GM’s CMO Out: Don’t Blame the Sponsorship
By Andy Abramson, CEO, Comunicano
Some say ousted GM CMO Joe Ewanick departed over the difference in price paid by GM for a seven year, $559 million dollar sponsorship of fabled UK football (soccer) team, Manchester United, that compared the USA based global automaker’s spend to that of global insurance and benefits underwriter, AON. But that comparison may not be exactly fair as sponsorship benefits, terms and finances are more than about simply a logo across the chest of some of a sport’s most heralded players and team.
Dating back to the era of Phil Guarascio, GM has long had CMO’s who used sports to build brand and drive sales. Those “ad guys” tended to buy into and around iconic properties like fallen hero Tiger Woods, linking the golfer to their Buick brand or pursuing top flight recognition through sports associations that offered the company brand and deployable program benefits across the nation and around the globe. Buick and Chevy have been associated with Nascar teams and you can likely find Cadillac associated with a golf tournament of note somewhere. And when it came to local team and event sponsorships the automaker largely left those kinds of deals for local dealer associations to buy and manage.
The row and broo-ha-ha surround the sponsorship deal between Manchester United versus what AON was paying and the dramatically more expensive agreement hammered out with GM were more than likely very, very different. Given GM sells cars globally through dealers, the spend likely included many country-by-country specific programs, added media value and market specific programs so sponsorship would need to support two strategic business goals. Build GM’s restored brand and drive sales of specific vehicles in specific markets.
On the other hand, AON is a global broker of insurance, HR and reinsurance services. They sell and market differently compared to the auto manufacturer. That likely means the merchandise and media components were from the start like comparing a wine from Screaming Eagle to one produced by Robert Mondavi. Both are from California. Both have grapes from Napa Valley. But even the top end Opus One doesn’t come close to Screaming Eagles price tag. So while GM has dealers and customers who make decisions to buy cars in a short sales period duration, AON has the long sales cycles and defined process that is more of a consultant driven type sale than someone walking into a dealership to purchase a new car.
Another clear example would be corporate hospitality, a benefit that is found in most sports sponsorships from high school games to the World Cup. At ManU football matches it would be rare for an individual car buyer of a GM brand vehicle to be wined and dined, but it would be very normal to find the regional sales manager of Chevrolet hosting a dealer group, individual dealership owner principals and some of their sales floor, parts and service leaders. At the same time, GM would look at the individuals attending the matches as impressions and assign their value of what a consumer impression is worth, or in the case of this deal, what they are worth over a 7 year period, where a multiplier effect of audiences in many countries seeing the same property, at the same time, to drive greater respect and brand affinity. AON wouldn’t and doesn’t need the same reach, nor would they value it the same way.
Compare that to AON, whose sales executives would use the event as a selling opportunity with major corporate customers. Now add in that AON was also looking to “unite” their accumulated brands under one banner, and the United sponsorship piece fit well, especially when you discern that AON’s support of Manchester United appears to be focused heavily on the concept of borrowed interest marketing.
In essence, AON was building brand visibility and engaging in personal selling based on the visibility and matches that ManU gets everywhere they go while the far more expensive GM buy likely had to include more media and programs, and was executed years later AON’s first buy, and when ManU had even greater global visibility. AON was also using the sponsorship to building a team based culture for around something that was iconic, making their need to be as visible outside their own company far more limited to a business to business approach around the football team since B2B companies don’t need to spend as much as a consumer brand does on execution of the sponsorship publicly.
Those are very different goals, and very different sponsorships. So until someone goes line by line and compares the specific terms of the two agreements, it’s not fair to blame the sponsorship as the lynch pin to for Ewanick’s departure.
Andy Abramson is CEO of Comunicano, Inc, a 20 person, Del Mar, CA based marketing communications agency specializing in start-ups and companies in transition, with more than 25 successful exits in the last ten years totally over 1.2 billion dollars. His background includes integrated marketing, sponsorship development, sales and buying with a history of buying and selling major league sports team sponsorship, properties and events, building licensed sports property to the third most recognized brand in the USA and entertainment marketing dating back to 1974 and account leadership roles with a leading integrated marketing agency.