If you ask 10 companies that sponsor sailing why they do it, you should get 10 different answers. This is because sponsorship is not like a magazine ad or a 30 second tv slot – one size does not fit all. Just as the sport of sailing is incredibly varied, so too are the companies that use the sport as a promotional platform. David Fuller had a chat with Simon Kearsley, CEO of financial software company bluQube who have supported Vendee Globe competitor Steve White and who have just announced a deal with up-and-coming solo sailor Katie Miller.
Q. Why has BluQube chosen sailing as a mechanism to promote the company & brand?
There was an element of it choosing us! We were approached by the now defunct Global Challenge organisation.
However, we were in a “receptive” state of mind at the time. We knew that we had to work on brand awareness and had been struggling to find a cost effective way of doing that for a B2B business. Advertising was very expensive and seemed to have variable results and sponsorship offered a more cost effective way forward.
I would be lying if I didn’t also admit to it being a great interest of my own but we see that as a very positive point. It’s essential to be enthusiastic and fully behind any sponsorship that you do and this would be very difficult for me if I had no interest at all in what we were actually doing.
Q. Were other sports besides sailing considered? Which ones?
Yes. The approach caused us to review the “whole market” partly because of my interest! I wanted to be absolutely certain that it would really work for the business, not just for me! We undertook this research in-house as we had just done a branding exercise and knew the values we were looking to associate with bluQube.
Many of the directors here at BluQube are into cars, so we looked at that, but many of our customers are in the public sector and the negative environmental impact of motorsport just wouldn’t look good. Motorsport has performance and speed, but it’s very male, not very clean and a bit too ‘oil & spanners’.
We looked at Rugby, Football and Cricket but they were too expensive, not targeted enough, too ‘mainstream’. Part of the bluQube brand is to be ‘different’.
For similar reasons Wimbledon, Gold Cup / etc. are too ‘classic’ and ‘establishment’ for the brand. Incidentally, we also turned down Ostar 2009 title sponsorship for the same reason.
We had engaged in a branding exercise just prior and this more than anything helped us make our choice. Once we understood the brand values it was a case of finding a sport to match them.
Q. Why was Offshore racing chosen as the platform for the sponsorship?
Ocean racing appealed to us because of the fit with those brand values. It uses modern hi-tech materials, it’s extreme, clean, very team based, it’s high performance, exciting, colourful, and so on.
In addition, we also felt that the events enabled us to tell stories over a longer period rather than just being a single event such as a football match. The events also have genuine human stories and real drama – there is no need to ‘manufacture drama’ as is often the case when watching the media cover other events.
All this gives us content for our communications with customers and prospects and the opportunity to engage with people on topics other than just accounting software.
Q. What are the success factors for the sponsorship?
Brand awareness. Difficult to measure but we see this as an important element in our marketing strategy. The deal with Katie is a 2 year deal so we expect to get benefits over the long term. This kind of activity provides us with content and also allows us to provide something different during long pre-sales cycles.
Q. How will the sponsorship be activated?
For bluQube’s title sponsorship of Katie Miller we have planned a series of monthly marketing activities that will tie into Katie’s race calendar. For example we will issues press releases, include blogs about Katie in our monthly commercial email communications, develop editorial feature opportunities, interviews with/about Katie, use some of the events such as ‘Sailing at Cowes’, ‘Silicon Cup’ for corporate hospitality purposes, attend key events such as the begining and end of OSTAR.
Q. Corporate Hospitality is a bit of a dirty word at the moment. How does this fit into your plans?
A lot of people think about sailing hospitality as sitting on a big launch with a glass of champagne in the sunshine, but that’s not how we do it. We find that being on the boat, meeting Katie, learning the ins and outs of solo sailing gives people are really memorable experience. This is a sport like no other in that respect. You can’t put someone in a scrum on a rugby pitch, but you can give people a taste of what it might be like to sail across the Atlantic on your own.
Q. How will you measure whether you have achieved your goals?
This can be very difficult. Particularly as we don’t expect the sponsorship to directly generate leads as such.
We can only really measure success by ‘proxy’. What we have tended to do is to monitor and record the press coverage that we get and then estimate what the same coverage would have cost us through traditional advertising means.
Having said that, non advertising press coverage is more valuable than advertising (which is often invisible) and this method doesn’t include the value that we get from things like tempting people into our e-mailers by having an interesting extra topic to talk about.
Having said all that, we estimated that Global Challenge sponsorship gave us a return of somewhere between 2 and 5 times original investment depending on how you value things like BBC coverage.
Q. Have you received support from the organisers of the events you have been involved with?
When we sponsored the Global Challenge they had a ‘business club’ – this was a great way to start as it allowed us to learn. At other events, you start off on your own. You have to be there, get your face seen, build relationships. Once you have built relationships you can find what you need, like a spectator boat or access to photography.
Find out more at: http://www.bluqube.co.uk/oceanracing/