A new era for partnership sales; the talent most in demand revealed

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A new era for partnership sales; the talent most in demand revealed

Paul Chidley

Partnership sales are often the second largest revenue stream for Premier League Clubs. With all the right conditions in place, they could be the first. With some clubs enjoying over 50 global partners representing £200m per year in revenue, what’s the key to unlocking the commercial opportunity that exists for sports organisations today?

Partnership sales must adapt in the wake of CMOs and brands turning to social media platforms – like Facebook – with its pinpoint targeting, powerful analytics and the ability to optimise campaigns real time for a fraction of the cost of a large sponsorship deal.

However, sport and entertainment hold the golden ticket.  Nothing evokes emotion like watching Ben Stokes produce one of the greatest English Cricketing innings at Headingly, or seeing Coldplay perform on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.

Rights holders have this advantage and their offerings to brands are maturing.  On one side, production capabilities are developing to enable them to quickly develop highly engaging content.  On the other, their distribution now covers a combination of traditional linear TV, OTT platforms, Apps, digital, social media and print.  The most advanced partnership sales teams are combining these strengths with enhanced marketing effectiveness tools such as Econometric Modelling, to support sophisticated media campaigns and offering real insight in how to drive value during campaigns. This is a powerful combination, attractive to global brands. Organisations who can combine the power of their passionate global audiences with data-driven marketing solutions will win out commercially.

The modern rights holder develops a clear understanding of brands global marketing strategies. Brands are looking for partners who have the ability to draw complex insights from data and translate it into bespoke partnership proposals that get to the heart of what they are looking to achieve.  The most successful partnership sales leaders are creative and able to adapt their offering to get to the heart of the brands’ objectives.  They are no longer selling a fixed set of assets. A senior sports club executive client recently described how potent the right combination of emotion and logic is for leading partnership sales strategies. Her organisation has been hugely successful in securing a number of high value non endemic partnership deals by effectively demonstrating the potential power of brands in the market place through her organisations’ deep knowledge of their audience makeup and levels of engagement combined with highly sophisticated, creative content development capability.

This evolution demands highly consultative, sophisticated sales skills and intellectual horsepower underpinned by first-rate relationship building abilities. The growing commercial opportunity behind customer focused, data driven partnerships sales is driving competition for a new breed of commercial sales candidates.

Organisations have been torn in recent times between identifying established talent with a track record of high-level deals and a black book of brands with looking outside of their typical hunting ground of similar sporting and entertainment organisations and for marketing, consulting, even IT solution sales and investment banking, for commercial leaders.  There are now numerous examples of FMCG, financial services and tech giant leaders making hugely positive contributions to rights holders. The challenge for these candidates is to understand the changing landscape and what brands now demand from rights holders.

Having worked on numerous partnerships sales roles in recent months, we’re increasingly working with our clients to attract candidates with a depth of experience across the most relevant digital media platforms.  For example, we were recently working with a leading global football brand, and candidates with the ability to construct and sell complex digital media solutions were high on the priority list. Candidates working at organisations such as Audience Network, with their depth of experience in assembling complex media plans across multiple platforms, were important candidate pools given their ability to tailor pinpoint solutions for brands. We see an increasing need for leaders who collaborate with brands to form a detailed understanding of their requirements and adopt a ‘consultative selling’ approach in working through how to deliver against objectives.

The challenge is attracting this talent when remuneration may not be an available lever.  However, sport offers candidates an opportunity to combine skills and passions across creativity, data, marketing and sales in a unique environment. Sport holds an element of ‘magic’ able to attract some of the best commercial leaders.

A word of caution.  It’s tempting to see a new set of skills as ‘the answer’.  The risk of ‘organ rejection’ for out-of-sector hires rises relative to the scale of change for both the candidate and their new employer. A move to the equivalent role in a different club will be well understood and expected, a move across industries to a different role in a distinctly different cultural environment is a road less well travelled. Any leader or employee will require the right infrastructure for them to succeed. Often sales directors transitioning to sport will be used to a large support network. It’s wise to be realistic about a potential significant shift they would be making in this area and the likely impact on success. Transparency is key. Both parties need to be fully aware of what support is available and how the company plans to resource this in the future.

The success with which leadership teams bring in new and different skills typically increases when the hiring company and the appointed candidate have a deep understanding of their respective mindsets, behaviours and – crucially – cultural fit.  The risks can therefore be mitigated by being highly transparent around expectations and agreeing a vision for scale and pace of change, within the context of the operational realities of the hiring organisation.

There’s no question that taking a broader view of the candidate pool for commercial talent is proving beneficial for rights holders.  The question is about where to find the talent with both the skills and the cultural fit for your organisation?

Historically, the relationship between rights holders and digital media platforms has been competitive. As we head towards 2020, are we reaching a new era of collaboration across these industries in the name of better servicing brands needs, and will that shape the talent needed to sell this compelling proposition?


Paul Chidley
MD, SRI Connect