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ESA Chairman Karen Earl: China is becoming more globalized, so sponsorship will increase there

By Yutang Sports, assisted by Jonathan Powell in London 18 May 2016

Photo from the Internet

Karen Earl has been Chairman of ESA (European Sponsorship Association) since 2007. She has worked in the sponsorship industry since the 1970s, starting her own business, Karen Earl Sponsorship (KES), in 1984. KES renamed as Synergy in 2008 and is part of Engine. Ms Earl stepped down from Synergy in 2012 and now acts as a mentor to those working in the sponsorship and associated marketing industries, through her new company, KE Mentoring. 

Yutang Sports:Could you introduce the ESA, and give some background on its activities?

Karen Earl:“It’s the sports industry trade body, we concentrate on raising standards with members who work in the industry. They may be consultants, rights holders, sponsors, suppliers, which could be accountants or lawyers. We’re all in it together, to try and ensure the sponsorship industry moves forward, gets bigger and grows stronger.  Since I’ve been Chairman, we’ve been trying to concentrate on raising standards of education, so we’ve introduced a diploma course, which people can take. This is a great endorsement for their career plan, and is useful for employers.  We’re starting up more courses people can take, and invite them to increase their skills and to get a rounded knowledge of the industry. We put on events for members, but overall it’s about supporting the industry and making it stronger. “

Yutang Sports:How do you see the trends in the European market going forward?

Karen Earl:“It’s interesting, in Europe there are other associations, that we work with. There is a different mentality in different cultures; there is a different approach to sponsorship in almost every other European country.  In the Scandinavian block look it in one way, the Germans and Swiss look at it in another way, the French see it as very much government funded and have a different outlook. We all pool our resources and exchange information. But to make it practical, and make it work in European terms, each country takes the information they want, and uses it in the way they want in their fields.”

Yutang Sports:What categories of brands are most active with sponsorship in the European market?

Karen Earl:“It alters, depending on which country, and there is no ‘one type’. It’s true that more brands are becoming involved, as more brands are recognizing that sponsorship is very effective, and cost effective. In France they don’t allow drink (alcohol) sponsors, and almost everywhere tobacco sponsors are banned. But generally, it’s technologies, it’s telecommunications, but it’s across the board.

Yutang Sports:What’s your prediction for global trends in the sports sponsorship market, and which markets have the greatest potential?

Karen Earl“Well I think the global trend will be according to economies. So China is huge, it does things its way, but is becoming more globalized, so sponsorship will increase there. Globally, Australia has always been strong, and America is strong but focuses more locally, which is a consequence of being a large nation. And now in South America, it will be on the agenda with the Olympic Games in Rio. The African nations are keen on football, so football sponsorship is more recognized there.”

Yutang Sports:You organize the European Sponsorship Awards, what are the criteria for success in this, and could you share some best practices?

Karen Earl“Our website – - has case studies. This shows the winning entries for previous years. A good way to know how to win is to study previous winners. There is no doubt in my mind, there are two elements to win an award: one is having a really good story to tell. You know how and why you did something, and you know the results. Another side is to write it down well. Many entries deserve to win, have a good concept, but are put together poorly on paper. It’s written badly. It’s important to use good grammar, to answer the questions thoughtfully and precisely, and stick to the word count limit. So, it is about a good campaign, and a well written entry.”

Yutang Sports:How can sponsors better handle a crisis situation with an athlete or property?

Karen Earl“If you’re sponsoring a team or individual, you have to work through potential scenarios.  What would you do in certain situations? What happens if the athlete dies, has an affair, cheats in their sport, or is found to have taken drugs? You must have a plan. The best is to act decisively, and quickly. Those that dither, and then don’t know what to say, say nothing, or delay - this doesn’t look good, it looks like the brand doesn’t know what they are doing by sponsoring the athlete. It’s about knowing very well, what you are going to do in certain situations.  If you know the athlete well, you can judge if there will be difficulties. But that doesn’t matter, the important thing is to be prepared, to have prepared for the ‘what if’ scenarios.”

Yutang Sports:With the emergence of social media, how much ambush marketing is happening? How should sponsors handle this?

Karen Earl“You do get ambush marketing, it’s very difficult to stop. You have to be sure, that if you create a campaign to sponsor, you have to ensure your campaign is compelling. People must know what you are doing. Often it’s a case of sponsors who have bought rights, and haven’t done the right thing with them. For example, Nike might do a great campaign, around an event you are sponsoring, and cause upset. But Nike are outshining the event sponsor because the original campaign isn’t very good. You have to know why you are buying the rights, and what you are going to do with those rights, and what your campaign will look like.”

Yutang Sports:How do you see the Chinese sports market, and can you share some advice to Chinese sports properties and sponsors.

Karen Earl“I can’t give advice on the Chinese market, as I’ve not worked there. We work with the Asia sports sponsorship network, and they have a handle on it. As an association we work with them. HSBC have singled out Hong Kong 7s rugby for growth and development, and to become a powerful bigger sport. That is their campaign, and HSBC’s story is that they’ve supported that growth. But I don’t know the Chinese market well enough to comment.” 

This article was assisted by Jonathan Powell, contributing writer of Yutang Sports at The Telegraph Business of Sport Conference in London.

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