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  • Sophie M

Disruption of COVID-19 is forcing creativity in the sponsorship sector and creating opportunity for

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) warning that society has entered “uncharted territory” means that businesses have responded rapidly to minimise impact on their people, work and bottom line and as the international response continues to develop, organisations are dealing with their challenges in different ways.

One of the biggest impacts we have seen in our world is the disruption to face-to-face events, sport, music, the arts, restaurants, venues and all businesses which rely on interaction and the human-element of convening and engaging people within a community.

COP26, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Euro 2020, Glastonbury and Coachella, Facebook's Annual Global Marketing Summit, Mobile World Congress and numerous small and large businesses have had to ‘closeup’ shop temporarily. There is also talk of how upcoming elections in the US will not go ahead, as people will not be able to go out and vote whilst in lock-down.

These are just some of the major events in the political, business and general public’s calendar that the coronavirus continues to disrupt with its increasing global impact. Faced with both delegate and attendee safety and a ticking clock, event organisers, sports rights holders and B2B marketers are now under pressure to clarify if - and ultimately how - their best laid plans, signed off and confirmed in some cases at least 4 years ago, will proceed in lieu of a solution to COVID-19’s disruption.  

In the technology sector alone, many major events and industry expos have been postponed or put on ice, including MIPIM, E3 Videoing Conference, EMtech Asia, Google's annual international news summit and Shopify's Annual Developer Conference to name a few.  

While delegates, members, musicians, players, fans, businesses, governments, families and industry groups wait on the side lines (or as advised by the World Health Organisation- from their homes), so too do sponsors and brands- with some of the world's biggest organisations having already started to shift their investment online. But what does this mean for sponsors and ensuring they maintain a conversation with their target audience, consumers and clients? 

With everyone now online, the short answer is Digital.

A lot of money, time and planning is put into live events and activating sponsorships and now is not the time to walk away from those relationships, be them B2C or B2B. Majority of rights holders and organisations are looking swiftly to digital and online activations which can provide partners with brand profile, platform for messages, thought leadership, content and sales routes in these unprecedented times. For example, our client The Climate Group believe that the climate action discussion cannot be put on hold. We must maintain the commitment and vision made by so many to beat carbon neutral targets and that’s why The Climate Group has committed to run the biggest climate event in the world, Climate Week NYC in September 2020, virtually.

If the face-to-face event elements of a campaign don’t go ahead, a sponsor could facilitate an alternative way for delegates to consume it. For example, if this happens to a music event, how about streaming an ‘at home’ concert where all the acts perform an acoustic set from their own houses? Or how about producing a video series with leading figure heads in the industry about what they’ve been doing to tackle the situation?

Overall, the move from going-out to staying is seeing people consuming more media. The likes of media consumption, streaming services, video conferencing, digital round-tables and indoor activities, will all see an uplift. Digital will come even more to the fore as a method to engage target audiences and fans through content. For example the National Theatre have focused on supporting fans to continue to experience theatre together. At a time when fans are unable to visit venue, the National Theatre have launched a live stream via YouTube of some of their much loved, best of British theatre.

It would be remiss not to mention the legal element in all this. It’s sensible to refresh your memory of the ins and outs of your agreement, particularly around respective obligations. Unsurprisingly, there’s been a lot of focus on ‘force majeure’ and ‘acts of God’ terms, but it’s not a sure thing that coronavirus falls into these.

However, for such a unique situation, it would be in both parties’ interests to start by figuring out how to find solutions and working together to create positive lasting relationships, rather than looking to legal remedies. This is easiest when arrangements are genuine partnerships (if not in the legal sense, of course).

Its important not to compromise long-term relationships or reputation having a knee-jerk reaction. It’s about being practical and level-headed about managing the situation, and taking advantage of the new world of opportunities in front of us, being creative, shifting assets and harnessing technology better and making the best of the situation to fill the void for audiences, fans, B2B target groups and wider influencers.

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