AI Made Friendly HERE

Sponsorship and social impact – changing the narrative so everyone wins

For the third consecutive year, Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) has been named as the year’s top sponsorship trend by members of the European Sponsorship Association (ESA).

Despite the drop off in noise about ‘purpose marketing’ since its post-Covid peak, ESG remains a focus: research from 17 Sport, leaders in this space,  shows that nearly all businesses (98 per cent) currently include purpose at some level of their organisation strategy, and 52 per cent say purpose is important or highly important to their sports sponsorship activities.

So, sport, brands and social impact should be a slam dunk combination, right? Wrong.

Less than half of respondents (42 per cent) in 17 Sport’s research said they involve current stakeholders in their purpose-led sponsorship despite well over half (60 per cent) saying campaigns that involve purpose perform better than non-purpose-led ones.

That is quite a gap. Why?

I recently developed and led an award-winning education programme with Manchester United Foundation on behalf of DXC Technology, a major partner of the Premier League club. Based on my experiences and over a decade in the industry, these are my key takeaways.

Be clear on your “why”

Authenticity in sports marketing has always been important. When you involve environment and social impact, it is an imperative.

You must invest time to research what problem you are looking to address, how it aligns to your business, and what role everyone needs to play. Consider the brand and business strategy, your sports partner, and also the location and community in which you will be working.

Take Adidas’ ‘Breaking Barriers’ ongoing initiative and campaign. They started with research asking why girls and women weren’t participating in sport to the same extent as men. This showed that a key factor was the lack of women’s representation in coaching. Adidas now had their ‘why’ for a campaign which aligned with their brand purpose: ‘Through sport, we have the power to change lives’.

Working for a technology business, my ‘why’ was multi-faceted – location, industry sector and community need. Manchester as a city has a focus on growth, a key pillar of which comes down to being a technology powerhouse. However, those living in areas of social deprivation in the city are least likely to get into the sector due to a lack of visible peers and skills as well as digital and data poverty.

Combined with British Computing Society analysis showing that 94 per cent of girls and 79 per cent of boys drop computing at age 14, there is a risk of city growth stagnating and reinforcing an existing social mobility issue.

Working in the areas around Old Trafford and beyond, our partners at Manchester United Foundation actively engage in areas of social deprivation with a focus on youth education and opportunity through sport. Our combined ‘why’ was to grow the tech skills pipeline while supporting social mobility and local economy growth.

Data-driven and outcome-focused

Intent is great but with social impact programmes you have to deliver. Starting with a ‘Theory of Change’ model helps frame how you will achieve the outcomes you are looking for and what data you need to capture to track progress. Social change has many levers and knowing which you need to activate requires careful thinking.

Also, be clear and honest about what each party needs to get out of it. Adidas wants more women in sport as it aligns to their brand purpose. Equally, more women in sport means more demand for their products, which is good for business.

Operating in the tech sector, I was interested in technology skills, a growing pipeline of talent and a strong local economy. In a competitive talent landscape, standing out and being true to your core values is also good business.

Developing the Theory of Change is step one. To deliver real value it needs to be used as a tool to keep you on track. After all, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

With our Foundation programme, we referred back to our model on an ongoing basis to make sure the project was delivering for everyone: our year one student data impact was positive, showing an uplift in 91 per cent of all measured outcomes.

Build an ecosystem of experts

An area where sport and businesses are closely aligned is around having the right team. As a leader of any programme, being the least clever person in the room is a good place to be. When it comes to social impact, don’t assume you have all the answers.

Delivering a sponsorship activation rooted in purpose or social impact is complex. It isn’t as simple as brainstorming a few ideas with your agency or creating some viral content with the latest social influencer. It requires depth of thought, insight and delivery capability that spans a wide range of stakeholders.

Find and listen to the experts with direct experience in their field. For me, that was Foundation experts, education specialists and technologists.

Delivering success requires new ways of thinking, bold leadership and new skillsets from across business strategy, organisation change, communication, social impact experts and brand marketing to be successful.

Community-centric at all touchpoints

SportsPro’s sponsorship marketing trends of 2023 listed ‘Community comes first’ in the top ten. This is not a surprise given the focus on fans and the opportunity to access sport’s emotive audience.

However, don’t underestimate the communities within your own organisations. Actively engage them in a positive fashion and you hit two key measures for any brand: culture and attraction/retention.

In a recent Linkedin survey, 59 per cent of European respondents stated that they would not work for an organisation that does not share their values, with most saying not even a pay increase would change their minds. In a landscape of fierce competition for talent, businesses are increasingly focused on differentiating through culture and values.

ESG is a passion point that offers a chance to reach new communities. Activate them all and the impact multiplies.

In my experience, engaging top talent directly in social impact programmes turns employees into advocates. Don’t underestimate the power and impact of a motivated workforce.

Bold, fully integrated campaigns

‘Purpose marketing’ needs to go beyond marketing; if it’s causal-led, you must deliver and once done, the marketing side becomes relatively easy. However, it takes time. You have to plan over a longer time horizon, capturing and telling the story as you go.

Be bold here and really think how you integrate the brand position into wider campaign activity in a truly authentic way. In the same way that social impact work shouldn’t be a bolt-on to your core business purpose, neither should you treat social impact activation as a bolt-on to your regular brand activity.

Creating integrated campaign journeys – where values and purpose lead into more traditional brand partnership content – increases salience in the audience for your more business-focused messages. I’ve seen engagement rates around 20 to 30 per cent above other partner averages and a ten per cent increase in target audience consideration when using social impact campaigns in a fully integrated way.

Fanatical benefit tracking

Sports sponsors are demanding more across the environmental and social spectrum. That’s no surprise when a recent global study showed that 60 per cent of companies in Europe now have KPIs that tie executive compensation to meeting ESG goals. That has ramifications for their entire supply chains, sports partnerships included.

In the UK, public sector bids now require a social value element in all major procurement contracts. Doing good is now part of good business.

More progressive organisations are embracing this. ChangeNow and its Sports Sponsors Climate Pledge aims to go further than existing charters by correlating support in the sports world with a certified greenhouse gas footprint reduction aligned with the Paris Agreement. They are also providing guidance on how to do that and, most importantly, tracking results.

All of this requires an ever-increasing focus on benefit tracking and reporting. Change comes from aligning success metrics and rewards, all backed up by data. Do that across all touchpoints, from social impact to community engagement, brand impact to business opportunity, and positive change will happen for all.

So are we now at a tipping point? Potentially yes, but we need to shift the narrative from asking “who pays” for social impact initiatives and instead ask “who wins?”

If we can do that, maybe we can finally live up to Nelson Mandela’s often-used quote: “Sport has the power to change the world.”

DXC’s social impact work with Manchester United Foundation saw the brand recognised as part of last year’s Laureus Sport for Good Index. Find out more here.

About the author

Sam Seddon has been in the technology sector for over 25 years, 15 of which have been focused on sport, sustainability and purpose. Leading global partnership teams, he combines his experiences in tech delivery, business strategy, sustainability and brand marketing to deliver innovative and award-winning campaigns. He has worked in major technology brands and across the sports landscape including with Wimbledon, England Rugby, Ferrari, Manchester United and Manchester United Foundation.

Originally Appeared Here

You May Also Like

About the Author:

Early Bird