At times like these, it’s inevitable that sponsorship budgets are scrutinised closely. Marketing directors have less to spend on rights and agencies have tighter activation budgets.
But if the 2009 Hollis Sponsorship Awards are anything to go by, this medium is built to survive. Whether you judge the winning campaigns by their creativity, their effectiveness or their evaluation, there is plenty to commend sponsorship.
The big winner on the night was WPP-owned consultancy MEC Access – whose work on behalf of Evian, Nicotinell, Specsavers and Morrisons showcased a range of skills.
In the case of Evian’s sponsorship of Wimbledon, the key message was that brands can achieve cut-through even when they are operating within tightly-defined property parameters. As for the other campaigns, it was the creative thinking that went into sponsorship selection and activation that truly stood out. Whether identifying opportunities, leveraging content or building new franchises, MEC Access pressed every button. No surprise really that it also won Consultancy of the Year.
In times like these, there’s a temptation for brands to play it safe. But if there is a message in the 2009 Awards it is that innovation pays dividends. Arts sponsorship will experience falling revenues this year – but when you see the quality of the shortlist you have to ask whether brands are missing a trick. The category winner, Deloitte Ignite (in partnership with the Royal Opera House), was a clever fusion of traditional and contemporary art which won fans and wooed the media. When you also see that Becks, French Connection, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and Tennent’s were on the short-list, it’s clear that the arts have the potential to work across sectors.
In all likelihood, brands in 2009 will avoid showy displays of wealth, preferring to invest more time and effort in charity, community, education, environment and grass roots. Again, they could do worse than look at the Hollis 2009 category winners for some ideas as to how this might be achieved.
Brakes, the winner of the charity and community category, may not be the most high-profile of brands – but it delivered a thoughtful and well-executed campaign in partnership with The Royal Parks Foundation. The beauty of the project was that so many stakeholders came out on top. Not only did Brakes and The Foundation fulfil their pre-campaign objectives, but 160 small charities raised £1.5-£2 million. When you consider the kind of ripple effect that can have in terms of brand goodwill, it’s clearly a powerful mechanic.
Likewise with education, where Morrison’s decision to link up with UK schools via a voucher collection scheme called Let’s Grow was inspired. Or environment, where EON’s Carbonfootyprint.com was a really good example of how brands can build green credentials around major sporting properties like the FA Cup. In the long-run, this aspect of E.ON’s activities will probably prove as valuable to the brand as any amount of perimeter boards and PR column inches.
The Grass Roots nettle was grasped with just as much gusto by npower – whose Urban Cricket strategy has helped the brand forge strong links with local communities. With coaching sessions and kits delivered to thousands of young people, npower has found a powerful form of engagement.
The media, sport and brand categories are where you tend to find the biggest brands lining up to do battle. And it was gratifying to see a wide range of sectors and properties represented. In media, it was Specsaver’s through-the-line work with Gok Wan which caught the eye. But campaigns from Coral, Nintendo Wii, John Smith’s and Virgin Media showed that there is much more to this category than a few breaks and bumpers on TV. Anyone who imagines that media sponsorship is just TV advertising by another name really needs to look at the way campaigns like these are activated.
In sport, it was Powerade’s Inner Gear strategy which came out on top – by showing how an excellent idea, striking imagery and great strategic execution can deliver brand favourability and a huge spike in sales. As for brands, there were two winners – one for a budget of below £750,000 and another for a budget above that thresh-hold. In the former case, it was Vauxhall Tigra’s pursuit of women aged 20-35 that most impressed the judges. In the higher budget bracket, Evian’s association with Wimbledon won through (before also going on to pick up the best use of research award for a highly-cogent and articulate evaluation of the sponsorship).
As outlined above, the beauty of the Awards is the range of activities it covers. One the one hand, it was pleasing to see Nicotinell’s first-ever sponsorship (The Football League’s Smoke Free Season) pick up the first-timer award – bearing in mind the industry’s historic links to tobacco. On the other, it was great to see muscular brands like Aviva, B&Q, Brains, RBS and SAP line up in the sponsorship continuity category. Here, it was Brains’ ability to grow sales though a highly-creative partnership with Welsh Rugby that took the plaudits.
The sense of contrast continued through other categories. While Castrol took the international award for its multi-market activation around UEFA Euro 2008, the Best Low Budget Sponsorship Award went to Oxford law firm Blake Lapthorn. In a similar vein, the corporate category went to Accenture’s sponsorship of the Skandia sailing team – a campaign which was mainly about employee engagement and b2b networking. Compare that with Sony Ericsson’s high-impact PR stunt to promote the start of the Sony Ericsson Tennis Championships in Doha (televised around the world).
The point is that the only real limit in sponsorship is your own imagination. Somewhere out there is a property to meet your objectives and fit your budget. It could be in arts, sport, media, community or education – you just have to find it.
As outlined above, MEC Access’ efforts won it Consultancy Of The Year – beating off impressive entries from Capitalize, Four Sports, Arts & Sponsorship and Octagon. There were also individual awards. Personality of the Year was London 2012 commercial chief Chris Townsend – a recognition of his achievement in securing so much funding for the upcoming Olympics. Looking to the future, the Barrie Gill Award for Most Promising Young Executive went to SBI’s Hamilton Lowe. Lowe beat off tough competition from both Fast Track’s Caroline Grenger and Synergy’s Lucie Bartlett.