Barclays and the Effect of Sponsorship

This piece appeared on the UK site Mediatel earlier this week

It has been reported in the UK press that Barclays are ‘likely’ to cancel their sponsorship of football’s Premier League – an association that goes back 13 years, at a cost of something like £40million a season. A final decision has yet to be taken, we read, but ‘Board members’ believe that the sponsorship has delivered ‘zero value’. ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ reported: ‘One (senior figure) said that Barclays did not need promotion in the UK as the bank has high street branches around the country and its name is well known. “We just need to shut up for five years and get on with our job,” the source said’.

I have no inside knowledge of this sponsorship (and I’m not a football fan) but it does seem unlikely that it has delivered literally ‘zero value’. Every report during the season, in every medium references the Barclays Premier League so it would indeed be very strange if after all these years the average punter didn’t associate top level football with Barclays. Whether that is a positive association or not is another matter but surely there must have been an effect of some sort.

And, if there hasn’t been – how come it’s taken Barclays 13 years to work that out?

It would be easy to imagine the analytics behind these anonymous ‘Board members’ statements. Have they consulted with the best marketing scientists? Have the bank’s numerous media, advertising, PR, sponsorship and research agencies conducted the sort of rigorous and thorough analyses that one would hope they would have, given the level of investment involved? Maybe they have; and maybe there is someone at Barclays beavering away under mounds of spreadsheets to arrive at the ‘zero value’ conclusion.

But I would be prepared to bet that that isn’t the case – or, if it is that these ‘Board members’ haven’t given any such analyses a second glance even if they’re aware of them, which they almost certainly aren’t. After all, ‘Barclays don’t need promotion as (their) name is well known’.

As with Barclays’ sponsorship of the so-called Boris bikes scheme in central London (also cancelled), the Premier League association is being portrayed as a vanity project that can be laid at the door of previous managements. A sort-of reverse ‘Chairman’s wife’ syndrome would seem to be at work – ‘we must cancel that as the last lot liked it’. After all, it’s easy to justify saving money – especially if it’s on what no doubt the Barclays Board would label an unaccountable activity like marketing.

This all makes our industry look more than a little foolish. Aren’t we supposed to be really good at searching out relevant and appropriately valuable properties for our clients to associate themselves with? Aren’t we all about setting business objectives and KPI’s for the expenditure committed to these projects? Don’t we, as part of our role report back at the end of each contract cycle (indeed almost certainly more frequently) on what’s been achieved, and whether or not whatever it is should be renewed/repeated? Aren’t we all about business partnerships and adding value (beyond ‘making the brand well known’)? Or are we really in the post-rationalisation business (‘quick; the CEO’s committed us to sponsoring the Premier League; find some data that make this look like the best idea under the sun!’)

Furthermore, aren’t the client’s marketing teams responsible for keeping the Board informed as to how the organisation’s money is being spent? Shouldn’t everyone, up and down the organisation understand and appreciate the benefit from this expenditure and these associations?

It would seem the answers to these questions are no, no and no.

Or, could it perhaps be that the Barclays’ Board couldn’t give a fig for the true value delivered by marketing activities and is more concerned with stopping anything that could be seen as ‘unjustifiable’ (whatever that means) or too closely associated with a free-spending past.

Perish the thought!