Let me first start by writing that there isn't one way to activate a partnership. Over my six seasons in Marketing Partnerships in sports, I've experienced a lot, and below are five keys that I feel are important when managing a book of corporate partners. Each partnership is different and may challenge your client services brain in a new way, but my hope is these take-a-ways can help you be more successful in your role. Best of luck!
This may sound simple; of course, you communicate with people daily. Between texting, calls, instant messaging platforms, and email, people's communication forms in the business world are varied. Knowing how to ask your clients the right questions and relay that information to internal departments is critical. You may not be able to repeat verbatim what your partner told you—thinking about what your partner is saying and how you can communicate internally across every department is invaluable when it comes to your success. Internal departments are a big part of your activation toolkit.
We all know one person that "comes in hot." Honestly, I have 100% been that person (truthfully, I think we all have). Another "key" to activation is remembering that you need to get buy-in from everyone. Partners, internal departments, and the organization. Ultimately, how you approach a problem directly correlates with how well people buy into your idea.
Usually, working in activation, there will be a problem that will need to be solved. Whether that is - Brand Awareness, lead generation, or revenue goals, these buckets require you to be creative in solving the problem. Brands come to teams for unique experiences and to authentically connect with consumers. To solve the problem - you have to be creative with the solution. And when an idea is not working, you have to do the most 2020 thing ever and pivot.
"Take the time to read the sports articles about best practices and learn about how the economy and consumer purchasing may affect your partners' objectives."
This may be one of the essential items in this post. Honestly, if you take anything away from reading this, I hope it is learning to be adaptable. Even before a pandemic shut down the world, activators have potentially changed course if an idea or activation isn't showing results. To be the best brand manager, you can't be afraid to change a plan or activation if you feel it will not meet your partners' objectives.
The last key that I have found valuable is business acumen or "knowing your stuff." Understanding where your industry is going is huge for speaking to brands. Knowing your business and talking to your partners' challenges is a great way to show you are more than just a "sponsorship manager"; you are indeed in this with them as a partner. Activation is about relationship building, and part of that relationship is understanding both businesses' (team and partner) goals. Take the time to read the sports articles about best practices and learn about how the economy and consumer purchasing may affect your partners' objectives.
If you have read to the bottom, I am sure this may sound more like a TED talk than a road map for partnership activation. A lot of client management is people skills. You should be familiar with applications used daily (Salesforce, Inventory management systems, etc.), but at the core, activation managers are relationship managers. I have a mentor who told me, "you have everything you need to know, and the stuff you don't know I can teach you." You will learn the software and what internal department manages what asset, but if you don't understand how to: communicate, build a good approach, be creative (or solutions-oriented), be adaptable and/or develop a business acumen, being a good activator could be a challenge. Best of luck to all of you activators out there!
Zahra Giga is the Partnership Account Manager at the Sacramento Kings. She has spent 8 years in client services on both the agency and team side. Zahra got her start at an internship in corporate partnerships for the Phoenix Mercury/Phoenix Suns. She graduated from Arizona State in 2015 with a degree in Business Communications. She's also a mentor in theClubhouse and you can schedule a 1:1 call with her here.