Ensuring fruition behind the scenes of many of the island’s most successful international events over the past decade has been the diligent planning, audit and contract negotiation of commercial sponsorship & partnership marketing experts of Bangkok-based firm, Paul Poole (South East Asia) Co., Ltd – The Sponsorship Experts.
To learn more about the finer details of effective event sponsorship The Phuket News sat down with The Sponsorship Experts founder Paul Poole on the boardwalk at the recent Phuket International Boat Show (Pimex).
A decade on
The latest Pimex coincided with exactly 10 years since Paul relocated to Thailand, from London. Making his foray into the world of marketing through clothing, Paul spent 15 years with fashion brands – mostly jeans. Notably, Paul was the Marketing Director for the popular Italian clothing brand, Diesel, and he prides himself on launching Polo Jeans for Polo Ralph Lauren; he was also the Marketing Manager for Levis and was a Brand Ambassador for Wrangler.
“I turned 30 in the year 2000, and realised I was becoming an old man working in fashion, so made the move over to the agency side.”
He initially joined the board of PR21, an Edelman company, before joining the board of Cohn & Wolfe, a WPP company – the largest communications firm in the world.
“To be honest, I hated being agency side …After spending 15 years brand side and two years agency side, I really missed being with the brands. Being on the board of the two agencies, I saw the client when we won the business or lost the business, never in between.”
So he decided to set up his own consultancy in London, and ultimately in Bangkok by late 2004. So what brought him to Thailand initially? Like many of us, it was a Thai woman.
“I met my [ex] wife in London. She is Thai and was doing her Ph.D in Fine Art there. We were together for a number of years, got married in London and she wanted to move back to Thailand, to teach at Silapakorn University.”
In relocating to Thailand, his original plan was to set up a general marketing consultancy, but he soon found that “nobody wanted to pay for advice in this part of the world. So, I took another look at the market and found that event marketing was a very popular and successful tool. But I was shocked to find that even though every event was reliant on sponsorship, there wasn’t anybody really specialising in commercial sponsorship & partnership marketing.”
He had found his niche and ran with it. A decade on, his firm represents approximately 50 sponsorship platforms a year, or on average, one a week. A large number of his clients are repeat, some have worked with him the entire 10 years.
“Even after 10 years, we don’t have much competition. I’d like to have more competition – it would make us more hungry. Our biggest competition now is when events do it badly… for every bad sponsorship deal done by an event, it’s good for our business.”
Working with over 6,000 qualified decision makers in sponsorship globally, The Sponsorship Experts core team of just 10 employees are lauded in the industry for being highly organised, efficient and diligent.
“For any one event, we target 500 decision makers, engage in 500 conversations with 500 brands … We don’t take any project with less than a six months lead-time, preferring nine months to a year. Ideally, we’d like to finalise our job six months before the event starts to provide enough time to get more leverage out of the sponsorship in the run-up to the event. That’s not always easy in Thailand, where sometimes decisions can take longer and some people won’t make a decision until right up to the event.”
Asked how a staff of just 10 can cover so much ground, he explains that they don’t do everything – “Our copy writing, design, translation, public relations and social media are outsourced to specialist firms and professionals. Speciality is key.
“We specialise in Commercial Sponsorship and Partnership Marketing. 90 per cent of our business is working for rights holders – people seeking sponsors. That might be an event, Pimex for example, or an individual athlete, or it could be a sporting facility or stadium, it could be anything. The other 10 per cent of our business is working with brands seeking an opportunity to sponsor or looking to maximise an already sponsored opportunity,” he explains.
Paul explains that his firm will conduct an audit to look at what opportunities are out there that might be of interest to a brand and look at the potential benefits being offered as part of the sponsorships.
“For example, if Rolls-Royce are looking to sell 10 cars to a certain market, we will audit the events out there to determine the best events for them to achieve that objective.
“When we’ve actually secured a sponsorship, then we activate the sponsorship. This means that we exploit the sponsorship to ensure that they get either a return on investment (ROI), or return on objective (ROO), or both.”
The Sponsorship Experts have worked with Pimex each year since 2006, with each year topping the previous one.
Paul goes on to talk about devising benefits for clients, which he notes vary at such an event; they could be branding benefits, media benefits or networking, hospitality and data capture benefits.
But the number one benefit that most brands want, he notes, “… are experiential marketing benefits – where you experience the brand at the event. Once we figure out what those benefits are, then we create rights inventories and sales tools and go out to market those benefits to prospective sponsors.
Using what is called a sponsorship assessment matrix, The Sponsorship Experts worked out that Pimex can comfortably accommodate 28 sponsors – 1 title sponsor, 1 presenting sponsor (Thailand Elite for the first time this year), 6 co-sponsors, 10 official suppliers and 10 media partners.
The top 8 sponsors – title, presenting and six co-sponsors – pay money, and in return get the benefits The Sponsorship Experts team has identified.
Meanwhile, the official suppliers and media partners pay in kind, meaning they offer goods and services that the event would usually pay for.
“Our new official suppliers for this year’s Pimex include Sixt Rent-a-Car and Uber, who’ve provided transportation services to/from the event; while brands such as Beluga, Two Tales, and Whisgars have provided goods for the various cocktail parties; media partners (such as Class Act Media) pay in kind by offering advertising and editorial services.”
Paul explains that events with multiple sponsors receive full exclusivity – that’s why you have only one presenting and title sponsor, and the co sponsors, official suppliers and media are selected ensuring there is no competitive conflict of interests.
In addition to sponsorship, there are other opportunities, namely exhibitor opportunities, he explains. “We could have chosen one car brand to be a sponsor, but due to the nature of the show, we wanted more car brands represented, so what we did is put them in as exhibitors instead. So that’s how we got Aston Martin, BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce represented.”
So once they’ve signed up, The Sponsorship Experts work with the sponsors and exhibitors on the “activation”. So for the car dealers, this means helping them get target customers signed up for a test drive, and other activities to add value to the sponsorship, or participation.
“A rule of thumb is for every dollar spent on sponsorship, we encourage them to spend an additional dollar on activation of the sponsorship. So if someone spends $100,000 on a sponsorship, they’d get all the benefits of the sponsorship, and they’d spend an additional $100,000 to activate the sponsorship and get bespoke activity for their particular brand.”
He adds that all sponsors will pay the same amount of money for the same amount of benefits.
“If we have six different sponsors paying six different fees for different benefits, it becomes really difficult to manage expectations, and thus ROI,” he explains.
Most sponsors are looking for an ROI, and like most businesses, work on the basis of whether they sell anything or got anything quantifiable from the sponsorship.
“But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, a sponsor will seek a ROO – such as launching into the country.
For example Azimut were represented at Pimex for the first time this year. Of course they would love to sell a boat, but their main objective of being in the show was to show that they have a new importer and distributor here in Thailand.
Measuring ROO is not as easy as ROI, Paul notes.
“You can’t always put a monetary value on an objective, so our objectives need to be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. It can be hard sometimes, because everyone’s objectives vary... After the event, we jointly assess the objectives to evaluate the sponsorship to see if it worked, and how it might be improved.
“We’re always selling the event throughout the year.”
Indeed, as soon as the 2015 Pimex ended, The Sponsorship Experts team had already begun work to prepare for the 2016 edition, which Paul certainly expects to be the biggest and best yet.