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The expertise problem in sponsorship


Sponsorship is the Swiss knife of marketing communication. Great sponsorship programs usually leverage multiple activation channels (PR, digital, traditional advertising, event marketing, etc.), which requires broad knowledge. While communication professionals tend to be experts in one channel, sponsorship experts must think across multiple platforms. You need a good strategic mind, strong analytical skills and negotiation talents. And yet sponsorship is seldom taught in school, or only in passing, and a lot of people working in the industry landed there largely by accident and had to learn things on the spot.

For 11% of sponsorship professionals, expertise and human resources is the number one concern (CSLS 2016). There is a lack of skilled sponsorship pros in the industry, and that has a negative impact on multiple fronts.

For starters, research tends to show that expertise directly impacts the outcome of a sponsorship. Brands and properties that “get sponsorship” work better as partners, have a stronger relationship, higher perceived satisfaction out of the partnership and higher renewal rates. Both players also tend to work in tandem to achieve the brand objectives.

We have also witnessed a significant shift in the industry. Sponsorship expertise used to be the domain of traditional agencies, many of whom opened up divisions or groups to service their clients in this “new medium” that appeared in the early 2000s. With the integrated marketing wind that was blowing in the 2010’s, agencies restructured their services and many of these divisions were integrated or closed. As an indirect result, sponsorship expertise became the purview of  brands and, more recently, properties. This requires in-house training, as many new hires come from public relations firms, event marketing shops or advertising agencies. Plus, expertise is not always adequately valued and people don’t take into account the vast knowledge required to deliver a great sponsorship program.

While some brands are served by specialized sponsorship agencies, many still rely on their agency of record or their experiential agency for counsel. One issue with using experiential agencies is they only have a hammer in their hand, so they tend to see only nails. On-site experiential activation may be a great way to increase brand engagement, but there is a vast toolbox that can better serve the sponsorship medium as a whole.

Properties are providing more in-house services to sponsors, which means that they have to build more knowledgeable teams. Some finally see the need to better service their partners and have an increase likelihood of renewal and higher satisfaction rates. The most efficient properties structure their sponsorship service like an agency: a one-stop-shop that provides account management, consulting and production capabilities, increasing the overall revenue from sponsorships.

Traditional sponsorship is morphing in all kinds of ways, and the lines between different types of partnerships—brand partnerships, event marketing, content creation, endorsement, corporate social responsibility—are blurring more and more. The good news: the expertise that is relevant for sponsorship can be applied to those new communication environments as well. The challenge: the ever-evolving communication channels mean that professionals always need to stay on their toes, and stay ahead of the curve.


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CSLS (2016). 10th Annual Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study.


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