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Kim Skildum-Reid: ‘Europe Leads the World’ in Best-Practice Sponsorship

We caught up with Kim Skildum-Reid, a world-renowned sponsorship consultant, to talk all things sponsorship in advance of One-Zero 2019. 

Kim has 29-years experience working with blue-chip brands such as Unilever, Quantas and Estee Lauder, and is the best-selling author of ‘The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit’. 

O-Z: I suppose the only way to kick this off is to delve into your background. Tell me a bit about your career, and how you ended up in sponsorship in the first place.

Kim: I studied physics and maths, but dropped out of uni before graduating. Interesting as it was, my career trajectory would have included years and years of going to uni, followed by research at a uni for the rest of my working life. I just didn’t like uni enough for that!

Instead, I thought about what I was good at. I knew I was pretty good at marketing, having done it with my family business as a teenager. I also thought about what I loved, which was sports. Putting them together, I found myself wondering if there were jobs in sports marketing, having no idea that it was an industry on the cusp of exploding.

My first job was with a Minneapolis-based startup, running the on-site leverage activities for a variety of mostly consumer foods clients. Worked seven days a week for a pittance, and loved every minute of it.

 

O-Z: You’ve worked with some incredible brands and personalities down through the years. Are there any inspirations or mentors that you had along the way?

 

Kim: At that first job, I met Caren Petrulo-Barry, who was pretty much the coolest person I’d ever met, up to that point in my life. Still is. She’s smart, ambitious, and forthright, and I wanted to be just like her.

Beyond that, my career has been about soaking up thousands of little inspirations – angles, case studies, research, technology, and tricky challenges – so, I owe literally thousands of thank yous.

 

O-Z: Is there any ONE brand that sticks out for you in terms of sponsorship quality?

 

Kim: This question isn’t really about quality, but consistency. There are brands all over the world that have delivered amazing, best practice sponsorships, but all too many of them also have portfolios full of unleveraged logo-slaps. You have to wonder whether it’s little more than an accident when they do it well.

I’m a huge fan of Air New Zealand’s approach to sponsorship, being consistently authentic, fan-centric, thorough, and creative, across their whole portfolio of substantial sponsorships. They have a finely-honed understanding of what has meaning to the various fan-bases, so the wins they deliver to fans hit the target every time.

 

O-Z: What do you feel are the top-3 challenges facing the sponsorship industry right now?

 

Kim: Only three? I could probably do ten, but okay. These are the three that, if effectively addressed, I believe would effect the greatest positive change for our industry.

 

MeasurementMeasurement is perennially at the top of the list, but usually for a different reason. Most people see measurement as a challenge, because they want to know what they achieved. Fair enough, but this is bigger than that.

The way I see it, effective measurement is absolutely critical to success. A sponsorship will be worked to the measures set out for it, and if those measures are strong, strategic, and credible, the leverage plan will be, too. Good measurement drives negotiations, research, and renewals. It’s the starting place for a sponsorship, not the endpoint.

So, with the rationale out of the way, the issue isn’t whether sponsorship can be effectively measured, because it can. It’s not even difficult – I can teach the basics in about twenty minutes.

The issue is there is an entire industry of “logo-counting” agencies that are trying extremely hard to keep their first generation measures relevant in a fourth generation industry, and media keeps giving these dinosaurs a platform. The loudest voices – and they and their clients are pervasive – have normalised bad measurement, making it the default position for sponsors without the skills, vision, or compunction to see the glaring flaws in the logic.

 

Unrealistic Portfolios – Fully realising the returns from a sponsorship requires resources, time, buy-in, and creativity. The results are worth the effort, but the effort isn’t actually negotiable. If a sponsor isn’t going to leverage, they shouldn’t spend the money. It’s wasted.

The issue is that many sponsors have too many sponsorships to do them all justice with leverage, and/or their portfolios are so fragmented that there are no economies to be found in using a vertically integrated or umbrella strategy. 

 

Sponsorship Fragmentation by Rights Holders – Rightsholders are always looking to increase their bottom lines. No fault to them for that, but many of them try to do it by selling more sponsorships. Sports organisations, in particular, are always looking for ways to increase their “assets” or “inventory” of things to sell, so they can sell more sponsorships. The result is massive, cluttered, bottom-heavy portfolios. 

As long as most of those sponsors are phoning it in, the better sponsors will have lots of room to add meaningful value to the fan experience. But as more and more sponsors make the leap to best practice, that’s going to get harder, and the impact on the fans could reach a point where it’s overbearing.

Honestly, I wish more rightsholders would have some vision about their real value to sponsors and where that value lies, back themselves, and shift to an approach that centres on fewer, bigger, better sponsorships. 

 

O-Z: What’s the biggest fad of 2018 that should have died on the vine?

 

Kim: Using sponsorship primarily for data acquisition

This is a horrendous misuse of the most powerful, meaningful, flexible, and authentic marketing platform a brand can have, but I’ve heard one sponsor after another harp on about gathering data being the primary goal of sponsorship. Ironically, when asked what they do with that data, most of them just aggregate it, and don’t use it for much, if anything at all.

 

O-Z: What percentage of companies are effectively investing in sponsorship?

 

Kim: Again, this question is about consistency. What percentage of companies do sponsorship really well occasionally? Probably 40-50%. What percentage of companies do sponsorship really well most of the time? More like 5-10%.

 

O-Z: What does 2019 hold in store for esports sponsorship, and is it a wave brands must get on now?

 

Kim: The explosive growth of eSports, the fervency of the fanbase (and how hard they are to reach in main media), and the flood of non-endemic sponsors jumping into it had certainly made it a sponsorship “must have”. 

The issue is that many of the sponsors are jumping into it, and applying a super old-school approach – logo slaps, inauthentic outbound messaging, branding content instead of collaborating or creating it, and worst of all, being disrespectful of the fan experience. In more traditional sports, that kind of sponsorship gets ignored. In the eSports world, it engenders fan backlash.

The upshot is that sponsors who get it – who align with fans, reflect their passions, and add meaningful value to the fan experience – will reap huge benefits from sponsoring a sport that is purpose-built for multi-dimensional, remote fan interaction. It’s a mecca for Disruptive Sponsorship!

But those sponsors that go in, treating the sport like yet another billboard, will be very sad indeed when they look at their real results against objectives.

 

O-Z: Give me your thoughts on the current state of the sponsorship industry in Europe.

 

Kim: In terms of uptake of best practice, Disruptive Sponsorship, my take is that Europe leads the world. Europe is followed by my region, Australasia, and then North America. 

That said, there are great sponsors and rightsholders and inspired sponsorships all over the world. There are also truly crap sponsorships all over the world. 

I hope One-Zero is a game-changer!

 

O-Z: We’re clearly living in the era of social influencers, where everyone and their mother appear to be pushing third party products online. What’s your take of the growing trend of social influencer sponsorship?

 

Kim: Again, this comes down to how it’s done. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just another leverageable marketing opportunity, with lots of passionate fans. If a sponsor treats it like an inauthentic product placement, it’s going to stick out like dogs’ balls. Fans won’t like it, they won’t like the sponsor for doing it, and the influencer risks looking like a sell-out.

Authenticity and meaning continue to rule the day. I’m finding that some of the most powerful things you can do with influencers is collaborate with them to create ways to tell fan stories and/or make fans the heroes, and cross-pollenating them with other sponsorships. 

 

O-Z: What are you excited to discuss at One-Zero this September?

 

Kim: What’s not be excited about?! Sponsorship is amazing, and as much as I’m looking forward to delivering a fun, provocative keynote, I’m also looking forward to chewing on some of the big industry topics with other industry pros.

What topics? Honestly, there are a hundred sponsorship topics I’d love to discuss. As a start…

  • The growing gap between organisations that embrace meaning-driven, fan-centric sponsorship, and those that don’t, and what’s behind the lag.
  • How the fact that there are vastly more sponsors on the best-practice side of the gap than rightsholders, and what that means to future revenue.
  • The challenges of changing organisational culture around sponsorship – for sponsors and rightsholders – when maximising results and revenues demands deep buy-in.
  • How Disruptive Sponsorship is the great equaliser, allowing small sponsorships and small properties to genuinely compete with major sport.
  • How this progress has changed the ambush equation, making it simultaneously easier and more difficult.

Buy me a cider, I could go on all day!

 

Kim will be a keynote speaker on our Sponsorship Stage for One-Zero 2019. Tickets are now on sale, to join Kim and 500 other decision-making professionals on 17 September.