Bands, Brands & Fans – It’s all about getting closer…

A few years ago, we witnessed the start of some major changes in the music industry, with traditional revenues from record sales taking a big blow due to an increase in piracy. This coincided with the general public’s perceived value of music diminishing with the record labels continuing to exploit their assets with very short term targets in mind, licensing music for the likes of cover-mounts to the media industry, earning income, spiking sales for newspapers and magazines but further reducing the consumer’s perception around the value of music (which was ultimately being offered to them for free).

Some high profile artists benefited from this at the time, including the likes of Prince who released his ‘Planet Earth’ album exclusively via The Mail on Sunday. This earned Prince substantial revenues. It provided marketing for his 21-night performance at The O2, London and sold a lot of newspapers, so many would argue was a big success. It did, however, contribute towards the longer-term psychological perception amongst the consumer that music has been devalued.

It was at this point that I started to understand the fact that it was the job of both artists and the labels surrounding them to start re-thinking about how to add value back to the album format and demonstrate a reason for the consumer to continue purchasing in the future. It feels natural for artists and their labels to start packaging all of their assets into one deliverable (an app) with the aim of connecting with their fans on a deeper level, owning a bigger part of the relationship with them. The depth of relationship between artists and fans for me has always been the key to success.The rise of Spotify, followed by the multitude of other streaming businesses then created a distraction, tackled piracy and actually incentivised consumer spend, albeit reduced. The real value in music today, however, is primarily in the live business (concerts), but there are various attempts taking place to breathe life back into music beyond just experiential.

It seems the subject matter of how artists and their labels should be pumping value back into their product is heating up. Clearly, deepening the relationship with their fans seems to be becoming more understood amongst artists, with a number of technology players now moving into this space. Until now there has been little focus in the media about this, with most still focused on the battle of the streaming businesses (Spotify, Apple, Google, Deezer, Amazon etc).

If a fan wants to know what Beyoncé wore last night, they check Instagram. If a fan wants to know where Ed Sheeran is performing next, they check Twitter (as long as he’s not decided to take a ‘time out’). If a fan wants to know what Ariana Grande has been up to today, they are likely to watch her Snapchat story. Social Media has brought artists and fans closer together than ever before. It has solidified the artist and fan relationship, offering access never previously seen before. These relationships via social networks offer the ability for artists (and their partners) to promote themselves, sell music, tickets and merchandise. It also provides instant feedback whether it be about newly released music or any other promotional activities. Importantly, it is this relationship, combined with artist-generated content (music, film, games, etc) that can be extremely attractive and powerful.

When Björk launched ‘Biophilia’ a few years ago, she offered her fans an entire suite of content – much more than just music. She successfully continued to build that ever-so-important connection with her fans, giving them much more than they expected, with lots to talk about and engage with.

Since then, a number of artists have attempted to enter this space. A few businesses from the tech world have also moved into the ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship space – their approach being to enhance the overall fan experience, whilst providing insight and learnings about their fans back to the artists and their representatives.

These start-ups include the likes of: Gigrev, Lionshare Media and Disciple Media. BuddyBounce was another great business very much in this space, recently selling to Crowdmix which was due for launch later this year but unfortunately went into administration earlier this month, prior to its official launch. Additionally, Supapass is a new multi-artist platform that has recently come onto the scene, offering not just single artist relationships but the opportunity for fans to engage with a multitude of their favourite artists. An interesting one to watch…

The idea is that fans subscribe to an artist/label channel (costing approx £1 per month). The artists and their rightsholders then earn a substantial % of the revenue share from their fan subscriptions. One generally finds with fan-based marketing that there is always a top-tier core fan who will traditionally spend on artist product and this will specifically appeal to those. By offering multi-artist content, SupaPass are spreading the risk and potentially offering greater impact for the platform. It feels like it makes sense.

It is these artist-to-consumer platforms that will not only ensure continued growth and depth of relationship between artists and their fans, but could also potentially offer a very interesting space for brands to engage. According to the Cassandra Report, Millennials, in particular, expect brands to offer more than just their product or service, and if a brand can be seen to be offering a closer relationship between fans and an artist, the credibility and love for that brand could very easily dramatically improve. Additionally, the learnings and data available could really help not only the artist, but also brands, understand how to interact and behave with these fans, potentially offering a three-way win-win(-win) symbiotic relationship for band, brand and fan.

To conclude, the music industry is continuing to change rapidly. There are no rules and an array of interesting opportunities for brands (as well as artists) to tap into, offering previously impossible access to potentially long-term relationships with fans. The ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship is the ‘Holy Grail’ within the music industry. For a brand to be a critical part of that could be an extremely powerful space to occupy.

What Sponsors Need to Know at the Negotiating Table

How do you know if you have succeeded in a negotiation?

Whatever way you look at it, it is impossible to answer this question without understanding value and what you are willing to pay. Imagine Facebook sitting at the negotiating table with WhatsApp with nothing but gut instinct saying they want to pay $19.4bn. What if WhatsApp wanted $20bn, $25bn, or $30bn? Clearly, Facebook will have done their research (strictly speaking, an investment bank will have done their research for them in the form of thousands of pages of analysis). But can we honestly say that the sponsorship industry takes the same approach?

Before entering any negotiation, sponsors should know their:

• target price and terms (what you’re hoping for)
• walkaway price and terms (what you will reject)

Often sponsors go into negotiations with one or the other. Often these conditions are based on a gut feeling; not an understanding of sponsorship effectiveness and expected value.

So how do we know when to walk and what to target? It’s critical to do early research based on firm inputs and assumptions, especially to ensure you don’t overpay for the asset in question. By knowing your own range, better sponsorship decisions will be made.

However, the impact of understanding value doesn’t stop there. Even if a sponsorship represents good value – that is to say the deal price on offer is below the walkaway price – there might be better alternatives. A sponsor should generally not accept a worse resolution than it’s best alternative. So, if you want to be sure you’ve succeeded in a negotiation, you need to understand the value of the rights on the table and what else your money can buy.

The current “here’s the package; here’s the price; and then we arm-wrestle a bit based on gut instinct” approach to sponsorship negotiation has to change. That does not mean every deal must be preceded by thousands of pages of analysis, but it does mean brands must spend more time thinking about value, and what they will pay before walking away.

The Missing Formula

Analysis of industry data suggests that the F1 ecosystem raises over £1b per year from sponsorship. This includes Team Sponsors and Suppliers (ranging from £100m for the big boys to £20m for the smaller teams), F1 Partners (around £25m per year in cash or Value in Kind from each of the 6 global partners) and Race Sponsorship (around £10m for each of the races with title sponsors plus trackside advertising).

To put that into context, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games raised around the same amount (£750m from domestic sponsors plus around £250m contribution from the IOC for TOP partners) – but that was for a 4-year cycle.

So here’s a question: Given how much is spent on it from some of the world's leading brands, why is F1 Sponsorship not at the leading edge of sponsorship thinking and activation?

It’s fair to say that F1 is ahead of the game in virtually everything else it does. So surely F1 Sponsors should be cleaning up at the major sponsorship industry awards.  In fact, over the past 5 years, an F1 sponsorship has won only once out of a possible 47 SIA awards (Vodafone’s Best Sponsorship of a Team or Individual in 2009). Case studies from F1 should be inspiring sponsors in other sports.  Here at Synergy, we should regularly be showcasing examples from F1 in the ‘What We Love’ section of Synopsis. But this just isn't the case – at least not to the extent that one would expect.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great pieces of activation in F1 (I’ll point out some of them later), but as a whole, F1 sponsorship is pretty uninspiring.

Having run the Reuters sponsorship of WilliamsF1 from 2000 - 2003 (yes - I agree - it was nowhere near 'award-winning'!), I thought I would have a go at answering that question based on my own personal experiences.

1. Most Formula One sponsorships are B2B

Reuters primarily used F1 for B2B relationship building. A quick scan of F1 sponsors shows that over 40% have significant B2B businesses. There is little better than F1 if you have a relatively small number of high-value, global customers who you reach through targeted sales and marketing programmes.  Travelling around the world to all the key markets, Formula One and Paddock Club™ are the absolute gold standard of corporate hospitality. With this being the focus of the brands' activation programme, it is little wonder that it remains unseen by the mass audience, award panels and the Synopsis editors.

The activation challenge for the B2B partners, however, is to create the most compelling brand stories and event experiences to attract their audience.  Because the fact is, especially in the small markets, most of the B2B sponsors are going after a very similar audience, in some cases exactly the same people.

2. There is too much focus on brand exposure and logos on cars and not enough on activation

Whenever brand exposure is such a critical part of the sponsorship package, it is easy to rely too heavily on it at the expense of all the other things you can do with the sponsorship. I absolutely hate the “media value” figures that are at the heart of so many F1 sponsorships.  However, it is easy to measure and as long as the media value is bigger than the cost of the sponsorship, brands can be tempted to think “job done”. In comparison, Olympic sponsors can't rely on any media value to justify their sponsorship.  That's why they have to work much harder and be far more creative with their activation.

A knock-on effect of this over-emphasis on media value is the fact that it can lead to an under-investment in activation.  Typically, the rights fee is so high (because brands are paying for the exposure) that there isn’t enough left over for activation. I’m not a big believer in any rule-of-thumb ratios, but the proportion of rights fee to activation spend when I was at Reuters is definitely not going to make it into any how-to textbooks. I suspect this isn't unusual for F1 sponsors up and down the Paddock

3. The calendar gives you no time to plan and develop great campaigns

The F1 season is relentless. The first race is in early March and the last race is in late November. In between is a never-ending cycle of travelling and managing the day-to-day execution of race weekends. Everyone goes on holiday during the 4-week summer break and at the end of the season, which then leads into Christmas. Trust me, if you want a year to fly past, get a job in F1.

Which basically just leaves January and February to do any sort of campaign development. But even those months tend to be dominated by tactical planning for the season ahead. There just isn't the time to think about a season-long campaign or a brilliant piece of activation.

Another challenge is the global scale required by an activation campaign. Japan, Abu Dhabi, Britain, the US and Brazil have very little in common with each other from a marketing perspective.  So as an F1 sponsor you are sort of in limbo between creating and delivering a global campaign that doesn't quite work in loads of markets and developing local campaigns which feel a bit 'small' and short term.

4. The F1 community is too closed

There are some great people who work in F1.  However, it needs more ‘churn’.

For example, when I needed a sponsorship agency, everyone I invited to pitch was effectively a specialist F1 agency. I understand why most sponsors do that, but it leads to a form of 'groupthink' where new ideas are thrown out in favour of "what we did last year" or "what we do with our other clients".

This happens up and down the paddock. If an F1 team needs a new Account Manager, they are likely to hire someone from one of the other teams. If a brand needs an F1 Sponsorship Director, they are likely to hire someone who has done a similar job at another sponsor. If an F1 agency hires a new Account Director, they typically hire someone who already has F1 experience.

The danger of this 'closed' community is that it loses the fresh influences and perspectives that drive creativity.

I know it’s tough (I’ve been there myself) but I think F1 sponsors need to be braver and set the bar higher for their activation campaigns. The benchmark should not be: “we want to create the best F1 sponsorship campaign”, but rather “we want to create the best sponsorship campaign”. And to do that, I think that it is critical for sponsors to look for inspiration outside the very small world of F1.

The point of this blog is not to say that there are no good F1 activations - because clearly there are some great examples.

My point is simply that given the number of world-class brands who are sponsors in F1, the amount that they invest and the possibilities of F1 as a platform, there should be far more ground-breaking activation programmes than there are.

Some of our Favourite F1 Activation Case Studies:

Johnnie Walker - Step Inside the Circuit Series

Johnnie Walker extended this campaign with some experiential activity in Travel Retail environments but at its core was some great behind-the-scenes content, from Monte Carlo (below), IndiaSingapore and other races


One car, no team:


London Grand Prix:

The Silverstone Chase

Hugo Boss - Dress Me for the Finale

Using a special online configurator, consumers in each country could create bespoke designs of the drivers’ race suits. The drivers wore the designs during qualifying for each race, while the best two designs as voted by the audience were worn on the Sunday during the Brazilian Grand Prix. Boss also did a good job of connecting this activation to their social media and retail channels:

Red Bull - Faces for CharityIn exchange for a donation to charity (which Red Bull matched), consumers could upload a photo which was then put on the car for the British Grand Prix.

Vodafone -  Drive to the Big League

Vodafone introduced this initiative at the British Grand Prix in 2010 which offered one of their small business customers the chance to put their logo on the car for the British Grand Prix.  Vodafone have taken it to a whole new level in India now, where they have combined it with a Dragons Den style TV programme to select the winner – watch it – it’s brilliant!!!

See - it is possible - more of that please!!!