Sponsorship Activation: A new game played by the same rules

By Lawrence Chia

As a world-class city, Hong Kong plays host to an impressive number of sports and entertainment events. These are almost always sponsored by high-profile brands or corporate titans like banks or airlines.

The sponsor who pays the most usually ‘takes ownership’ of the event, as in the annual Standard Chartered Marathon and the famous Rugby Sevens tournament, co-sponsored this year by Cathay Pacific and HSBC. Obviously, these events are extremely good for expanding brand awareness and for a company’s bottom line.

The definition of corporate sponsorship is shifting swiftly, however - moving from simply ‘putting your company’s name on the event’ to something much larger and more nebulous.

As with the rest of the marketing world, advances in technology and communication have broken down barriers and opened doors; revealing a huge range of platforms and engagement tools for potential sponsors.

In general, this is a great situation for all sides of the equation, but there is a danger that by following more traditional ideas of sponsorship, some companies in Hong Kong may not fully realise the potential of their sponsorship activations in this new, tech-driven world.

As might be expected, online content now plays an increasing role in today’s successful sponsorships. Also, thanks to the relatively new concepts of corporate outreach and corporate social responsibility (CSR), businesses are connecting to the Hong Kong community in new and exciting ways, both online and offline.

These initiatives are further expanding the scope of sponsorship by connecting businesses directly to people at a visceral, emotional level. Marketing companies call this process ‘deepening engagement’.

But can your business do this effectively? These days, it pays to do your research and to know exactly what rights your company is entitled to under the terms of your sponsorship activation. Without knowing exactly what your sponsorship allows you to do, you may be missing out on opportunities.

Still, despite all the changes in the ‘sport’ of sponsorship, the rules of the game are more or less the same:

Rule 1: Know your target audience before you commit.Take the time to ask the right questions: Who do you want to reach? What’s the best way to speak to them?

How do other companies interact with this demographic? What are your objectives? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can make an informed decision as to what your sponsorship will look like.

Rule 2: Know the other sponsors involved.They may be from different industries, but in terms of this event they are competing with you for the attention of the target audience. Consider who they are and what their message is before making any strategic decisions.

Rule 3: Maximise value through smart investment.Traditional sponsorship simply meant buying the right to put your company’s name on the event, market the heck out of it and hope that this translated into results. These days sponsorship is a lot more complex.

Sponsorship needs nurturing and care and, yes, further investment. To maximise your returns, you must be prepared to spend a lot more - often over and above the original sponsorship fee on everything from PR and publicity to parties, hospitality and VIP entertainment. Without this ‘aftercare’, your sponsorship will be under-utilised.

Rule 4: Create deeper connections.What moves your target audience? What do they respond to? Often, events are emotionally charged affairs - thrilling sports matches or moving concerts. Consider what experience your target audience is seeking and try to deliver that emotion.

For example, at this year’s Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament, co-sponsor Cathay Pacific created a popup store in Causeway Bay that used technology to allow the public to briefly ‘become’ rugby players - bringing the excitement of the game home to them on a personal level.

Rule 5: Amplify your reach by using multiple platforms. These days, there are so many tools which enable businesses to connect on a personal level with their target audience.

Facebook campaigns, mobile apps, games and contests are a good starting point, while unusual advertising, fun promotional campaigns and entertainment-based games are guaranteed to make everyone sit up and notice. Spend the time to figure out which platforms are best for your event. 

Keeping these rules in mind will help your company realise the full potential of what it means to be a sponsor in the 21stcentury, help make your next sponsorship activation more influential, and work wonders for your bottom line.

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