Ad/Vice – Peter Cullinane

Ex-Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide chief operating officer, STW director, Assignment Group co-founder, NZME board member and dairy don Peter Cullinane offers up some hard-earned pearls of advertising wisdom on sponsorship, insights and claiming credit.

A lot of money gets spent on sponsorship. But in an age of supposed accountability and targeting, the benefits seem pretty woolly. Is it still a good use of marketing cash?

It’s a toughie. Maybe not so much in theory but certainly in practice. In my experience, pretty much every sponsorship has been the result of a chief executive’s keen interest in the event being sponsored. We all know that advertising is often a difficult investment to evaluate. Sponsorship takes things to a whole new level. It’s really hard to know what sort of value to attach to a sponsorship and how to evaluate the return. There is some common sense that can be applied, of course. Firstly, does the event or team being sponsored resonate with a company’s or brand’s target market? Does it make sense? And how much does the sponsorship cost? Is the cost based on what the team or event being sponsored needs or on what it’s likely to be worth to a sponsor? There’s a rule of thumb that says sponsorship requires the same amount of advertising support as the value of the sponsorship itself. When you look at it that way, the value of most becomes questionable. But if you are going to sponsor, let’s say a team, then it’s either because they’re a personal favourite or you can see real value in the sponsorship. And belief begets action. Unquestionably, the best sponsorships display a commitment to wring out every dollar of value. Take the All Blacks sponsorship packages as an example. Some are downright pedestrian and the three All Blacks eating/drinking /smiling formula is too predictable. Then comes MasterCard, which blows predictability out of the water with a campaign that’s impactful and memorable. Hats off to them. I think someone there is a true believer and it shows. And that’s the secret.

Theodore Levitt said: “People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.” And Jeremy Bullmore said: “Why is a good insight like a refrigerator? Because the moment you look into it, a light comes on.” What’s your definition of an insight? And how can you have more good ones?

Well Jeremy Bullmore is god-like of course so it’s hard to improve on a great analogy. For me an insight is a moment of clarity. And you know it as it happens. At Assignment we always say that the creative process is a messy one and then we double down by using analogies such as ‘spinning plates’ and ‘running down rabbit holes’ and other semi-mystical stuff. But it’s said for effect because it creates permission to approach problems from multiple angles at the same time, rather than logically or in some linear fashion. To explore lots of ideas, to park some, to connect others to revisit some to look for parallels. To generally enjoy the muddle. I do think everyone wants to get to answers too quickly. As Einstein said (reputedly): ‘If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes solving it (or something like that!).” All that muddle, the sharing of problems and the floating of half-baked solutions with similarly-minded colleagues is the stuff that almost always leads to an insight. The moment when the muddle clears and the answer is there for all to see is often prefaced with a comment such as ‘you know, I wonder if the answer isn’t as simple as …’

Credit is important in this industry, as evidenced by the long lists of contributors on every campaign release. But when it comes to those who claim credit when they really shouldn’t, should I stand up for my part in a campaign, or just let it slide and see it as a team sport? 

Credit where credit’s due. In a team sport, like advertising, deciding just who was responsible for an idea is a hiding to nothing. As I mentioned in the previous question about insights, if you keep noodling the problem and invigorating it with fresh thinking, the answer will inevitably pop out, if not fully formed then at least in a recognisable form. Just who should take credit for it? The person who posed the question just before you had the insight (and therefore caused it to happen?) or you because you were there at the very right moment, fully engaged for that millisecond when clarity came from chaos. And what idea? A product innovation, a consumer insight, a wonderful way of communicating the old as if it were new? Whatever it takes will require the skills of multiple people to bring it fully to life. If awards and recognition are important to you, and why shouldn’t they be, you would be well-advised to claim your stake on your contribution to a campaign. You have to pass the mirror test of course (can you really look at yourself with a straight face?) and meet the scrutiny of your colleagues. But if you pass those tests, go for it. That’s advice by the way that I’ve never taken. Maybe I should have. 

A bit of a tip from the good suiting guide: “Whenever you can, press the advantage. The best time to make  an advance is on the back of success. Momentum is everything.”
  • This article originally appeared in the November/December edition of NZ Marketing.

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