Sponsorship — Dead as a Dodo.

Head of Marketing and Commercial at Culture Liverpool, Susan Finnegan, gives us her thoughts on how cities can progressively and collaboratively drive their destination offering through strategic, public-private sector partnerships.

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Over the past 18 years, from my early start as an Events Manger, delivering the years leading up to European Capital of Culture 2008 and beyond, I’ve witnessed huge changes in trends across commercialisation of major events. My career has taken me on a journey of calculating crowd capacities in urban and built environments, to experiencing unprecedented highs and once in a lifetime moments. From managing and producing major events for up to 300,000 visitors, to securing £100k+sponsorship deals (where I’ve felt as though I’ve sold my soul to the devil). Like the genie in Aladdin granting every wish, ambition and dream for our partners — except we’re talking hundreds of wishes and are we really sure we’ve delivered the ‘dream’?. One thing is for sure — the more you give, the more they want.

But — there’s a fundamental flaw in the system.

Looking back over the past 6 years, we’ve made some incredible traction commercially. Having set up the Culture Liverpool Commercial Team, generating over £5.2M in 5 years, it’s a massive achievement and one I’m immensely proud of, particularly within the constraints of Public Sector. On the back of this Culture Liverpool is now recognised nationally as a leader in this field.

But what really constitutes ‘return on investment’? It’s an interesting debate and one which I believe we can never truly put a value to — a fundamental flaw in the world of sponsorship. So much so, that I don’t use the term ‘sponsorship’ anymore — this is about strategic partnerships. Partnerships so deeply integrated into the content, experience, narrative and brand of an event or product, that it’s a long term win, rather than a short term cash injection, or a logo on a banner for a brief uplift in consumers.

It means so much more.

Partners must have a vested socioeconomic interest and belief in the long term strategic direction of a city — a key part of their business objectives and future growth. In Liverpool’s case — the most exciting city in the UK, and a fair and inclusive city for our communities.

Brands naturally play on themes of love, legacy, community, togetherness — themes that underpin humanity and our very existence. There’s a natural synergy and alignment with how culture and the arts make us feel — it’s an experience in itself. And as the stars align, isn’t it interesting that such themes underpin and constitute what makes a destination a great place to work, live, study and invest — this is about economic growth, destination positioning and internationalisation.

In my eyes, sponsorship in its traditional sense is as dead as a Dodo, and my work now has a much more tactical and strategic focus on fewer, bigger, better wins rather than ‘Event Sponsorship’ — a saturated, competitive market.

We are developing, delivering and constantly refining our powerful commercial ecosystem which tangibly demonstrates ‘Culture means Business’. The result — a long term, deep rooted return on investment for both partners — the city (host) and the investor (partner).

Liverpool’s proposition is so unique locally, nationally and internationally, that we can transform the future direction and growth of the economy along with the growth of our businesses purely by leading with ‘experience’.

We know from multiple studies that destination and experience in the true sense of the words are the leading dominant factors for attracting new investors and new business. And how exciting to be at the forefront of developing a new commercial era and relationship between public and private sector.

We are leading this agenda because our city is our stage.

Telling stories. Delivering events. Championing creativity. Inspiring audiences. Thinking forward. — Culture: the rocket fuel for regeneration.

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