Q&A with SMS Thought Leader & Featured Speaker Lesa Ukman

Like the Queen of Soul and the Mother of Dragons, Lesa is the Sovereign of Sponsorship; an epically powerful figure. Lesa Ukman founded IEG in the early ‘80s, effectively giving life to the sponsorship industry. Over several decades, IEG became the magnet organization which gathered sponsorship leaders from around the globe annually for the IEG Conference, provided in-depth research and educational webinars propelling the industry forward. IEG created the benchmark sponsorship valuation model in the early days and consulted countless global brands and iconic properties.

In 2006 Lesa sold IEG to WPP Group M – the world’s largest media and advertising holding company at the time. In 2018, GroupM sold IEG to the Engine Shop, a multi-channel engagement marketing company helping brands connect with consumers online and in-person through live experiences, digital engagement and branded content.

In May of 2016, Lesa launched Lesa Ukman Partnerships. Its breakout contribution is the ProSocial Valuation Service,® which values social capital—public goods like civic engagement, clean water, volunteering, access to arts—with the same rigor used to measure financial returns. Until PSV, nonprofits have had to rely on outputs—such as the number of homeless people sheltered or hungry people fed. PSV measured outcomes, what happened as a result of someone getting off the streets or going to school without hunger pains. This enables funders and sponsors to compare effectiveness of one approach to another. Lesa applies her sponsorship knowledge to value ProSocial activation of sponsors.

I attended my first IEG conference in the early ‘90s. The experience shaped my entire career. Today, my entire 25-year career is bookended by sitting in the front row wildly taking notes at IEG to the excitement of sharing with Lesa my dream of launching Sponsorship Mastery.

Since last year’s Sponsorship Mastery Summit (SMS) we’ve been talking about the intersection of sponsorship and social good. Once again, Lesa is leading the way by bringing her innovative spirit to the conversation. I am thrilled Lesa will be a featured presenter at the SMS this year. I talked with Lesa recently while she was recovering from COVID-19, and even in that moment she was lightening in a bottle. Her fast-paced brilliance is hard to keep up with, so I captured what I could to share a sneak peak of her session and her industry insights.

Paula Beadle:  One my professional highlights was the day I called you and shared that Sponsorship Mastery Summit was going to launch. I was realizing a dream inspired by you! I am beyond thrilled to welcome you to the 2020 Sponsorship Mastery Summit in September. 

Lesa Ukman:  I know moving forward was a tough decision to make Paula, but I’m glad you did it. It’s an important time for us to talk about the future of sponsorship and prepare for the next transformation. I wish we could all meet together, but happy to participate virtually and I love that you are hosting get togethers in local cities. There is an opportunity for reinvention, and frankly it’s time.

PB:  How do events need to prepare for the future? 

LU:   Any event that is a one-time a year festival or event, even if it’s multi-week, has to rethink their role in the community. This could mean building a foundation arm to their business or organization. Or it could mean expanding their programming throughout the year. Boards especially will need to start thinking differently. It’s no longer about getting thousands of people to a single concert or event; it’s about expanding your cultural offerings year-round to contribute as a part of the community.  These events already have a core group of partners and fans – but how they increase their commitment to those partners and fans throughout the year will enable them to survive.

PB: The SMS is aiming to change how sales leaders shape the landscape of sponsorship. This can seem like a daunting task, but you’ve been a part of the biggest sponsorship industry evolutions. What can sales leaders do today that will help shape tomorrow? 

LU:  Find a problem that can be solved by your sponsorship. It’s not about levels, packages, or many sponsors, it’s about solving problems.

PB: What is needed for events to survive and thrive during this time, and what is the role events play in our future?

LU: I think people are looking for something bigger than themselves. I know I am. Events should think about positioning their mindset as “you’ve already done the work of bringing people together – artists, advocates, etc. – now expand it.” Your primary focus should be expanding your model to a year-round model.

PB:  What challenges will events face in changing their mindset and expansion? 

LU:  The challenge or disconnect is going to be the board – because it’s going to require a whole new level of thinking.  The ethos of an entire organization, including volunteers and staff, should be well positioned to respond to crisis because their organization believes in servicing and supporting their community. No major transition should be needed because community service is a natural part of the organizational DNA.

PB: What advice would you give to brands about social good sponsorships and their role in the future?  

LU:  Brands need to consider how they are engaging people now and carefully consider their role after COVID-19. Cause marketing campaigns will look different, and how people respond may also look different.  For example, the perception and response to “buy one and we’ll donate” and “your name will be here” is no longer effective. In a sense, sponsorship has gotten lazy. The days of writing a check and getting your name connected to a campaign are over. In order to engage, brands are going to have to bring something new to the equation. It’s more than cause marketing – it’s about serving an audience. Your partnership must communicate to the audience and involve the community.

One example that comes to mind is Cadbury in the UK. Cadburry partnered with Age UK to see how they could better service their aging audience. Age UK provided the research about what the main issues are around the aging population, in this case loneliness, and together they brought awareness and developed a campaign to help solve a community-wide problem. In addition to a major online campaign called “Donate Your Words,” Cadbury opened a pop-up store where the only form of payment was a pledge of a kind deed for an elderly person.

PB: What advice would you give properties about creating partnerships for brands that have a social good connection?  

LU:  Identify the challenges in your community and make a commitment to help find a solution. Seattle NHL is a good example of a team solving a community problem. In this case it’s transportation. This also creates an opportunity to build in new assets and align with other departments within companies. Entertainment and Sports organizations also need to think about how the sponsorship will engage employees because brands need to figure out new ways to unify employees.

About the Summit: Sponsorship Mastery Summit will take place virtually and in select cities September 23rd and 24th, 2020. SMS is a powerful and immersive experience specifically for sponsorship sales leaders representing universities, parks and recreation, tourism, sports teams and events, fairs and festivals, venues, arts and cultural organizations. Attendees will collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, exchange ideas and leave with best practices, actionable tools, valuable resources and new connections. Participants will attend interactive workshops, industry forums, big idea roundtables, and networking events.