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1 June 2014


Tag(s): Marketing
The 2014 Radio Academy Awards were announced recently and my ears pricked up as they were announced with no mention of the customary sponsor, Sony. The Awards were started in 1983 and Sony sponsored them from the beginning. They were well established by the time I joined Sony in 1988 but I was quickly persuaded of their value. Sony continued to sponsor them right up until last year but apparently it was announced in August 2013 that they would no longer sponsor the Awards. I am no longer close to Sony management, even my successors have retired, and I do not criticise this decision as I do not know the circumstances but it still seemed a shame as it was a long and very happy association. Some used to say the Sony Awards were the Oscars of Radio. I used to say they were better than that as the judges were selected for their independence and their professionalism while all members of the Academy can vote for the Academy Awards and noone even knows if they have seen the movies that are nominated.

When I left Sony in 1998 I was asked what I would like as a leaving present. I asked for a replica of the Sony Radio Award given to the winners. It’s a mounted brass plaque resembling the iconic ICF-SW7600G synthesized world band receiver. It’s engraved ‘SONY Radio Award 1998 - David Pearson - from all your friends and colleagues at Sony UK’ and it stands proud by my desk today.

 I cover the subject of sponsorship in my chapter on Public Relations in ‘The 20 Ps of Marketing’.

 “The use of sponsorship is a form of Public Relations. Sponsorship consists of giving financial support to an event, a celebrity, an activity or a charity in return for naming rights and other privileges. Some sponsorships are very well established while others come and go with a great deal of frequency. They range in scale from the butcher who might sponsor a fast bowler with a free steak for every wicket he takes to the enormous sums committed to sponsorship of world events that attract global audiences like the Olympic Games.

 I first encountered sports sponsorship at Pentland where I had global responsibility for brands like Speedo, Ellesse and Berghaus. We also had the footwear license for Lacoste which ran a full programme of sponsorship in its favoured sports of tennis and golf. Speedo was a brand built on performance in the Olympic pool and at the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996 swimmers wearing Speedo costumes had won over 70% of the medals available. Ellesse had been built on its sponsored links too. It was first a ski brand developing the first jet pant and then the quilted jacket. In the 1970s it sponsored the Valanga Azzura, the Italian national ski team, and so marked a milestone as it became one of the most successful and visible ski brands of the 1970s and ‘80s. At one point in the 1980s it was the official supplier to 10 national ski teams (West Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, the USSR, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Bulgaria.) In 1975 it decided to move into tennis in order to make its business all year round and in 1980 it signed sponsorship agreements with Chris Evert and Guillermo Vilas. In 1983 it signed the 15 year-old Boris Becker and at the beginning of the 1980s six of the world’s top ten ranked women players were under contract to ellesse including British stars Jo Durie and Virginia Wade. This policy of sponsoring top stars in skiing and tennis was continued throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s and even extended into other sports too. The 1982 World Cup winning Italian nation soccer team had a contract with ellesse to wear its casual clothing off the pitch and in the US it sponsored the famous New York Cosmos and a number of New York and Boston marathon winners.

 In sportswear sponsorship is a critical part of most manufacturers’ strategies. Nike and adidas have been playing the game this way for many years. However, the costs have become extraordinary. Only the biggest brands can really justify these sums and agents have become extremely skilled at negotiating contracts that heavily favour the sponsored star or team. Some of the contracts I saw on some of the weaker brands were not sustainable. One leading football club, now in the Premiership, was sponsored to wear a particular brand of shirt and effectively all of the Profit generated through that sponsorship flowed to the club.
 Much of the sponsorship I observe seems little more than indulgence of the Chairman’s whim. However, at Sony I had very happy experience of sponsorship as an effective way of generating Publicity in relevant markets and keeping the brand in the Public eye.
 The Radio Awards have been sponsored by Sony in the UK since 1983. Working closely with representatives of the radio industry Sony sponsors awards for excellence made to programme makers and artists. These awards are presented at a well-attended dinner in the spring every year and are then widely reported in both press and, of course, on radio stations particularly by the winners! It is an especially happy association for Sony as it is a major manufacturer of the equipment used by broadcasters to record and then broadcast their programmes and is also a major manufacturer of the radio receivers on which the Public receive the programmes. Radio in the UK is a very healthy industry because of the unique mix of publically financed and commercially financed broadcasters. Sony has established a unique relationship with the industry as a whole.
 In 1991 the Rugby World Cup was held in the British Isles for the first time. Various sponsorship opportunities were presented to Sony including the opportunity to be one of eight named sponsors of the competition itself. However, what I felt was of much more interest was the opportunity to be the unique sponsor of the broadcast rights which had been won by the independent commercial channel, ITV. Broadcast sponsorship was still in its infancy. In the previous year one of the power companies had been the broadcast sponsor of the football world cup. But key matches in that competitions were shown on both BBC and ITV and usually when the Public have that choice they favour BBC for both traditional reasons and because they can avoid the advertising. This time ITV had exclusive rights. I decided to only sponsor the broadcasting and leave the event sponsorship to others. I believed that far more people would watch the matches on TV than in the stadia and I did not like the idea of sharing sponsorship with seven other parties. So it proved. The majority of people thought that Sony had actually been the event sponsor giving rise to allegations by the official event sponsors that Sony had ambushed the competition. But that was false. We had chosen legitimately from the choices put to us by the agency representing the World Cup organisers and the host broadcaster.

With the help of our advertising agency, Bartle Bogle and Hegarty, we introduced a brand new concept. Before each advertising break we introduced a message from Sony and asked a trivia-type question about rugby. We then gave the answer at the end of the break. Thus we encouraged viewers to stay with the break and be exposed to all the other messages and we offered a bit of fun in the process. It was a highly successful innovation which was much imitated afterwards. We of course linked our Promotional campaigns to the event and used it to drive awareness of our Products as we built up to the crucial Christmas peak season. It is a truism of sponsorship that for every pound you spend on the event itself you must spend another pound (or five!) on making the sponsorship work. We launched our new TV campaign during the Rugby World Cup final on 3 November that year.

The following week the editor of ERT, the leading trade paper, wrote in his editorial:

“On the ball
In recent weeks, UK TV audiences of over 14 million have been glued to their sets watching the Rugby World Cup.
Most of those viewers will have been left with the impression that Sony was largely responsible for the entertainment the match provided.
Now Sony was not the only sponsor of the Cup series. But how many in the audience can remember the names of the other sponsors?
By clear use of first and last shots in each commercial break, Sony made sure its brand dominated match coverage.
Sony made inspired use of the opportunity it bought with its several-million-pounds-worth of sponsorship and airtime, by intelligent use of its resources.
Other advertisers take note – you can get a lot of impact out of your spend by dint of creative thinking. And all of us, manufacturer and dealer alike, can benefit.”

My only disappointment? England lost the final to Australia 12-6.”

If you haven’t yet ordered my book ‘The 20 Ps of Marketing’ there’s a link direct to the publisher Kogan Page on the home page of this website.

Copyright David C Pearson 2014 All rights reserved

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