With the planning cycle for 2018 approaching or already underway, marketing agencies are facing the annual challenge of demonstrating the value they can bring to their clients’ sports sponsorship activities. As the industry moves from its historical reliance on spreadsheets to cloud-based online management tools like Sponsor Locker, agencies of all sizes are trying to decide what this trend means to them—and to their clients. If there is anything we have all learned about disruptive technologies, it is that once the disruption starts, it moves rapidly and relentlessly. Those who ride the change generally do well. Those who miss it invariably suffer the consequences.
For the largest agencies, the question is build versus buy. Building their own sponsorship management tool allows them to distinguish themselves from the competition and add proprietary hooks that make it far harder for their clients to change agencies. While seemingly attractive, this approach is not without challenges: 1) building a robust, secure system capable of managing contracts, assets and events across an integrated database is harder—and much more expensive—than it looks; 2) maintaining the developers and support team necessary to maintain the system and train clients in its use is a significant ongoing commitment; and 3) having their data bound to a proprietary agency system may not be attractive to many sponsors, particularly sponsors who allocate their business across multiple agencies. These are among the reasons why, regardless of solution or industry, independent third-party technology solutions ultimately tend to dominate over proprietary technology systems. The technology roadways are littered with the remains of company-specific proprietary systems that proved to be far too expensive to build and maintain over time.
For small and mid-level agencies, building their own integrated sponsorship management system is typically not an option. The question is whether to continue to manage their client’s sponsorship business with spreadsheets, one-off apps and emails, or whether to embrace an integrated cloud-based alternative that can improve efficiency, reduce execution risk and enhance client results and return on investment. For agencies interested in demonstrating technology leadership—either to compete with larger firms or to distinguish themselves from their small and mid-sized competitors—the answer is clear. Ride the wave and move to integrated management.
Regardless of size, agencies who adopt cloud-based integrated sponsorship systems face several key questions: 1) what system to use; 2) whether to use the system only to improve the agency’s internal operations and efficiency (i.e. agency users only) or also to improve collaboration with its clients (i.e. agency and client users); 3) how much to manage to start; and 4) how to absorb or pass through the cost.
The ideal solution should be highly flexible, allowing the agency to use it internally or share it with clients at the outset or over time. The solution should also allow the agency to start with a single application and limited data and add other applications, features and data along the way. In addition, the solution should allow the agency to customize system workflows to meet both agency practices and the unique demands of multiple clients. For ease of use, the system should also allow agency users to access the system for multiple clients, while keeping data separately secured for each client.
Given the industry trends toward integrated sponsorship management, the need for agencies who start with internal use to bring evolving use to their clients is particularly important. Sponsors who have 24/7 access to their sports sponsorship information quickly grasp the value of that access and the resulting collaboration. Agencies who deliver that value invariably report stronger relationships with their clients.