Happily ever after – keeping the spark alive in commercial partnerships

“The reason we are so excited, is because it’s not just a sponsorship, it’s a true partnership”.

We’ve all seen the cliché excitedly rolled out a thousand times as a new sponsorship agreement is announced, with CEOs from both sides giddily referring to “shared values” and “mutual objectives” like two excited teenagers holding hands and announcing that they are finally going steady.

More often than not though, the initial spark is quick to fade. That collaborative approach that seemed so fresh and exciting early on starts to feel a bit too much like hard work as barriers to ideas are put up on both sides and the activation plan starts to drift back towards the status quo: brands and their agencies rushing out tried and tested experiences and content to try to make best use of their ambassador appearances and promotional opportunities in limited time, with the rights holder’s main role being “sign-off”, as their attention inevitably switches to the next deal or renewal.

Before you know it, our two parties have gone from happily finishing each other’s sentences to “jokingly” picking out each other’s faults in front of their embarrassed friends.

So how can you genuinely turn a sponsorship into a partnership?

Well, like all good relationship counsellors would suggest – the first job is to listen.

It’s amazing how often the constant conversation between both parties throughout a lengthy sponsorship negotiation is cut off the minute a deal is signed, and the sponsor unilaterally pulls together their launch and activation plan. The first month or two in a partnership is often the most important time to really sit down and understand each other.   A simple on-boarding phase where both parties really get to know the other’s businesses – away from the negotiating table – is crucial to long term success.

A true partnership is also about much more than the relationship between the commercial team of the rights holder and the marketing team of the brand.  A really fruitful long term relationship will only exist when both organisations have realised the true value of what collaboration can bring, and – more importantly – who that value matters to.

When the rights holder promised in the sales process that there would be fantastic opportunities to grow their audiences together through collaboration on “their innovative new CRM programme”, it wasn’t an empty chat up line. But what they didn’t say is it’s not the commercial team that this matters to, so it won’t happen unless it’s pushed through.  And when it comes to renewal time, the CEO will often be asking “what happened to those employee engagement opportunities we talked about?”. It’s up to both sides to ensure that collaboration is prioritised throughout each business to ensure long term success.

But perhaps more than anything, it’s about creating an environment where both sides can be truly creative.

Our philosophy at Pitch is to help brands become Distinctive.  Being distinctive is not just about being different – it’s about demonstrating who you are and what you stand for in a truly meaningful way.

A well selected and executed partnership can offer an amazing platform for a brand to truly define itself to customers and stakeholders at all levels. To make this a reality, brands and their agencies should think about what they truly want to achieve, and leverage the wealth of expertise and opportunities available to make it happen – from the rights holder teams, to ambassadors, to media and other partners.

With a genuine focus on collaboration, you might just see that magic spark turn from teenage excitement to a happy long term marriage.

Further Reading