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Why Content Strategy Is Crucial for Sponsorship ROI

With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro less than a year away, global sponsorship spending continues to climb into the billions. However, while brands continue to spend more money than ever on sponsoring major sports, music and entertainment events, there is one glaring miss that I see all too often. Too many marketers are wrestling with the challenge of extracting more ROI from sponsorships while overlooking an increasingly accessible, affordable and effective solution: content.

You might be picturing a war room of 30 people sitting around and waiting for something to happen, but where sponsorships are centered on carefully engineered events and experiences, content can be both strategically planned and spontaneous.

Take it from a brand like Esurance, which flanked its recent MLB All-Star game sponsorship with 32 short videos spotlighting super fans. Some stories were planned, others were captured in real-time as they unfolded, and all collectively helped Esurance reach an incremental 2 million people on social media during and beyond the event.

With the right plan of attack, a content marketing plan can amplify a sponsorship exponentially.

Negotiate Rights and Clearances

There’s nothing more frustrating than carefully mapping out a content plan only to have it derailed by unforeseen roadblocks, and depending on the sponsorship property that you’re working with, those roadblocks can be unending.

If you’re going to create content around an event or sponsorship, negotiating rights and clearances upfront is crucial. Among stadiums, arenas and theaters alike, sponsorship properties are often strict about the inclusion of talent, venues and logos in outside content.

By knowing which assets you can and cannot leverage from the outset, you’ll have much smoother sailing (and fewer surprises) ahead of you in the production process.

Collaborate and Delegate

Setting and agreeing upon a clear plan is essential at the outset of any project, but when it comes to producing and distributing dozens of pieces of content in a very short period of time, the cooperation and early buy-in of all partners is even more crucial.

Sit down with your team and make sure that all voices are heard, understood and agreed upon from both a creative and a legal perspective. Clarify each person’s role. Identify the approvers. With multiple people and points of view in the mix, few things are more important than a seamless workflow, especially since some content loses relevancy quickly.

Invest in Infrastructure

The 2016 Summer Olympic may be nearly a year away, but serious sponsors (and content creators) are already investing in production facilities in Rio. Before committing to content production at a major event, brands need to make sure that they have the proper infrastructure in place.

If you’re shooting video, structures like mobile post-production and quiet, interview-friendly facilities are critical to being able to keep up with the demands of producing high-end content on a daily distribution schedule. If you’re creating editorial content, understand what needs to be done on site and what can be done remotely to minimize travel costs. Make sure that the editorial calendar and the content’s frequency and tone are defined in advance with enough leeway to change course if the story changes.

No matter what you’re doing, iron out connectivity and bandwidth requirements in advance so that you can download and upload content in a hurry. That way you can avoid waiting for large files to load when you’re up against a deadline.

Balance Brand and Passion 

Sponsorships give brands an amazing opportunity to borrow equity from events that tap into unbridled passion for interests like sports and music. The balancing act between creating content that celebrates that passion and reinforces a brand’s reason for being a part of it is a delicate one. The trick is to create content that puts the consumer’s timely interests first and those of the brand second, all while blending a marketer’s sensibility with traditional editorial processes that uphold authentic, unbiased storytelling.

Think about who’s attending events and the passions that they share with your brand. Create content that legitimizes your brand by reinforcing the interests that you share with consumers and helping them add to their online personas. With no shortage of content being thrown at consumers, what you create has to be entertaining, informative or educational.

Go Big on Distribution

Without a solid distribution plan, there’s little value in creating content at all. If no one is able to access the stories that your brand is telling, then those stories have little impact on your sponsorship investment.

Many brands believe that by just launching into owned and earned channels with no paid support, your videos will miraculously garner numerous views, but in most cases, creating a budget for paid media is a foundational piece of driving content distribution.

Use top-performing content to anchor paid campaigns across channels like paid social, display and even pre-roll. Monitor people’s initial reactions, identify what’s resonating and invest in additional support where it makes sense. Whether you’re sponsoring the Olympics or Minor League Baseball, you’ve got money and metrics on the line.

Andy Hayman is head of content development and production at New Berlin, Wisc.-based GMR Marketing, a global agency that specializes in sports, entertainment and lifestyle marketing.

For more sports marketing insights, read “Rethinking Sports Sponsor Misidentifications,” available on