategy and insight at agency Limelight Sports. It’s important to have a clear vision and objectives, keeping these uppermost when making decisions that might be difficult ones but right in the long-term.

Working on personal relationships in a collaborative way to ensure there is mutual benefit to sustain the partnership is key too.

It also pays to look at the bigger picture. As Factor168’s Kerr points out, have a plan that spans pre-event, during the event and after the event—one that is all about generating visible sponsor value—and stick to it. 

Based in Hong Kong, Darren Kerr is a business communication professional who has been actively engaged as an agency head, executive producer, and experiential marketer. Recent projects include the Wall Street Journal CEO Summit Tokyo and Huawei product launches in Berlin, Nice and Barcelona.

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