News Analysis: Sizing Up Sponsorship
The latest quest for a one-size-fits-all evaluation technique has been derided by the industry, writes Drew Barrand.
For many sponsorship practitioners, the recent announcement from the European Sponsorship Association (ESA) that it has set up a board to develop a universal method of evaluating sponsorship effectiveness was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of deja vu.
The first calls for just such a standard evaluation practice came nearly a decade ago; the consensus at the time was that such a sweeping methodology was impossible, given the unique nature of the goals that each sponsor has for its associations. Where one sponsor might be concerned with brand awareness, for example, another might want to look at the effect on sales.
If marketers 10 years ago were still unsure as to whether sponsorship could be a measurable discipline, the debate now is coloured by the fact that modern sponsorship is an even more sophisticated animal. As a result, the industry has developed its own bespoke evaluation techniques, which sit at the heart of any well-thought-out strategy.
Many in the industry are understandably incredulous at the ESA's return to the measurement issue and its questioning of the techniques that it has been cultivating over the past decade.
'Evaluation is important but it is something that must be delivered on a specific brief, according to marked-out goals, not by some overriding industry model,' says Alun James, managing director of Four Sports Marketing & Sponsorship. 'We had this debate 10 years ago when sponsorship first arrived on the scene and I can't understand why the ESA is bringing it up again when individual sponsors' evaluation techniques have moved way beyond that issue. It is disappointing to say the least.'
Steve Martin, managing director of M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment agrees that there is absolutely no need for a universal system.
'We work for a number of sponsors and for each one we have a bespoke method of evaluating their specific activity. Why, then, do we need an all-encompassing model that will be too generic to offer any real value?' he asks.
The ESA evaluation committee, led by the head of sponsorship at T-Mobile, Toby Hester, defends its decision to bring this long-running debate to the fore again, claiming that it has done so in response to demands from sponsors themselves.
'We know it is not an easy thing to achieve so we are not going into it with our eyes shut, but the fact is that the biggest request we have had from our sponsor members is to create a standardisation of best practice for evaluation,' says Helen Lamb, the association's communications manager.
However, Jim O'Toole, managing director of 141 Sports and Entertainment, questions the experience of those sponsors making the request.
'It goes against the fundamentals of best practice in sponsorship to look for an all-encompassing model,' he says. 'Numbers and accountability are important but there are far too many intangibles to create a one-stop shop system. …