Is Following your Passion Leading us Astray?
2nd December, 2013
I recently had the pleasure of guest lecturing for the amazing students at the University of Northampton. I have been fortunate enough to have spoken at a number of Universities this year including Cambridge and Westminster and always find it invigorating – mostly because it was not too long ago that I was on the other side of the lectern. However, this recent presentation included an opportunity to sit down with the students afterwards where I was able to ask them questions about their views on sponsorship. When asked what their plans were after graduation, one student’s reply particularly peaked my interest – she wanted to work in football. When I dug a bit further, I found she was so passionate about football that she would be happy with any role just as long as it was working in football. Digging further still I queried whether she would take a similar role at a cricket club? Her reply was unsurprisingly ‘no’.
Passion is what makes our industry different. Our ability to tap into consumers’ passions – whether it is for sport, music, art, or even their own industry awards, enables us to derive value based on a connection to the audience. It is what separates our marketing strategy from above-the-line campaigns. It is what makes our industry unique.
However, I would argue that our biggest strength can also be our biggest weakness. Far too often I meet Commercial Directors at sport clubs whose last role was on the pitch; Artist Liaisons and Media Managers for festivals that previously were lead singers of failed bands. To make matters worse, there have been multiple occasions where we have lost pitches to other sponsorship agencies because we were ‘not passionate enough’ about sport or music – and in one bizarre case, yoga. It seems that the criteria for being employed in sponsorship can sometimes be judged based on passion for the activity rather than the skill set required to do the job.
We have therefore hit the core part of the problem: the skill set is ill-defined and vague at best. Sponsorship encompasses so many different types of roles in so many different industries that it is almost impossible to define who would excel or even who would enjoy the type of work. In our agency alone, not one person entered the industry with the intent to become a sponsorship professional (I wanted to be a mathematician). And even with the clients that we are working with, some of our most creative and successful work comes from industries/organisations I didn’t even know existed until a couple years ago; and therefore had never had the chance to become passionate about.
Though our industry is built out of passion; passions, unfortunately, do not create the pathway to success in sponsorship. More needs to be done within the industry to define and communicate the attributes and skill sets of a successful career. In addition, the industry needs to work closer with educators and course leaders to highlight opportunities that may be overlooked, in order to help realistically hone graduate passions into a career that they love. This not to say however, that a passion for football won’t lead to success within football sponsorship – far from it. Many incredibly successful sponsorship professionals have a strong passion for the industry they work in (whether it be sport, art, or music). But it is experience in doing sponsorship – regardless of industry – that will prevail. As Gladwell states in Outliers: The Story of Success ‘You need 10,000 hours of experience to become an expert’.
You better get started.