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Friday, 18 February 2011

BLOG: Be a Sport: Make Your Staff Part of Your Sponsorship Drive

Our MD Rebecca Hopkins shares her tips for involving employees in leveraging sponsorship:

"Despite the recession, companies' involvement in sponsorship has increased and of those sponsorships, sport has proved that it once again leads the field in attracting corporate bucks.

Having worked in the sports sector for well over a decade, advising blue chips on leveraging sponsorship, it surprises me that employee engagement still features in the drop zone on the campaign programme.

To my mind, the larger the company, the harder the organisation should work to engage its staff, as they have the potential to be the biggest advocates of a brand’s sponsorship activity. When I first started in the sector, I worked for a brand that invested a significant sum in rugby at a time when the company share-price was at rock bottom. For the weeks immediately following the announcement, each of the sponsorship team endured a conversation with a colleague who would suggest that the sum would be better invested in football (as ‘the national passion’) or better still, not invested at all. An interesting turn of events came when the employee reward and recognition scheme was implemented. By ensuring that a large percentage of the workforce had a fair chance to attend matches, win signed memorabilia and meet the stars of the sport, the sponsorship team turned opinion around.

Conversely, despite our strongest recommendations, we have seen brands flat out refuse to provide any associated benefits to staff; on asking one brand manager for his logic in denying a small number of tickets to his colleagues, he explained that the sponsorship was ‘for the benefit of the company, not a jolly for the staff’. It is my firmly held belief that ‘the staff’ are a pretty crucial part of any business and the happier and more involved they feel, the better they perform. By all means, ensure that the sales team are provided the bulk of access, if the strategy behind your sponsorship is essentially networking, but don’t exclude the reception staff, loading bay operators, engineers or the HR team simply because they can’t always produce a tangible ROI from attending the game. The pleasure and sense of participation you can give them with a match ticket or the chance to meet a star will usually generate more goodwill than you can measure.

Here are my tips for involving employees in leveraging sponsorship:

1. The ‘Hello’ Factor: if you are using any brand ambassadors to promote your business as part of the sponsorship, make sure they do something that gives employees access to them. Even something simple can be effective, such as a personal appearance in the office, so staff can get autographs and pictures.

2. Share the love: don’t make tickets the sole preserve of the sales team! You probably have a raft of people who would love the experience of going to a stadium event, even if the teams or sport involved weren’t ones they would usually support. For example, consider your receptionist. They rarely get these sorts of perks but since they greet everyone who crosses your office threshold, they have the potential to be very positive advocates of how great your sponsorship is – provided they have seen first hand what it is you are doing.

3. Doing it for the kids: a number of companies in sport have become heavily involved in creating initiatives for children – don’t forget that many of your employees are parents too and probably have sports-mad kids at home. Make sure you find ways to present opportunities to them too.

4. Glamour is relative: don’t over-estimate the level at which your staff are prepared to help. For example, one company we worked with asked for volunteers to be ‘human signposts’ at a top-level event – which basically meant they could be standing in the rain for eight hours – yet we still received over 5,000 responses and the people selected absolutely loved being involved in something so totally different from their day job.

5. Size isn’t important: to my mind, sponsorship starts with something as small as getting a box at a football or rugby club. Even this has the potential to go wrong when one manager, who happens to be a huge fan of the team in question, has made the box their fiefdom rather than a company resource. In tough times, expenditure such as this should be made to work even harder. Involve as many staff as possible in this, much as you would in a major initiative.

ENS assisted BT in staging a staff-engagement event prior to the Singapore summit that saw the IOC announce the winning host city of the 2012 Olympics. BT was a premier partner in supporting London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

With the objective of inspiring staff to ‘Back the Bid’ online, ENS recommended staging a one-day indoor rowing competition, led by BT’s Bid Ambassador James Cracknell, across the four regional head offices (London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff). BT personnel were set two challenges: one was to ‘Crack Cracknell’ – to row further than James did in one minute; the other was to go ‘Rowing for Gold’, which involved clocking up kilometres at any chosen speed in a collective attempt to get their building the nearest to Singapore.

The event was staged in such a way that it was open to all staff, including wheelchair users, while employee engagement was maximised through webcasting the event over the company intranet and having challenge results updated every 30 seconds online.

Staff and celebrities took part across four locations with thousands of staff joining in, viewing the events live or signing up to BT’s ‘Back the Bid’ webpage – and one staff member, the last to take part, ended up out-rowing James".

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