The Olympics have -- finally -- started. And as perhaps the most different of all Olympics begin, it is worth discussing how recent events have informed and continue to inform a new “manual” for scaled event sponsorships.
I asked my consultants to provide their assessment of new and old guidance for sponsoring scaled events like the Olympics. Here are their suggestions:
Audience trends (targeting, messaging, media):
• The adage that the event itself is 20% of the cost of the full program is very true. Enlightened sponsors have pivoted programs and budgets to sales and brand equity driving activation, versus a “simple” presence.
• Find the authentic reason and role the brand can actively play to support the event. For some brands, this is easy (sports apparel, sports drinks), for others much harder. Many (Olympic) sports sponsors now include a focus on “how the athlete got there” with the help of school, parents, nutrition, mental help, etc. Another way is to engage not just with “stars,” but at all levels of a sport, enabling or supporting causes that deliver value.
• Diversity and inclusion should be at the heart of a successful sponsorship (and an Olympic ideal). This is most clearly demonstrated in the stars chosen to be the faces and voices of campaigns.
• Sustainability will be an important and growing component of any sponsorship. The eco-footprint of the event, athletes making choices in support of sustainability, requirements by sports organizers around carbon footprints -- these are all aspects becoming normal to consider.
• Many major sports events are trending older and older. Companies risk missing the next generation unless they engage younger audiences on their terms, via their media, and engage appropriately.
• There are myriad opportunities to build employee or commercial/seller engagement programs that have a proven track record to really move the needle for your sales or business profile.
• Smart sponsors engage with the event and the key players on an ongoing basis, not just the event. This makes your actual Olympic activation during the event far more successful, as you will be building from an existing foundation.
• The major events are story and content fountains. The old days of having your hero TV ad, some digital assets, and a bit of social are gone. “Unleash” your athletes or sports organizations on social media and other relevant channels. Many are very smart content creators that can help build engagement. Their channels usually carry more credibility than most “official media partners.”
• For a complete ROI picture, you will need to assess both hard value components (e.g., exposure through a variety of media, sales driven by channels whose audience was generated through Olympic publicity, etc.) as well as actual “on the ground” value (stadium and athlete presence). Next to that are soft value components: How did sponsorship drive brand equity vs those not exposed or interested? What did it do for recruitment of personnel, retention of your star performers, morale among employees and stakeholders, etc.?
• If we have learned anything over the 18-month period of COVID disruption, it is the need for agility and sudden change. Are you set up to deal with a withdrawal from your star athlete due to illness or scandal? Are you ready to assess if -- as Toyota did in Japan -- you want (or need) to pull ads in a certain market, and do you have a plan B?
Around big events like the Olympics, your marketing ecosystem (your teams, your agencies) will need to perform at Olympic levels. It is hard work, but as with all sports, training and preparation usually pays off.