Full measure for sponsors

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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH UK sponsorship is now a pounds 400m-a-year business, many potential sponsors are still put off by the apparent lack of dedicated research into its effectiveness.

The market looks set to grow in value by 12.5 per cent this year, according to Mintel, the market research firm. One- third of consumers claim to have a more favourable attitude towards companies sponsoring their favourite sport, art or TV programme. As a result, a fifth are more likely to buy the sponsor's products or services.

But gauging the impact and value of individual sponsorships has traditionally been an imprecise science. The most commonly used methods of evaluation are still based on advertising measurements, such as comparing the free media coverage a sponsorship generates with how much this would have cost to buy. This approach ignores the fact that sponsorship and advertising are used to achieve different goals.

General Accident was involved in sports sponsorship for 10 years before withdrawing in 1992.

'Research didn't indicate what sponsorship would deliver - it was in terms of advertising awareness and how long our logo was seen on screen. Whether this was an effective use of pounds 1.25m was an issue for debate,' said Ray Andrews, GA's communications and media manager.

Mr Andrews said the company recognises the value of relevant sponsorship - one goal is to directly generate policy sales. But he added a note of caution. 'A lot of people involved in sponsorship at the less sophisticated end of the market do so for mixed and wrong reasons.'

Proper research before, during and after sponsorship is essential to avoid mistakes. Evaluation is not just a way to gauge whether a sponsorship has worked, it also focuses attention on strategy at each stage of the sponsorship.

The Sponsorship Research Company, a subsidiary of the strategic sponsorship consultancy, the Bloxham Group, was launched this month to offer qualitative and quantitative research knowledge, strategic- planning expertise and hands- on sponsorship experience.

'To be of real value, the research needs input at the outset from people with practical experience of how sponsorship works,' said Graham Saxton, marketing director at SRC. 'Put these people together with good researchers and you will get valid results.'

Karen Earl, managing director of sponsorship consultancy Karen Earl, agrees. 'Sponsorship research is much more sophisticated than it used to be. The myth that you can't measure sponsorship is well and truly buried,' she said.

For her clients, media monitoring is just the starting point. A points system is devised for each sponsorship, taking into account relative goals and target audiences. Tailored research gauges whether activities have met these requirements.

'Once you have determined how to evaluate sponsorship for that client, the golden rule is to stick to that system.'

But while this approach enables a sponsor to compare the effectiveness of its different activities, setting these against the effectiveness of its competitors' sponsorships is trickier.

'The sponsorship business is by its very nature a fragmented one,' said Mike Bloxham, managing director of the Bloxham Group.

'There is no central compilation of data. The vast majority of sponsors conduct their own research and keep it secret,' he added.

But there are moves to rectify this. The European Sponsorship Consultants Association, the Institute of Sports Sponsorship and the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts are now attempting to collate industry data and assess research methods in order to establish an industry standard research framework.