Video Series: Q&A with SMS Thought Leader Lesa Ukman

Sponsorship pioneer and Sponsorship Mastery Summit Keynote, Lesa Ukman, joins Paula Beadle for a colorful and candid conversation about sponsorship and social good. This MUST WATCH interview gives a sneak peak of the energy, insight, and innovation you’ll experience at Lesa’s session. Watch now or check out the full transcript below. 

Like the queen of soul and the mother of dragons, Lesa Ukman is the sovereign of sponsorship, an epically powerful figure. Lesa founded IEG in the early 80’s effectively giving life to the sponsorship industry. Over several decades, IEG was the leading global sponsorship organization. In 2006 Lesa sold IEG and in May 2016 she launched Lesa Ukman Partnerships and ProSocial Valuation, which values social capital. I asked Lesa to join me today, not only because she was my inspiration 30 years ago to pursue a career in sponsorship, but also because the work that she is doing today around social good is as groundbreaking as IEG’s accomplishments under her leadership. Lesa, I am humbled and honored to talk with you today.

Paula Beadle: How do you define social good as it relates to the partnership between brands and event properties?

Lesa Ukman: You know, it’s a very interesting question because really this all grew out of my work in sponsorship and events and brands. And the whole point is that increasingly the research we were getting back for the work we were doing through IEG was first of all, no activation, no ROI. In other words, if you just buy the rights and do nothing with them, as a sponsor, you are not going to get anything. And as a rights holder, it is a stupid way to sell because your sponsors aren’t going to come back.

So activation. Steve Koonin, he was with Coke at the time, from Atlanta, once said that buying sponsorship without activating, it is like buying an electric toy and not buying the batteries. And all the research supports that, even stupid, dumb, small activation makes a difference. But what I was seeing increasingly was that when there was as a pro social overlay or a public good or a bigger idea behind the activation, that worked even better than just thematic activation related, say to the music festival or the sporting event.

So it was that combination of one plus one plus one equals more than three. That was really driving things. And of course, cause marketing had already been established for many years. So there were all these trends going on and this space has been wide open for a really long time. But I think what’s really interesting right now is for the first time we’re seeing enough literacy among regular people to kind of start differentiating between those brands that are talking the talk and those that are walking the walk specifically around say Black Lives Matter, and it’s really, really interesting. Some brands are being called out for supporting, you know, Black Lives Matter or a cause like LGBTQ rights and then donating to the campaigns of politicians who are not voting in favor of diversity, inclusivity, and they’re being called out.

You can’t have it both ways. So now that you’ve that sort of this increased literacy for people to recognize it, I really believe brands are going to have to take a stand. You know, Google came out with this idea when they were first launched, “Do No Harm.” That’s no longer enough. It’s not. You can’t say I’m not going to do any harm. That’s milk toast, wimpy newness. You have to actually proactively do good however your audience is looking at good and defining it.

PB: So what advice would you give to event properties who are working with brands to develop that social good connection to the sponsorship? Where do they start? If it isn’t obvious.

LU: Well, first of all, anybody that wants can email me and I will send them the pro-social valuation report we did for Arts Quest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which includes MusicFest, one of the largest festivals in the country that really is a roadmap to have festivals, create social capital. Festivals are already creating tons of social capital. If you have a volunteer program, you’re catalyzing and training, volunteers that go on to volunteer probably for other things. And the value in that is not the value of an hour donated. That is such a wrong way to value it. But the value in that, because we’ve done all the research now is that the volunteer, the human capital increased created for the volunteer and that really drives value in terms of social capital. So if you’re a festival you’re already creating social capital. South Beach Food and Wine Festival, for example, has a partnership with a university in Florida where their students serve as interns at the festival and they get to meet all these famous chefs and people that own restaurants, and that’s helping these people then get placed when they’re done graduating college. They’ve got an entry-we met South Beach.

New Orleans, Jazz and Heritage Festival-they do masterclasses with the musicians and underserved children in the community. The musicians go in the schools. So there’s so much synergy there already being done and created, you don’t have to go too far, but it’s been hidden because it’s never been valued before. If you don’t have these pieces, you can easily create them.

For a client we’re working with right now, it happens to be a pro sports team, they’re being pressured to do more with the Black Lives Matter, black empowerment, and they said to us, you know, what should we do? And so, we said, you know, it’s a no brainer. You already have a business council, why don’t create a black business council where you and your sponsors that are participating agree to buy a certain percentage of your services and products there, but it’s not going to stop with buying. It’s going to include. your sponsors are also going to make opportunities for mentoring, for internships, for employment, so that now you, the property are the catalyst in your community for making positive social change year round, even though you might be a two week event or a one season or season long. So you can be making these differences cause you already have all these connections. That’s a long answer to your question.

PB: We know that brands are going to be more intentional about investing in partnership opportunities that are elevating, you know, their contributions to the community and it’s going to be an area of focus for them. So how do you think that’s going to impact sponsorship spending overall?

LU: You know, here’s the thing. I think, one of the fallouts from everything we’ve been through the past, well, three years, but at least since, February, March- one of the fallouts is nobody has attention to spare. Nobody ever did, but now we have even less.We are just flooded. So unless a message is embedded with something that’s benefiting someone’s life or their kids’ lives or their communities, no one’s going to pay attention. So brands still needs sponsorship because people love sports arts, entertainment, causes. They don’t love brands, so they have to come embedded with that. But for the rights holders to remain competitive and bring in messaging, it can’t just be about, this is our lineup this season, because nobody cares.

What they care about is, how are the musicians in your lineup going to make our community better, or how are you using your reach and channels to improve the lives of people and so that we have less stress in this community. So I think that sponsorship spend it will remain robust in so far as, anybody can bring a solution. If you’ve got a solution, the money is there.

PB: I’m so thrilled that you are joining us for the sponsorship mastery summit in September, which as you know, was inspired by you. So I’m really thrilled that you’ll be talking about the intersection between sponsorship and social good at the summit. And I think we all understand how important this conversation is to be having right now. Can you just share some insight with the audience on what you’re planning to talk about or what you’re hoping they walk away from your session with.

LU: The takeaway I’m hoping to bring is that up until now, we’ve sold as rights holders based on a menu of assets. And that’s just not sustainable because assets we’re selling the gold, silver, bronze this month visibility, and this many tickets – that’s just commoditized stuff that nobody wants or needs, you know, give it to Goodwill. Nobody cares. But the result of that isn’t doom and gloom. The result of that is, dig deeper and understand the power that you have, the leverage that you have with different parts of your community and redefine your role and redefine the solution you’re bringing to brands.

Again, we’ve all been using economic impact as a way to justify our existence. You know what economic impact was always bullshit with the multipliers to begin with. But now when the hotels are even based in your town, the money just passes through your festival and goes to their headquarters in some other location, economic impacts even less relevant and truthful. But there’s this whole other piece, which is, social capital. You are making the communities you live in better places to live for people and you can help towards healing and all these other pieces. What I hope people take away from my talk is that we have other assets they’ve been hidden and unmeasured, but now know we can start bringing them to the fore cause it’s what brands want and need and they can be measured, and start understanding that and getting your boards of directors to understand that and really rethink your role in society, cause there’s huge opportunity.

PB: And so, what would your advice be to brands as you look into the future?

LU: Follow Ben and Jerry’s. If you look at what Ben and Jerry’s does with every single one of their campaigns, it’s just so perfect. First of all, they find the right partners. Second of all, they use their own channels to distribute it. Third of all, there’s usually a product tie in like this one with Black Lives Matter is, Pecan Rising. That’s the name of the ice cream. It’s got chocolate chips and white chocolate chips together in the same ice cream and it benefits, different causes under Black Lives Matter umbrella, but everything about what Ben and Jerry’s does from the beginning of Peace Pops, which you may remember. Every year at IEG, we served Peace Pops on Tuesday for dessert because Ben Cohn spoke at IEG. But anyways, putting that aside, since their beginning embedded into their DNA was, pro-social initiatives.

And even after they sold to Unilever in their deal Unilever follows it and Unilever’s research has shown that the brands that are pro-social are growing at a rate of four or five times that, of, brands that don’t have that piece to it. So all the pieces are there, the proof is there and brands just need to get consistent and a little bit more vision.

PB: Undoubtedly sponsorship is going to change in the coming year, probably beyond that. And so, what do you think the future of sponsorship looks like?

LU: I think it’s a blank slate and its future is really dependent on the people sitting across from each other at the table. How creative are they? How innovative are they? How driven by something bigger than themselves, are they, you know, it’s not just about the biggest deal there is. There are so many other interesting pieces though that, I think the future potentially is greater than ever, but it’s up to the people to really maybe let the next generation come along or the old timers rethink what they’ve been doing.

PB: Before I let you go, I just want to ask you to share more with the audience about the work that you’re currently doing around measuring the impact of social good for brands.

LU: Because I know sort of some of who your audience is and who will be coming, I would love to in advance so they can even ask great questions- anybody that sends me an email at lesa@lesaukman.com, I’ll send them this Arts Quest, ProSocial Valuation statement. It really is the map to valuing your social capital, but more than a map of valuing. It’s defining how festivals and events create social capital in ways that they didn’t know they did. And it includes primary research, my partners in ProSocial is performance research. So, you know, there’s a lot of really interesting primary research there as well.

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. 



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