May 21, 2009 at 04:24 PM
written by Kevin Hanft

Key Learnings: Moving to True Win-Win Relationships

Photobucket This is the second posting in our "Key Learnings" blog series, which will be a regular collection of insights and stories from thought-leaders within the sponsorship industry. Today's key learning comes from Kevin Hanft from Marketing Leverage LLC.

“Strategic partner” is a term used freely and likely too often. Especially when it comes to sports and entertainment marketing. Properties have moved away from the term sponsor, as it has taken on an almost derogatory tonality. Political correctness has called for ‘partner’ as the preferred label.

To be honest, I don’t care what term is used; I just want properties and brands to truly understand and agree upon the nature of the relationship they are entering. The issue - I don’t believe that anyone is aware of the very real distinction, so regrettably they use the words interchangeably.

Looking at Webster’s Dictionary we find the following:

Sponsor: a person or an organization that pays for or plans and carries out a project or activity ; especially : one that pays the cost of a radio or television program usually in return for advertising time during its course; patron, backer; guarantor.

(Emphasis on financial support, exchange for some benefit)

Partnership: a relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities

(Emphasis on collaboration, mutual interests and accountability)

These are quite useful in delineating the relationships. If we can only get folks in the industry to use them correctly and consistently, we would all be better off. Both have valid and useful roles in marketing, based on the objectives, time horizon and level of strategic investment being made.

For a one time promotion or marketing activity (product launch, etc.), the role of sponsor may be most appropriate. It begs a shorter agreement and relationship, lower integration of intellectual property and a more tactical activation approach. Similarly the financial and resources needed would be lower, based largely on a valuation of the tangible assets and projection of intangible values.

There is no reason that a successful sponsor relationship cannot evolve into a partnership. In fact, this might be a preferred approach to reduce risk – allowing a brand to test the property as a vehicle and marketing partner before committing to a long term investment.

Partnership indicates a more meaningful connection and intentional interconnection of brands. This would lead to a relationship that spans multiple years (or assumed to be ongoing) which allows for activation and integration at a much deeper level. Partnerships should involve Honesty, Openness & Trust, none of which can ever be specified in an agreement. You may sense any or all during the pitch phase, but that may fade after the ink is dried. It is unfortunate and a lost opportunity. When a partnership is reached, thoughtfully evaluated and based on well matched brands and properties, embraced with a collaborative and mutual desire to succeed it can be plenty powerful.

I would like to put forward a few suggestions that would enhance and elevate the art of partnership marketing:

Property –

  • Understand, to your core, the business, markets, goals and issues partners are facing.
  • Seek to add value anywhere possible; accept your obligation to help your partner truly maximize their investment with you – activation ideas; internal sell-in support; connection to other partners and potential customers
  • Look out for our partners interests – even if it means restructuring a deal to better match the assets with the opportunities.
  • Avoid the temptation to only look at the $. Sometimes the biggest deal is not the best one if the partners are not compatible in some way. Don’t renew deals with partners who do not activate adequately or enhance the overall property brand.
Brand –
  • Accept that part of your obligation is to help the property grow, expand and improve.
  • Properties depend on their partners help in building their value and appeal. Many do not have the sophisticated marketing resources you do and are depending on partners to help achieve their goals, while you achieve theirs.
  • Pursue and push, adamantly for integrated and strategic activation programs. Logoed advertising and retail promotion is not worthy of a partnership investment.
  • If something is not working, talk to the property. They can’t help if they aren’t informed.

Property & Brand both share the burden of only doing deals that make sense and have mutually beneficial outcomes. Due diligence and investigation will determine the strategic fit and time together will help surface the mutual chemistry and style issues. Accountability is expected here on out, so both must be willing to participate in data collection and sharing.

It is my sincere hope that the recent times will help shape and formulate a marketing environment where strong long term relationships are evolved from great work. Business results on both sides will reward those who are able to invest in and leverage mutually beneficial opportunities.

And by the way, well founded highly integrated partner deals will enhance the fan and consumer experience too!

Kevin Hanft is principal at Marketing Leverage LLC and has 20+ years experience practicing strategic marketing and communications for brands such as AT&T, Avaya, Johnson & Johnson, Lucent and Mayo Clinic. Most recently, Hanft was VP Global Account Director at IMG developing and executing global marketing programs for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Hanft's insights can be regularly found at