Jul 08, 2009 at 05:45 PM
written by Michael Munson

From the Trenches: An Interview with ADC Partners

In 1998 when working as an AAE at FCB Sports in San Francisco, I got a call from a guy interested in pitching sponsorship of a college basketball event called the “Pete Newell Challenge” to our client, PowerBar. It was one of the best calls I ever had in that job, as it introduced me to Andy Dallin.

A sports and sponsorship marketing veteran on both the corporate and property side, Andy is one of the most talented people I have encountered in the sponsorship business. After many years working for teams and agencies, in 2002 he joined with partner Dave Almy and formed ADC Partners to work together and implement sponsorships their way. Impressive in his own right, Dave authored one of the most concise presentations of the differences between sponsorship, cause marketing, and charity I have seen.

Anyone can regurgitate information, but true knowledge is demonstrated by being able to teach others. So perhaps not surprisingly, Andy & Dave teach Sports Marketing in the Sports Management Master’s program at the University of San Francisco. Between them they have over 30 years experience working for and advising too many organizations to list here. It is not an overstatement to say that if guys like Andy Dallin and Dave Almy had it their way, nobody would be questioning the value of sponsorships, and many more effective ones would be implemented. They only develop programs that deliver results.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they hold strong convictions about what works, doesn’t, and how to improve sponsorship marketing. They agreed to share some of their thoughts with SponsorPitch in an interview. Enjoy!

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SP: What was the most effective sponsorship program you ever did?

A couple come to mind…one while representing a corporation (Clorox) and a second from the property side. Several years ago we worked on a number of Clorox brands and this project was specific to Brita, their water filtration product. Brita had identified their target demo to be women, head-of-household, skewing high on income and education. Their initial inclination was to pursue sports oriented properties but, based on our initial discovery and research, a cause/volunteer-oriented property was indicated to better engage this audience. We narrowed in on a few options and ultimately recommended sponsorship of International Coastal Cleanup Day…a well respected program designed to help clean up ocean, lakes, rivers, and streams. Beyond the natural brand resonance of clean water, this property provided a superior opportunity for engaging volunteers and targeting key geographies for Brita. Perhaps the strongest hook for Brita was the ability to bring Walmart (their largest retailer) in the mix: each of the more than 100,000 volunteers was given a free Brita pitcher…they were able to receive their free pitcher by going to any Walmart. Walmart gets incremental traffic (their goal), Brita gets new customers who over time will purchase new filters for the pitcher (their goal) along with the accompanying good will of making a positive contribution to key markets. Simply a very good deal: the partnership was well received by corporate stakeholders, by the public (witness huge measured media coverage), by the property (spectacular new visibility and increases in volunteers) and Brita tracked new/incremental sales well beyond projections for this investment.

The property deal is literally wrapping up as we speak…we were engaged by a major university to help determine viability for campus-wide partnerships. Several months work revealed banking as a viable category…there was a need for additional ATMs on campus and, based on the school’s location, a mini-branch was viewed as a valuable asset. We also learned the school was looking to introduce financial literacy and credit management classes during freshman orientation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the school was already exploring the merits of a campus one-card: a single ID, stored value, access card which can be activated as an ATM/debit card for the sponsoring bank.

At many universities/colleges, the vast majority of corporate partnerships are focused on athletics…certainly makes sense in some environments but our approach is to find the greatest impact areas in which to engage the student body: student unions, rec sports, intramurals, etc. This deal covers a number of campus business units (including athletics) but the keys were the on-campus branch, prominent and dominant ATM placement and the exclusive one-card program. This ten-year deal created a completely new revenue stream for the university and with significant upside potential based on the number of new accounts which are established. Contracts are in place and should be announced in the next few weeks but until that date, regrettably we’re not at liberty to reveal either the school or the partnering bank.

SP: Were you working on the property side or the brand side?

On the Brita project, we represented Brita/Clorox and on the second example we were retained by the University. We never represent more than one client on a single project…simply isn’t a good idea and as such, never run the risk of a conflict of interest.

SP: Which party initiated contact and brought interest to the attention of the other? Did the property research and find a good fit? Did the company assess its objectives and find a good fit?

On both projects, we took the lead and initiated contact…and that’s in keeping with our overall “strategy before tactics” approach. It’s very rare to find good sponsorship results in a reactive environment. On behalf of Brita, after some discovery and learning their objectives, we were able to narrow the viable properties. On behalf of the university, we determined utilizing an RFP process would yield the best results. Whether working on the property or corporate side, it’s essential to do your homework…if you’re a property, a baseline starting point includes demographic and psychographic attributes of your visitors/guests, geographic reach and relevance, willingness/ability to include dedicated purchasing with a sponsor, willingness/ability to create pass-throughs ,and exclusivities. If you’re on the corporate side, a good starting question to ask is “how do you generate revenue?” Always amazing to hear how many folks simply don’t know. Also what are your core brand attributes, what are your department/brand/company goals? Who are the key stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, board, Wall Street, community officials)? It’s remarkable how many corporations can’t clearly and concisely answer these…and until these basics are identified, nobody can do a good job of strategically targeting the right properties.

SP: How long before deal signing was the “courtship” started?

The university deal has taken a few years…longer than all parties would have liked but it’s often necessary (especially in a college environment) to factor in some delays due to the creation of new programming. The Brita deal was much faster…several months from initial meetings to finishing the negotiation.

SP: What was instrumental from the property side that made it work?

You’ve heard the expression: “You’ve got 2 ears and 1 mouth... use them in the same ratio.” That ability to listen is absolutely critical. Successful properties, those that rise above, are those that demonstrate a capacity to listen to the needs of a sponsor and then respond with a marketing program that specifically addresses those needs.

SP: What about from the sponsor side?

In a word: clarity. Clarity regarding what their goals are, how they’ll be evaluated, etc. It’s continually surprising to find companies engaging in large sponsorships without a clear sense of “why”.

SP: It seems many times you are hired to take properties companies have already bought rights to, without aligning them to brand or sales objectives. Does this make the job of creating effective activations difficult?

Sure, but not impossible. It’s true, we’ve been hired several times to help figure out why a sponsorship isn’t providing a return. For us, the good news in a situation like this is that the client already recognizes that something’s rotten in the State of Denmark, as it were. Once they’ve crossed that threshold, then we can help with making decisions needed to improve performance.

SP: In your experience, what are the assets properties and sponsors most commonly overlook as useful in sponsorship activations?

Hmmmm…regrettably it’s often those which require the most work: way easier to install a sign rather than create a multi-channel communications program or work with a series of franchisees to plan, launch and manage in-retail extensions. Yet the best results usually occur as a result of hard work.

SP: What kinds of properties are “diamonds in the rough,” or tend to have value sponsors pass over? Or is it really dependent on the property, and value can be found anywhere?

One sponsor’s rough diamond is another’s breathtaking jewel. It completely depends on what the sponsor is trying to accomplish and who they’re trying to reach. That said, we’re bullish on Cause programs because they typically have lower costs of entry and can engender extraordinary loyalty.

SP: What specific brands would you cite as examples that execute sponsorships in a way you would consider effective?

We’re big believers in using sponsorships as content that connects brands to people. People care about the things companies sponsor. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the Dallas Cowboys, the Museum of Modern Art or Susan G Komen Foundation: these properties are bound by the simple truth that they elicit an emotional response. The best brands recognize this, and leverage their sponsorship investments to the hilt to access that emotional spark.

The obvious answers are the big dogs: Anheuser Busch, VISA, Gatorade, etc. Each built brands largely through successful sponsorship activation. Red Bull has been effective by creating events (soap box derbies, air races) that reflect their brand.

SP: How would you define a successful sponsorship partnership? What has to happen for you to judge it a success?

It’s an overused expression (to say the least), but a successful partnership is one that produces a win-win. If both parties can, at the end of the day, lean back in their chair and believe that they got what they needed/wanted out of a sponsorship, then it’s successful. And the only way they can accurately assess if it’s a success is if they’ve identified that up front. So first step is always to establish objectives and what constitutes a win.

SP: Regardless of whether you are on the property of sponsor side, what would you say the three best practices are to effective sponsorship execution?

1. Vision: It’s brutally difficult. We operate in a hour-to-hour business environment that rewards immediate gratification (“What is our stock price doing now?” “Where are you on sales goals right now?”). The ability to take a long view is challenging, but is essential to creating sponsorships that have a lasting and measureable effect.

2. Communication: Hopefully this goes without saying, but...we still hear stories of properties that only meet with sponsors when it’s time to renew. Really dreadful. Regular and meaningful communication between both parties helps avoid problems before they occur.

3. Creativity: The marketplace is FAR too competitive for business as usual ideas. For properties, it means getting rid of the gold, silver, bronze package mindset. For sponsors, it means thinking beyond “how-many-playing-spots-in-the pro-am.”It means sitting down, rolling up the sleeves, and taking a hard look at how these marketing investments can uniquely position a brand or property for success.


Got comments? Give them. More questions? Ask them.

For more info on ADC Partners, visit their site.

Mike can be reached by email at mike@sponsorpitch.com and on Twitter at @mjmunson.