ESA gives voice to young professionals

The European Sponsorship Association (ESA), the organisation for the promotion of sponsorship in Europe, has launched the Future Leaders Board, a representative group of young industry professionals to work alongside the main board.

The junior board was created so that ESA can be made more aware of, and act upon, new trends and viewpoints raised by the 12 elected representatives, all aged under 27, from agencies, rights holders or brands. 

As a partner of the ESA Awards, Sports Sponsorship Insider wanted to know more about this generation's views and interests. In these exclusive interviews, FLB co-chairs Katie Cavanagh and Ashley Guymer, from the British Fashion Council and motorsports agency JMI respectively, offer their take on the industry and their roles within it.

Sports Sponsorship Insider: In what ways do you perceive that your generation has engaged with sponsorship differently from your parent’s generation?

Katie Cavanagh: Technology has played a significant factor in how our generation engages with sponsorship today. Not only has technology allowed brands the opportunity to amplify their activity at events, but it has also allowed them to engage with audiences throughout the year. Technology has allowed sponsors to become a lot more accessible to our generation, but this level of accessibility has meant that the sponsorships themselves have to be more intelligent.

Ashley Guymer: It is clear that with so many different media outlets to digest events in which sponsorship plays a role, brands have to not only pull on the interests of our generation but also communicate through an outlet, which captures our attention. It is no longer enough for a brand to sponsor a team; it is much more about what they do to support this. A partnership will always be the foundation to an initial interest in a sponsor, but if they really want to engage our generation the partnership needs to be brought to life with a consideration of where and how this activation is distributed, with mobile and social media playing a significant role.


SSI: Is your generation’s relationship with and understanding of new technology key to your involvement with ESA or are there other ideas that you wish to bring to the table?

KC: Social media has formed a large part of the strategy that we are currently implementing but, above that understanding, I would also place a particular emphasis on our insight and relevant point of view. This insight may not necessarily come from years of experience, but it does come from each of us being on the ground and witnessing the industry with fresh eyes. Part of our role is to challenge the sponsorship industry and ensure that the work ESA is doing doesn’t just appeal to MD’s and CEO’s, but to University students considering a role in the sponsorship industry, and young people that are at the beginning stages of their careers. We’ve tried to work as closely as possible with the ESA Board to ensure that all of our ideas compliment the great work that they already have in place.

AG: Our understanding of new and emerging technology will clearly be a useful asset for ESA moving forward. However, I also believe that the FLB is as much about giving young professionals in the sponsorship industry a voice. I know that everyone has exciting ideas, but we do not always have the opportunity to air them, or they are sometimes dismissed due to seniority within an organisation. Sponsorship is one of the most exciting forms of communication and I want to lead by example and help change the way in which young professionals, and recent graduates, contribute their voice in the form of the Future Leaders Board.

SSI: Do you think more young people should be involved at the strategic level of sports sponsorship activity rather than just the activation or client management side? If so, why?

KC: Building on one my previous answers, having young people engaged at the strategy stage can help provide new insight and ideas to (in some cases) old processes. From a career development standpoint, involvement from a strategic level allows you to understand each of the elements that combine to create a sponsorship activity as well as where the ideas originated from and how they evolved - I think this is really important in helping to shape young people’s skill sets early on.

AG: Young people have a place to contribute in every area of sponsorship. It is healthy for brands, agencies and rights holders alike to have someone look at something from a completely different perspective – this is often the start of the journey for the best ideas and concepts, and an area where young people can play a pivotal role.

SSI: Does the cultural / entertainment sector have lessons to teach the sports sector - and vice versa - in terms of sponsorship activation?

KC: Absolutely. The cultural / entertainment sectors have had to deal with many hurdles over recent years, from cuts in arts funding through to the music industry’s battle with online streaming and the subsequent decline in record sales. These challenges have meant that the cultural and entertainment sectors have had to rely heavily on sponsorship. In some cases, these sponsorships operate on far smaller budgets than those seen in sport, which has meant that properties and brands engaging in these sponsorships have had to work smarter to gain a similar amount of traction, and be more creative in their strategies and delivery.

AG: Definitely. There is such variance across the board within sponsorship and some clearly do better in some areas than others. When looking at how to activate a sponsorship, it is healthy to look at what others have done, and the really smart teams look not only within a familiar sector, but outside of it as well. You’ll quite often stumble across a piece of genius you would have never considered without exploring other areas.

SSI: What do you hope to achieve in your year as co-chair of the ESA Future Leaders Board?

KC: We’ve set ourselves some significant targets for this year, with a core focus of: smart utilisation of social media platforms; ESA membership; and curating great events for young people in the industry. A large part of the early process will be raising awareness and ensuring that the sponsorship industry, and wider marketing industries, knows about the FLB. In time, the FLB will sit alongside the ESA Board as the voice for young people within sponsorship. We’re all incredibly proud to be a part of the first FLB and it goes without saying that we’re very excited for the coming months.

AG: ESA, and the senior leadership team, are clearly already making great contributions to the industry and to their individual members, but I want us (the FLB) to help ESA think outside of the box and come up with new strategies that help to further improve their offerings. One project I am particularly excited about is a brand new careers section within the ESA website. This is aimed at helping educate future graduates, and giving them the opportunity to learn about sponsorship as a career, whilst at the same time encouraging new talent into the industry. We’re also looking to further our links with some key universities in order to achieve a similar aim.

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