Q&A with Sponsorship Thought Leader Jim Andrews

Jim Andrews is a trailblazer in the sponsorship industry. He is masterful at identifying trends and providing insights about issues facing rightsholders and commercial partners, and is clearly committed to raising the bar, inspiring sponsorship sellers and marketers to be innovators. He is a frequent media commentator and guest and has been a featured speaker at hundreds of sports, entertainment and marketing conferences around the world. Jim is also an adjunct lecturer in Northwestern University’s Master’s in Sports Administration program, where he teaches a course in sports sponsorship.

Jim is the keynote speaker for this year’s the Sponsorship Mastery Summit and, in a recent Q&A, shared more about himself and some of his key insights about sponsorship:

Question: You pursued an education in journalism and ended up spending much of your career in the sponsorship industry—what path had you originally planned to pursue?

Answer: I had my sights set on starting out as what we used to call a “hard news” reporter—covering crime, politics, education, etc. for a daily newspaper. This was the late ‘80s when that was actually a viable career path! I saw myself eventually becoming a feature writer for one of the great magazines of the day.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in sponsorship? Was there something specific that sparked your interest?

A: At first, my interest was purely practical. I was looking for a writing job in Chicago to start my career and saw that a company called IEG was looking for a reporter for its Special Events Report (later IEG Sponsorship Report) newsletter covering the business of sponsorship. I got the job thinking it would be a stepping-stone to my newspaper career, but working for IEG founder Lesa Ukman, I couldn’t help but become enamored with sponsorship and its potential to be a breakthrough marketing medium.

Q: You’re well-known throughout the country as a sponsorship marketing veteran—what advice would you give an up-and-comer in the industry to support their success?

A: Among other things, be a sponge for information; read as much as you can about this industry and related fields; speak to as many people as possible; and don’t stop educating yourself and networking until you retire many years from now.

Q: What advice would you give someone who’s been in the industry for several years?  Anything you would tell us veterans to stop doing?

A: Related to my advice for up-and-comers, today’s marketplace requires all of us to understand other aspects of marketing beyond sponsorship. If you can expand your knowledge, skills and network to include digital, social, data, etc., you make yourself more valuable to your organization, your sponsor partners and to future employers.

Q: You spent over three decades with IEG. Is there an accomplishment you are most proud of from your time there?

A: Simply the fact that IEG was a truly unique organization within our industry that professionalized sponsorship, created some of its most important tools and opened the eyes of so many people, organizations and brands to the business-building potential of meaningful partnerships.

Q: Sponsorships have changed significantly over the last three decades. What changes did you see coming in the industry? Were there any trends that caught you off guard?

A: From the beginning of my time at IEG, we identified two things that we believed had to happen for sponsorship to take its place as a go-to marketing platform for brands: integration with the other forms of marketing and accountability. As Jane Zalutsky mentioned in her Q&Awith you recently, sponsorship in the ’80s was seen as a “nice to have” but not critical piece of the marketing mix. We hoped for, pushed for and eventually saw integration and accountability become chief components of sponsorship programs, a step that greatly accelerated the industry’s growth through the ’90s and 2000s.

We also saw that sponsorship would grow far beyond its origins in sports, festivals and concert tours and become an important non-traditional revenue source for causes, cultural institutions, trade and membership associations, schools and other types of organizations.

As for what we didn’t see coming, the biggest change would have to be the impact of digital technology, particularly how it changed the game for activating sponsorships and marketing events and properties. When you think of how we did things pre-internet vs. today, the changes are staggering.

Q: You teach a course in sports sponsorship at Northwestern—what’s one big takeaway you hope your students get from the course?

A: My students are interesting because they are in a Masters of Sports Administration program, meaning some of them want to be sports marketers, but an equal amount or more are pointing to careers as athletic directors or other roles in management. For that cohort, I want them to understand the role sponsorship plays among the other revenue streams for sports organizations and the support it needs from leaders outside the marketing function.

Q: You have a knack for predicting sponsorship trends—what’s one of your predictions for the future of sponsorship?

A: I don’t want to give too much away in advance of my summit keynote, but one trend that has already begun is much more diversity in the types of companies and brands that are potential partners for properties. While the traditional players in categories such as beverages, banks, autos, etc. are not going away, the digital economy has created entirely new types of businesses, including the direct-to-consumer segment comprised of thousands of small firms in all major consumer-facing categories that sell their own branded goods entirely or primarily through their owned-and-operated digital channels. These brands are the marketers most in need of cost-effective marketing platforms like sponsorship that can raise awareness, build their brands, create stature and put them on a level playing field with well-known category leaders.

Q: What are some of the key characteristics that make a brand a trendsetter in the industry?

A: A commitment to sponsorship as a fully integrated component of the overall marketing plan; decision-makers who understand the unique value of sponsorship; support from executive leadership; clear objectives, goals and the ability to measure success; and the ability to execute creative activations.

Q: What about a property or rightsholder? Any trendsetters come to mind?

A: It’s all about creativity. New ideas will have an impact among brands, fans, audiences and consumers. Michael Kithcart put it perfectly in her Q&A: “Break free from the ‘way it’s always been done’ and see the opportunities within the event in a new light. Paint a fresh picture for new and existing sponsors.” If you can do that, you will be way ahead of the game.

Q: What excites you most about the Sponsorship Mastery Summit?   

A: In my many roles at IEG, my favorite was producing and—for the last few years—keynoting the IEG conference, so I’m tremendously excited and grateful for the opportunity to continue to provide information to and maybe even inspire the sponsorship professionals who will gather in Seattle. The networking and education that conferences can provide is vital to our industry and I am so pleased that you have picked up the gauntlet and that the summit can fill the current void.

Q: What are you up to these days? Any plans for the future you’d like to share with inquiring minds?

A: I’ve been having a great time as an independent consultant working on a variety of projects while continuing to look for a full-time position. I may have some news to share at the summit, so stay tuned!

About the workshop: Sponsorship Mastery Summit takes place September 25-26 at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington and features industry experts facilitating intensive and interactive sessions for mastering the art and science of sponsorship. Participants collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, explore new ideas, and leave with a simple sales plan, an improved story, sponsor leads, a sales process, best practices and new connections. The learning and exchange continue online for three months with webinars and information on the most relevant and important topics key to sponsorship success. Learn more and register here.