A Question Of Judgement

As the deadline for the five new categories for 2020/2021 UK Sponsorship Awards approaches fast, the UKSA team asked a few of last year’s judges to share some insights about what they look for in an entry and why they get involved. Below is a distilled summary of their answers…


“Objectives, insights and innovation”

Jeremy Edwards, founder and director of content at Activative, has been ploughing through UKSA entries for years. Summarising what he looks for in a shortlisted entry, he says it all boils down to: “Objectives, insights and innovation – and, of course, it helps if the campaign works too!”

Pet hates include “retrofitting”, where brands have attempted to rewrite their objectives to fit the results they end up with. However, he is a fan of entries “that are activated with bravery, creativity and originality. I’m looking for initiatives with clear strategic/tactical objectives, built on fresh and contemporary socio-cultural insights.”

As for why he gives up his free time to judge entries every year, he explains that it is an opportunity “to learn from the best work and to debate what that means with key industry leaders”.


“Shining a light on inequality”

Another UKSA stalwart is Tove Okunniwa, the former CEO of Havas Sports & Entertainment who now runs London Sport. She recalls that one of her favourite 2019 campaigns was #ThisIsOurTime by Skoda, winner of the Best Sponsorship of Women’s Activities category. It shone a light on the inequality women are tolerating in pro cycling and the amazing talent, grit, professionalism and grace of the women involved. Also the bravery of a brand like Skoda to take a position that may be at odds with the rights owner it sponsors. And it worked.”

“Tangible results” are key for Okunniwa – but like Edwards she places a premium on “creativity and breaking new ground”. Her harshest criticism is reserved for “overclaiming. Saying you were first when it’s been done before, or you’ve had more impact than you really did.”

As for why she keeps coming back for more, she emphasises the appeal of the work: “It’s a real privilege to be able to hear about the best work currently in the industry in the words of the creators”.


“Solving a real business problem”

One of the core strengths of the UKSA judging process is the range of expertise it draws on from across the industry. Typifying this is Rachel Clarke, who set up Albright Special in 2015 after almost a decade as a director at Four Communications. Her highlight from last year’s Awards was Accenture’s innovative partnership with The National Theatre, winner of the Arts and Disability categories, as well as highly commended in the Innovation section. “The sponsorship showcased business expertise and solved a real problem to do with the experience of going to the theatre.” On top of that, she stresses, “the partnership also had measurable, impressive results.”

In general, Clarke leans towards brands that “use sponsorship as a platform to tell their own story, complementary to the sponsorship”. Dislikes include entries that focus on hospitality and branding”. Like her fellow judges, she is intrigued to see what’s going on in the industry; but she also views awards judging as an opportunity to “try to improve quality overall with constructive feedback”.


“Clarity of writing helps a great deal”

Matthew Glendinning, SportBusiness Group editor, singled out SAP’s partnership with Manchester City, winner of the Football Sponsorship: Clubs in 2019. His assessment is that the campaign was “an innovative idea that engaged fans, while showcasing what SAP is all about”.

Glendinning says clarity of writing helps a great deal” when assessing an entry. “So does correlation between objectives and results. Originality of activation is rare, but great when you see it.”

Echoing Okunniwa, he is not a fan of “outlandish claims”. Other dislikes in entries include excessive jargon, unfiltered social media results and “reliance on adjectives rather than evidence”.

Another judge who has supported the UKSA Awards for several years, Glendinning says: “It’s great to meet the other industry people, but also to sharpen one’s own opinions in a room with experts in different fields. It’s also great to be part of something that has history and cache in the sponsorship world, and to be recognised in that world.” 


“Campaigns that make a difference”

One of the key growth areas in the UKSA programme over recent years has been media and branded content, so the Awards are fortunate to have Thinkbox head of planning Zoe Harkness as a regular judging participant. While Harkness doesn’t reveal her favourite 2019 campaign, she says: “What I liked about my favourite entry was that it told a good story and was easy to understand; felt like it really made a difference; was clever and innovative; showed good thinking.”

More generally, she looks for the following: “Clear and quantified objectives; results that match the objectives, clear and easy to follow narrative; campaigns that made a difference; and clever ideas.”

In line with several other judges, she dislikes hyperbole, excessive use of jargon and long winded, boring explanations. “I also dislike unrealistic results or results that don’t match the objectives, and would advise entrants against assuming knowledge of the campaign.”

Her reasons for getting involved in the judging chime with her peers; “I like to read examples of good work and best in class campaigns, and I like to see what people are doing in fields outside of my own.”


“It’s not just about big spending”

Bruce Cook, director, consulting at YouGov Sport spent several years on the client side of the sponsorship business, culminating in his role as head of group sponsorship at Royal Bank of Scotland. His priorities when looking at UKSA Award entries are: “Clear strategic application of the sponsorship/assets and a credible evaluation method.  Also creative use of opportunity that isn’t just about big spend.”

He also takes a dim view of exaggeration in entry forms: “I dislike overclaims on meeting targets/objectives when they weren’t clear at the start; and also claims of ‘reach’ numbers as an outcome…”


“Without clear objectives, the rest is meaningless….”

David Peters, founder and director of sponsorship consultancy The Value Xchange, was a fan of the Infosys ATP Technology Innovation Showcase, winner of the 2019 Business to Business Sponsorship category. His succinct assessment is that it delivered clear objectives, innovative and creative activation and strong, proven results.”

This chimes with his overall guidance to UKSA entrants. “I’m looking for clear SMART objectives and strong results, which provide evidence of success compared to what the sponsorship was set out to achieve. No clear objectives, means the rest is meaningless….”

As for getting involved with the Awards, he explains that: “I like to see great, inspiring work which is thought provoking and helps me reappraise what best looks like. Having had the privilege of judging these over a number of years, I’ve also enjoyed watching how much the sponsorship business has “grown up” and witnessing the pace of change in the industry, driven by technology, media and innovation.”


“Make sure you answer the questions”

Bruce McGowan, head of content partnerships at Publicis Media Content, recalls strong performances from NCS PAQ-A-Punch in Branded Content and Kelloggs/Love Island in the Mobile Category. Unifying characteristics across the two, he says, are that they were “clearly written, with demonstrable results and well thought through.”

When judging an entry, McGowan is looking for “a good idea that works and clear insight on how you got to that solution. I’m also interested in ROI - what did it deliver to the brand?” As for negatives, he says: “If an entry is not clearly signposted it automatically makes me switch off. With around 30 to read I want it as simple as possible. Just like at school, make sure you answer the questions!”

His rationale for reading those 30+ entries (and then debating their merits) is that “I get to see some great work and it gives me a good idea of what everyone else is doing in the sponsorship worldI want to encourage the industry to celebrate the best work and ensure that we continue to promote sponsorships and partnerships. It’s also great for networking: meeting people and catching up with acquaintances.”


“Setting a benchmark for the industry”

Sophie Morris, founder and director at Millharbour Marketing Consultancy reserves her admiration for one of the smallest sponsorship in the UKSA Class of 2019; Sheffield & District Junior Sunday League’s partnership with First Bus South Yorkshire and Sheffield Children's Hospital. “It was a very good example of using sponsorship for business and charitable/community objectives. It was well activated and made a genuine impact. It was good to see something so simple and effective from a new entrant.”

According to Morris, she is looking for “identification of a business need and the strategic application of sponsorship to meet that need.” In addition, she is on the hunt for “robust planning and measurement, and integration with the rest of the marketing discipline”.

As for key complaints, she identifies “lack of objective setting/relevance to business objectives and measuring only in terms of social media engagement. Sponsorship works best for long-term branding building, so don't measure it with short-term metrics.”

Morris sees quality control as a key responsibility of the judges: “I want to help ensure the most effective sponsorships are rewarded, therefore setting a benchmark and guidance for others to follow.”


If you want to get more insights and tips into how to win a UK Sponsorship Award go hereDetails on UKSA 2020 deadlines and how to enter are also available. The venue for the event itself will be the London Marriott Hotel, with the Gala Dinner on March 24, 2020.






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