What the Sponsorship Sentiment Tracker tells us about the sponsorship skills of the future
When the first wave of lockdowns rolled across Europe in March 2020, the path forward for sponsorship was unclear. As festivals, major events, competitions and grassroots sport went into an indefinite hiatus, we at the European Sponsorship Association decided a tool was needed to allow us to take the ‘pulse’ of our community throughout lockdown – and the ESA Sponsorship Sentiment Tracker was launched.
With wave one going live as lockdowns took hold across the continent, the Sponsorship Sentiment Tracker has given the sponsorship community insights throughout a tough and unprecedented year for our industry. The Europe-wide survey series gauges how confident senior industry professionals feel about the future of sponsorship on a ten-point scale and also asks other key questions around trends, skills, diversity, revenue and other issues.
Last week we launched wave six, which clearly demonstrated that industry confidence is growing as fans return in limited numbers to stadiums and vaccination programmes begin to be rolled out. We recorded a confidence score of 6.7 out of 10 from survey respondents, a record high for the Sentiment Tracker, with brands peaking at 7.3/10, indicating that sponsors retain positivity heading into 2021.
But what about the actual emerging trends that will help this recovery gain momentum? In wave six we asked respondents what skills they thought will become increasingly important to sponsorship in the future. Respondents were invited to select up to five skills they thought would be key to industry recovery and growth, and the results are illuminating.
The most obvious takeaway is that, with 73% of respondents ranking it as a key skill, data and analytics will only increase in prominence in the coming years. As downward budgetary pressures continue to make themselves felt and marketers have to work harder to justify spending, all parts of the sponsorship community will have to accelerate efforts to use data and insights effectively.
It’s a result that certainly reflects the discussion between senior industry leaders during the ESA careers masterclass webinar in October, where the consensus was that the ability to prove sponsorship effectiveness would be the most in-demand trait for future marketers.
“Money will be tight next year, but clients are telling us that if you can demonstrate that activation will generate business growth you will be allocated budget, if not you will be left on the vine. Brands are really looking for people who can understand how sponsorship can drive a brand’s business and bring sales benefits,” said Lou Johnson, CEO at sport and entertainment agency Fuse.
Leading recruiter Amanda Fone, of f1 Recruitment, agreed: “the Premier League clubs we work with have specifically asked us to find people who understand data, measurement and insight, and can translate that data into part of a pitch to brands.”
Both innovation (2nd, 54% of respondents) and creativity (5th, with 48%) also charted highly, indicating that sponsorship marketers understand that science needs to be married to emotional connection for sponsorship to reach its potential.
It’s also illustrative to look at where different parts of the industry diverged – for instance, 48% of rights holders highlighted relationship management as crucial but only 15% of rights holders selected performance marketing. Conversely, more than a quarter of agencies and brands (26% and 27% respectively) thought performance marketing would become a key skill, whereas less than one in five thought the same about relationship management.
Those numbers speak to a fundamental disagreement between those seeking sponsorship and brands, with rights holders continuing to place emphasis on relationships and personal connection, even as sponsors place new emphasis on hard ROI and results. This is also seen elsewhere – 67% of brands rank measurement as important, compared to 48% of rights holders.
Another notable trend is the need for sponsorship marketers to embrace skills and departments that have traditionally been siloed off from sponsorship. Marketing channels that may compete with sponsorship for dollars, such as content marketing (4th, 50% of respondents), social media (6th, 41%) and influencer marketing (9th, 21%), will have to instead be leveraged in a complementary way to drive strong campaigns.
Again, these findings reflect the realities of the industry – Johnson told webinar attendees that Fuse was “being asked by clients questions like how can sponsorship enhance my ecommerce activities, how do I drive short-term sales, how do I improve outcomes for my partnerships… Based on those client needs we’ll be looking to enhance and upweight our existing digital, commerce and performance capabilities.”
Further good news can be found in the Sentiment Tracker, where 55% of respondents said they plan to upskill themselves and their teams in 2021 (32% plan to upskill personally and 10% plan to upskill their teams). With just 4% of sponsorship professionals having no plans at all to develop these ‘skills of the future’, there is huge upside for organisations that can innovate and get ahead of the curve.