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September 28, 2006

EVENT SPONSORSHIP: More than just a logo on a carrier bag...

Event sponsorship is a key weapon in many companies’ marketing arsenals, from putting your name to a charity fun run or fundraising ball, to allying your brand with a major consumer or trade show. But how do you know you’re supporting the right event and how can you gauge whether it has been successful or not?

Earlier in the year, EVENTS:review reported on research by agency Space that suggested that much of the huge amount of event sponsorship surrounding the FIFA World Cup in Germany went wide of the mark, as fans couldn’t see the connection with football and, therefore, found it gratuitous and exploitive. This not only spells failure for the sponsorship campaign, but can also tarnish a brand in the eyes of consumers, which is potentially disastrous for the company involved.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how companies decide what to sponsor and how they measure their return. So here’s mobile telecoms company O2’s take on the subject, as revealed by the company’s head of interactive partnerships, Paul Samuels, in his engaging and entertaining lecture at the recent Association of Exhibition Organisers Conference.

Yes, I too was wondering what Samuels was doing there, but the moment he strode onto the stage it became apparent he had an axe to grind with the exhibition industry, while at the same time being keen to point out what events should be offering potential sponsors.

“I gave up on exhibitions around six years ago,” Samuels began, “when someone wanted to charge me for putting the O2 logo on their plastic carrier bag – along with 50 others – then tried to get me to pay for putting a leaflet inside!

A good brand experience
“What brands want from event organisers is the creation of a very good brand experience,” he continued. “Something that effectively showcases the products and services available.”

Samuels cited Taste of London as an excellent example of how to get it right. The event, which was held in June in Regent’s Park, was sponsored by BA and Marks & Spencer among others.

“It provided a perfect platform for BA to showcase the fine dining and service available to premium class passengers, while visitors to the event were able to sample the latest M&S foods,” he explained. “A show must enhance the experience of its sponsor’s brands and that’s exactly what Taste of London achieved.”

In so doing it raised brand awareness for both companies, which Samuels believes is vitally important and something at which O2 is a past master. After all, when BT Cellnet changed it’s name to O2 people said no one would remember the name or accept the brand. O2, however, has moved on from this now.

“Brand awareness is no longer the most important thing for O2,” said Samuels. “Now we’re more concerned about interacting and connecting with our 17 million customers. A couple of years ago we were gaining customers, but also losing a lot of them. Now we focus on keeping more of them, which is cheaper than gaining new ones. To do this we needed to drive an emotional connection with customers – to enhance the overall customer experience.”

Taking sponsorship to the next level
Samuels found the answer in events like the O2 Wireless Festival. In doing so, O2 took event sponsorship to another level.

“We wanted complete ownership of the event – an element of control to guarantee return on investment,” he explained.

The result was a live music festival without the grunge, mud or rain, from which you could get more if you were an O2 customer.

“We gave our customers the first shout for tickets and an exclusive two-for-one offer,” explained Samuels. “We also used our technology to make their lives easier with mobile ticketing. All they had to do was swipe a bar code on their phone and they were in, plus they got a free drink.”

There was even a special Blue Room hospitality area for O2 customers with hot tubs and spa. Created by Sledge, the brand experience took the Gold for Most Effective Event Activity – IT/Telecoms at the recent Event Awards.

Along similar lines, O2 also devised the Scrum in the Park on the back of its sponsorship of the England Rugby Team. Once again, O2 customers received special treatment.

The next big thing for O2 – and we’re talking BIG! – is its involvement with LA-based Anshutz Entertainment Group in turning the Dome into a live music venue to be named, you guessed it, the O2.

Of course, there’s no way a company like O2 would embark on such an ambitious live marketing strategy without knowing categorically that it works.

“Research that we’ve carried out on those customers who do attend our live events,” said Samuels after his lecture, “has shown that they have a much more positive view of O2 and are more loyal to the brand than those that don’t.”

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