The British and Irish Lions are rugby’s greatest franchise – but do their results matter?

" The thing with the Lions is that logic has nothing to do with it. They are magical. And that is the thing that fans and sponsors buy into. The Lions represent the purest of values. They offer a sense of legacy, tradition and romanticism long lost in the sea of endless professional rugby, which gives brands plenty of opportunity to highlight their shared values. Standard Life Investments’ advertising campaign uses the Lions to tell their own story of teamwork, performance and commitment, while QBE is focusing on “the team behind the team”.

Read more in City AM here.

Synergy Spotlight

1. Your career in one paragraph?

I have coached since I was 16 in Australia. After retiring I wanted to give back to the sport that gave me such amazing opportunities so I got involved with the GB U19 Programme in 2012. In 2013 I took over as Head Coach and in 2016 moved to the Women's team. This year I will lead both programmes.

2. Describe yourself in 3 words.

Committed, innovative and involving

3. What is the key to your success?

Having a great team around me who compliment my strengths and support my weaknesses. Together we are creating a positive culture that we believe to be successful.

4. Who inspired you?

My mum; a ball of endless energy and still playing softball every week at 67 years of age.

5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

'Pick your battles to win the war'

6. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Spend less time worrying about what other people think of you as you will never make everyone happy.

Inspiring the next generation

We believe Women’s Sport Week is more than just important.  It raises awareness of a key, rapidly growing, section of our industry.  It allows us to talk and debate key issues and helps make heroes of the athletes who train week in, week out and astound us with world class performances. 
We talk a lot about getting more women into the industry, more in leadership roles, more making a difference to the way our industry is run but change like this needs a longer term strategy.  It’s why, as a part of our 1+51 commitment, we want to inspire the next generation of young women – raising awareness of jobs which they may not even know exist. 

As a first step, we’ll be going back to school to talk about what we do and the amazing career opportunities plus the perks that only come with a job in sport.  Watch this space for our first back to school session.

Synergy Launch “The Pledge”

We're offering three governing bodies the chance to receive £25,000 worth of creative time to promote their women’s game. 2017 sees a jam-packed year of women’s sport, with highlights such as the rugby and cricket World Cups, and the UEFA European Championships. As a progressive agency proud to work with some of the world’s most ambitious businesses, Women’s Sport Week 2017 is the perfect time to launch and celebrate the initiative.

If you are a governing body then you are in with a chance to win. All you have to do is fill out the entry form: and tell Synergy about a Women’s Sport brief you need help with – from helping to get that new potential sponsor over the line, to encouraging an existing partner to renew or even creating a brand campaign to help raise awareness and grow your fan base. The prize includes a kick-off briefing session to agree objectives, three weeks of creative development time and an ideas presentation at Synergy HQ where we’ll pitch to you. Terms and Conditions apply.

1+51: A year-long commitment to women’s sport

Women’s Sport Week is all about raising awareness and increasing the profile of women’s sport. At Synergy we’re all in! From the record-breaking audiences for GB Women’s Hockey gold medal match to 35,000 fans at Wembley for the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final – both domestically and internationally women’s sport is unquestionably growing, but there is always more we can ALL do.At Synergy we are devoting resources to showcasing the best of women’s sport throughout the year. To kick off Women’s Sport Week 2017, we’re proud to launch 1+51: our commitment to women’s sport this week, and every week of the year.

And here’s how we plan to make this happen:

1. The Pledge – It’s Competition Time
We’ll be offering three governing bodies, committed to growing women’s sport, the chance to win up to £25,000 of Synergy creative development time. Entries are open from Tuesday 20th June until Friday 7th July. You can enter here.

2. Back to School: Synergy Women Inspire the Next Generation

We’re inspiring the next generation of young women – raising awareness of jobs which they may not even know exist. As a first step, we’ll be going back to school to talk about what we do and the amazing career opportunities plus the perks that only come with a job in sport.

3. Spotlight: Raising the Profile of Women in Sport

We want to shout about the amazing women making such an impact in sport. So, each month we’ll profile a new inspirational woman…keep an eye on our website and social channels.

4. Feature: Day in the Life of the GB Softball Team

On Friday 23rd June, we’ll post our first live Instagram story live from the Women’s Softball European Championships in Italy. GB Softball player and Synergist, Chiya Louie, will be behind the scenes with the team in camp where the team will be aiming for qualification to the 2020 Olympic Games. Exciting stuff, we can’t wait.

5. Sports Kit Friday

We’ll be getting our kit on and raising funds for Women in Sport and our very own GB Athlete, Chiya Louie.

It’s going to be a jam-packed week, so watch this space for more detail on each of our five initiatives.

Feeling the Force

Liberty Media, who completed their $8bn acquisition of Formula One in January, are beginning to deliver on their promise to attract a new generation of fans to the sport.From creating a more inclusive and entertaining experience for racegoers, to looking beyond direct commercial gain to fully embrace social media and the proposed launch of an OTT channel (as well as making some very smart behind the scenes hires), Formula One is certainly moving in the right direction.

And in this new dawn for F1, one team is making giant strides off the track. With a striking new pink livery, Force India is undergoing a transformation that goes far beyond the aesthetics of the car. Through a savvy commercial strategy, they are putting themselves at the forefront of the Liberty millennial revolution.

Amongst the blue-chip brands, whose logos have adorned the cars across the grid for decades, Force India have quietly been attracting a new breed of partner – and one seldom seen in the paddock before Liberty Media entered the fray; those with a target audience under the age of 30. The illusive and oft-mentioned millennial.Menswear label Farah has been brought on as Official Apparel Partner, bringing to life the partnership through their #RaceReady campaign; “a six-part content series profiling the men behind the scenes of the world’s most stylish sport”. They have also announced deals with designer eyewear brand LDNR and Diageo, as well as a prominent charity partnership with Breast Cancer Care to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the famous pink ribbon.

But the deal which stands out is the recently announced partnership with SPORTbible. Part of the LADbible Group, SPORTbible has become one of the largest communities and distributors of content for sports fans in the world. According to Quantcast, SPORTbible reaches an impressive 2.7m people monthly, of which almost 65% are under the age of 34. The partnership will see SPORTbible given exclusive access to the team to create an array of content, including interviews competitions and behind the scenes video, which will be pushed across their burgeoning social channels.

One would assume that these partnerships may be below many of the inflated rights fees that we see across the grid, placing more emphasis on the reciprocal value that they will receive by association with these brands rather than upfront investment.For partners like Farah and LDNR, it gives Force India credibility and momentum. Brands want to appear alongside other like-minded brands and are likely to seek out teams who have a stable of sponsors who fit their values. We saw a similar situation in our work with Martini, whose very visible title partnership with Williams F1, helped to make Williams a more attractive prospect for sponsors such as Rexona/Sure and Hackett.

For SPORTbible, the association has the potential to enhance the whole sponsorship proposition at Force India. Firstly, it gives potential new partners (as well as the current stable) significant additional exposure to a younger audience and a ready-made activation platform; both of which are extremely valuable negotiating tools. Secondly, if SPORTbible can help Force India to develop a more sophisticated approach to data capture and segmentation, access to this database, full of rich customer data, becomes a very valuable part of any sponsorship proposal and something which not many rightsholders are able to match.

The shift in livery is also unlikely to be a whimsical choice but one made with commerciality in mind. Whilst certainly attractive to Indian brands, the Indian flag inspired livery of past seasons will no doubt have steered potential sponsors away in fear of not feeling a natural part of what was a heavily Indian stable of partners. There are even strong rumours, at the time of writing, that owner Vijay Mallya is also considering changing the teams name in order to widen the commercial appeal. One thing is not in doubt; their current choice of livery will certainly help them to stand out from the crowd.

What this new strategy does is not only open-up a new and potentially very valuable audience for Force India, with a monetizable relationship that could last decades, it also opens the door to a raft of new ‘B2C’ brands who want to reach millennials at scale. And as first-movers in this space, Force India are extremely well placed to reap the financial benefits.And crucially, this incremental revenue will help a team who have been plagued by financial concerns in recent times to safeguard their future. Concerns which would be magnified if they were to lose the sizeable revenue from numerous Mexican brands that come with driver Sergio Perez, should, as rumoured, one of the bigger teams come calling.

All of this happily coincides with an upturn of fortunes on the track. Indeed, in a world where there is a gulf in levels of spending between teams, Force India are, pound for pound, arguably the best team on the grid this season.

Formula One is changing and Force India may just have put themselves in pole position in the Liberty Media revolution.

End of an era as McDonald’s ends IOC deal

"McDonald’s was one of six IOC partners whose current contracts pre-date the price hike and expire in ‘20. The others are GE, P&G, Dow Chemical, Visa and Coca-Cola. The other TOP members have all renewed or signed since the price hike. All of these brands are going to be looking at that scenario, and making a decision about whether the additional investment they’re going to require is going to generate a bigger incremental return"

Read more in Sports Business Journal here and Sportcal here.


Room At The Top: Sponsorship & The Premier League

The annual release of the Premier League's full season payments to its clubs made for more interesting reading than usual this year, as it revealed the financial impact of the first year of the League's new commercial cycle.

Predictably, the mainstream media focused on the ker-ching effect of the Premier League's new domestic and international broadcasting deals, the engine of the League's finances, which drove a 46% year-on-year increase in the total payout.But what this storyline overlooked was that the figures also revealed the status of the Premier League's move away last season, for the first time since the League's creation in the early 1990s, from a title sponsor-led sponsorship model to a multi-sponsor model.

Financially, the transition was smooth. Premier League Central Commercial revenues, to which sponsorship is the biggest contributor, rose £5million year-on-year, to just over £95million, with the effect that the combined income from the Premier League's six co-sponsors - previous title sponsor Barclays, long term sponsors Nike and EA Sports, plus new sponsors Cadbury, Carling and TAG Heuer - more than compensated for the move away from title sponsorship.

So, so far so good, you might say. But I believe the Premier League has significant untapped potential in this space - both for itself and for brand partners.

One sign of this is that one year on from its move to the multi-sponsor model, the League is still looking for a seventh and final brand in its sponsor roster, from the tech category. If a property with the global reach and appeal of the Premier League can't find a partner from the hottest business category on the planet, something's clearly not right.

Another is that Central Commercial revenue is increasingly a drop in the ocean of the total payout to clubs: in 2016/17 it was only 3.96% of the total payout, down from 5.5% the previous season.

And when you add to that the traditional, media-heavy nature of the rights on offer, the reliance on broadcast partners' and clubs' inventory, and the fact that this inventory is finite as well as old-school, it's clear that the Premier League's prospects for growth in this space are very limited.

Unless it makes two big innovations.

First, to think beyond traditional sponsorship rights that are reliant on media and club inventory, and locked into brand categories.

If, instead, the Premier League creates new IP built around unique campaigns and powerful experiences rather than old school media and rights, it can open up new partnership opportunities and revenue streams way beyond what the traditional sponsorship model can generate.

And second, to re-purpose the Premier League brand itself.

Yes, the Premier League used the move away from title sponsorship to re-design its brand identity, and launched the Primary Stars schools programme to boost its CSR credentials.

But these haven't made a meaningful difference to the Premier League's Achilles Heel: as I wrote last year, if you ask people what it stands for other than football, the majority will say money, truckloads of money - and not in a good way. People don't believe that the Premier League has a purpose beyond profit - the essential ingredient for the most successful contemporary consumer brands.

Together with its reliance on traditional sponsorship rights, it's this lack of a purpose beyond profit that is holding back the Premier League from becoming what it can be - one of the great hero brands of the era.

A brand measured not how much money it makes, but how it uses the power of its brand to make a social and cultural difference.

And ironically, it's only by doing that that the Premier League can realise it's vast untapped marketing potential and attract a new generation of brand partners.

There's plenty of room at the top.

A Dose Of Reality At The ICC Champions Trophy

I’m worried I have a problem and I think you might be worried that you have it too. Surely, it’s an issue that has crossed the minds of everyone who works in marketing. You see, having been in the industry for 5 years now, I’m concerned that I might be losing my grip on reality.Whenever I engage with sports and entertainment – be that at an event or experiencing content – my mind is trained to look for the marketing. I actively seek it out and try to make sense of it. Why is this brand advertising here? I wonder what they paid for that shirt sponsorship? What is the story they are trying to tell consumers? How is their campaign messaging building over time?

This isn’t how a normal person thinks. A normal person, to be frank, doesn’t really give a damn. True, they notice to an extent what brands are saying and doing but, I suspect, only when it is highly relevant to them and is absolutely unavoidable.

There is clearly a danger here for marketing professionals, bombarded as we are with marketing content. The industry press is full of ideas that are derivative of other brand activations; you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a profession we gain more inspiration from case studies than new, deep audience insights.

If we fail to think as consumers we will create work that, despite being clever and creative, doesn’t always relate to ‘normal’ people on a genuine level. Forget what will look good in the industry press or win awards, what matters is that the reality of consumers’ lives is front and centre of our thinking. We must try our very best to see the world through their eyes and ‘be’ the consumer… and last Monday at an ICC Champions Trophy game (Bangladesh vs. Australia) I tried to do just that. Let’s call that version of me Punter-James versus the one speaking now, Marketing-James.

What follows is an account of what I mentally noted down as Punter-James. I’ve attributed times to make it easier to follow. But of course, Punter-James was watching the cricket, chatting to friends, and drinking beer, so these specific times are largely fictional.

Exited Oval train station. Every advert space is taken up by adverts for an Asian TV channel. Totally irrelevant to me but certainly noticeable due to the sheer amount of it.

Entered the ground via the Vauxhall end. Went to the first beer stand by the gates, a mobile one. The only beer served is Kingfisher lager. Weird, not something I’d choose but it will certainly do.

Seated and now with empty glasses. Agreed that the beer was surprisingly good. Shall we get another? Yes definitely. Nice enough to buy in the future. Better than Cobra? Not yet sure.

An advert for Oppo mobile phones flashes up on the big screen. Who are they? Asks one friend. No idea, I say. Don’t give them a second thought. Second pint is going down nicely – quite smooth, better pace myself on this Kingfisher stuff.

A friend cracks out the M&S snacks, some bacon and cheese sausage rolls. Deliciously unhealthy. I really should shop there more often.

Another Kingfisher? Whose round is this?

Bangladesh are all out. I notice that when there’s a wicket, a car covered with lights in the far corner flashes in different colours. Guess it must be a Nissan given all the branding around the ground. No clues as to why there is a car pitch-side within range of a big 6. Reminds me of a school match where the windscreen of a parent’s unfortunately parked Jag was smashed.

It’s raining and, after a few minutes wishing it away, we head inside the ground. Battled the queues for a coffee. They’ve run out of milk. Acrid and black it is then.

Back out for the Australia innings. One friend, a little bored, is inspecting her ticket. “I’ve never heard of MRF Tyres” she says pointing at a tiny logo. You and me both.

It’s raining again, hard, so we head home. Oval station is overcrowded so we walk down to Stockwell instead. A very wet end to the day.

And that’s it. Those were Punter-James’ interactions with brands on a rainy Monday at the ICC Champions Trophy.I’ll be honest, it was a sometimes a little hard to keep Marketing-James from invading my thinking. I had to stop myself remarking that (interestingly?!) Kia, title sponsors of the Oval, had their branding removed for tournament partner Nissan. And now, back in the office, it’s obvious that the Oppo and MRF Tyres sponsorships are targeting the global, largely Indian, TV audience through signage. Likewise, that Kingfisher was only on tap because they are official partners of the ICC Champions Trophy.Punter-James didn’t comprehend these things though. Naming rights partners on certain historic stadiums often don’t get cut-through – to him this had always been The Oval. The unrecognisable brands in the stadium were merely white noise. Irrelevant. The Kingfisher beer was if anything a nice surprise, he couldn’t remember what lager is usually on tap.In all honesty, the one positive sponsor experience I took from the day was that Kingfisher lager is pretty good. It was effectively a pourage deal, however, and I learnt nothing more about the brand. Perhaps some level of relevant experiential activation would have deepened my ties and sentiment towards them. Punter-James will likely still get a Cobra next time he has a curry.

In fact, that day I came across no real experiential or targeted social touchpoints – I appreciate that this Monday group game wasn’t the biggest draw and my experience may be unreflective of more important matches. However, there were clear times where Punter-James might have valued a brand stepping in; for example, during the breaks in play for rain. On a very basic level, a branded umbrella or poncho would have been massively appreciated. But more than this, a brand could have truly owned that moment. Instead of milling around for a coffee, Punter-James could have been engaged by a compelling experiential activation – one which took his mind off the weather and conveyed a strong, relevant message about that brand.

True, Nissan were doing something but it took Marketing-James to trawl through the industry press to work it out. If you’re wondering, it was, “An intelligent car that connects fans to the excitement of the live matches by reacting to the big moments in real-time.” It is a moot point how many fans felt connected to a car with flashing lights. This activation is reportedly part of a larger global campaign; although, Punter-James left the Oval none the wiser about this and with no inclination to explore it further.

I’m not saying this was a particularly scientific or objective exercise. Nevertheless, doing it reminded me of three key lessons:

  1. In all likelihood, consumers won’t have seen your previous marketing activity. A logically phased plan looks great on a page but the majority won’t experience it from start to end. When they do dip into it, however, a brand must grasp that moment.
  2. That moment where a brand interacts with the consumer – whether that is experiential, through content, on social etc. – must engage their passions and/or needs in an authentic way.
  3. By understanding consumer journeys and touchpoints, in this case across a day at the cricket, brands can make these interactions happen at the most efficient times and places. This could impact the sponsorship rights they negotiate and budget they allocate. For example, to create an experiential area that comes to life when it rains.

These lessons can only be enacted when you make every effort to truly understand your target audience. At Synergy, we work hard through qualitative and quantitative means to uncover deep insights about consumers. These insights form the basis of creative strategies across every channel.

Occasionally, however, it is good to go a step further and channel your inner Punter. Trust me, Marketing-You will be grateful. Compared to our perfectly formed marketing bubble, reality is a far more inspiring place.