It's time to start interrogating the definition of partnerships

Anchorman 2: string of brand partnerships
Anchorman 2: string of brand partnerships

Marketers need to challenge those using the lexicon of "partnerships", writes Dave Roberts, deputy MD at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

The much awaited sequel to Will Ferrell's 2004 cult smash 'Anchorman' is being released next month, and the UK distributor Paramount last week announced a raft of promotional partnerships.

These include on-pack activations from irreverent soft drink brand Tango and a fully integrated campaign encompassing experiential screenings and Facebook screen tests from long-term supporter of film, Irish whiskey brand, Jameson.

Film distributors have long-appreciated the value of partnerships as primary channels for helping put bums on seats. Such relationships used to be solely about leveraging the ATL exposure that a brand can bring (often helping offset decreases in their own marketing budgets). However, today they are as much about generating awareness via a brand’s own community.

Note the use of the word "partnership" here – relationships built on mutual benefit, where a rights holder provides access and assets to a brand in exchange for exposure and support.

Speak to pretty much any media owner or rights holder and you could be fooled into believing that there is universal appreciation of the value of such partnerships. After all, everyone has a ‘Partnerships Team’, and every sales person talks of their desire to work ‘in partnership’ with brands.

Little more than spin

But scratch the surface and you find that this is little more than spin; the vast majority still focus on a value exchange where financial investment is made in return for rights.

Partnerships teams continue, across the board, to be linked directly to commercial operations, rather than marketing functions.

As one of the oldest sponsorship markets, sport still delivers the biggest deals and arguably the most archaic commercial practices. From the largest, most financially robust rights holders (think the Premier League, UEFA or the IOC) to smaller, more grass-roots properties, valuations continue to focus on exposure and a mystical, often hypothetical value of association.

The music industry’s reputation in this area isn’t much better. Record labels also persist in treating brands as additional revenue streams. As recorded music revenues have dropped, far greater focus has been placed on generating incremental "partnership" income to help offset any decline – see Tinie Tempah’s recent deal with Mercedes Benz.

The crux of the problem is that partnerships teams continue, across the board, to be linked directly to commercial operations, rather than marketing functions. A commercial team sees a brand as a source of income; a marketing team sees a brand as a powerful communications channel.

Leading the way

Perhaps not surprisingly, the likes of Coca-Cola, with their scale and focus on marketing innovation are leading the way in the market generally.

Its global deal with music streaming service Spotify represents a true partnership built on mutual benefit over and above investment. Spotify benefits from exposure in new and emerging markets and Coca-Cola gets access to a universally accessible music platform, and the consumer engagement opportunities that come with it.

So, how can we encourage these sorts of examples to go viral?

Firstly, the practice of packaging and valuing rights needs to change. There can be no ‘rate card’ cost in a world where the non-monetary opportunities a partner brings to the table are at the very least as important as their chequebook.

Secondly, the remuneration model for sales people must change because under a true ‘partnerships’ approach, revenues will fall. However, cleverly structured deals, although smaller in monetary value, should deliver revenue indirectly, whether it’s through increased box office takings, album streams or even match-day beer volumes!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, marketers need to challenge those using the lexicon of ‘partnerships’. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions and don’t underestimate the value of your community or of your media clout. 

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