The sponsor’s view of an athlete endorsement

A sponsorship should be a mutually beneficial partnership

A sponsorship should be a mutually beneficial partnership

Finally, the time will arrive for all the sponsorship activation plans to become reality.  For the majority of athletes this will be a completely new experience and, in certain areas of activation, quite possible the only time they’ll do it.

The athlete needs to know what he is letting himself in for; the sponsor (and by extension, its advertising or event management agency) needs to be mindful of his subject.

Activation is never a simple process and can be fraught with danger and obstacles.  Meticulous planning is needed.  The cardinal sin is to rest on your laurels and expect certain things just to fall in place on the day of activation.
But when done professionally the results of a successful sponsorship activation plan will catapult the sponsor’s brand and the athlete’s image into the consciousness of the target audience in ways that pure advertising cannot.

The athlete’s buy-in and level of engagement is the key to that result.  That does not mean pandering to his every wish, but rather understanding his motivations, matching his levels of professionalism and getting the very best out of what is a major investment from a financial and reputation point of view for the sponsor.  By the same token, this is not the time for the athlete to be smug.  He must have an appreciation for the privilege of being involved in a major sponsorship campaign.

It is of course not their fault, but generally speaking athletes have no clue how long it takes to create a sponsorship event, be it the shooting of a television commercial, organising a golf day or whatever.  Again, it is something easy to overcome if both parties try to have an understanding of the other one’s perspective.  For example, if the activation plan involves a photo shoot, the sponsor needs to make sure all the teething pains and creative discussions have been ironed out before the athlete arrives on set.  Similarly the athlete must be prepared for a day that could drag on forever with creative discussions, shoots, re-shoots and resets.  Be prepared for lots of boring periods and help everybody involved get through the torpors of the day.  You are getting paid for this after all.

Leveraging events should be kept simple and tight.  This is not always possible for the sponsor’s team (e.g. requiring the athlete to attend a community event driven by their corporate social responsibility initiatives).  But where things can be controlled, keep it simple and tight.  On a photo shoot, for example, having a big crew, lots of your staff present and everyone staring while the athlete is already out of his comfort zone is a sure way of getting a poor result.  Only have necessary people from the crew or your staff present.  It might disappoint lots of people in the office but will make the athlete much more comfortable.

Finally, everyone involved in the activation event will do well to stick to the plan.  Of course unforeseen things happen and the activation team has to think on its feet but avoid the “ah, I’ve just had a brilliant idea moments”.  Sponsors, remember:  Athletes live a surprisingly structured life.  On an activation event, more likely than not, he’ll be out of his comfort zone.  He would like to know what’s happening ahead of time and what’s expected of him.

Above all, if all parties involved in a sponsorship activation programme maintain a professional approach and mutual respect for each other (we’re all only doing our jobs as best we can), no sponsorship relationship should be torture but fun and the cornerstone of a mutually beneficial partnership.

Francois Brink

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