HSBC’s Giles Morgan on sponsorship in Asia: Still too much badging, too little engagement

HSBC's Giles Morgan in conversation with Jasper Donat

HSBC’s Giles Morgan in conversation with Jasper Donat

The head of sponsorship for banking giant HSBC has called on brands and rights holders to think more carefully about sponsorship to ensure the future of sport is bright in Asia.

Giles Morgan, the Hong Kong-based global head of sponsorship for HSBC, said at the Sports Matters conference in Singapore today that too many brands still see sponsorship as a badging exercise and less an opportunity to engage with their customers.

HSBC Hong Kong SevensTalking about the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, (HSBC recently extended its sponsorship for another four years), Morgan said: “The business parameter is client engagement. It’s a serious science. I see too much of sponsorship being a media buy, not an engagement.”

HSBC’s Hong Kong 7s 2015 ‘Fan Cam’ ad:

Morgan praised Samsung for how it used digital well to activate its association with rugby, “rather than slapping on a logo and then complaining three years later that they haven’t got anything back.”

“Any sponsor that does that deserves to fail,” he said.

Sports rights holders need to raise their game too, and get better at listening to what brands want to get out of a sponsorship deal, Morgan suggested.

“If we didn’t know what we wanted, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs,” he said.

And the jobs of people who hold the rights is to be ready to answer questions if a big business is looking to spend on a certain sport, Morgan said.

“Too many rights holders come in selling you what they think you want. Sponsorship 101 for me is to listen.”

Referring to his time working for marketing agencies (before HSBC, he worked for The Gem Group, which is owned by sports and entertainment management firm CSS Stellar, and sports marketing agency Craigie Taylor International), he said if he had his time again he’d “listen more”.

Good sponsorship now is highly targeted, and decisions are made at the most senior level of a business, Morgan said.

“Look at the Olympics and the World Cup. We’re talking about mega companies who are not just putting discretionary dollars into play.”

“The key is to figure out what you’re trying to achieve. There’s lots of badging and that doesn’t help our industry.”

“Let’s do it properly. Let’s not build crap houses, let’s build decent architecture that will last.”

Morgan shared that HSBC cut back on the number of sports it backed five years ago. “We were doing too many things, and we spread ourselves too thinly,” he said.

British Irish Lions HSBC sponsorship“It’s better to do fewer things really well, and deliver against them,” he reasoned, referring to HSBC’s sponsorship of the British and Irish Lions rugby team.

“The reason it worked is that we became the marketing arm of the Lions. They wanted us to help them drive it.”

Morgan was being interviewed by Jasper Donat, the head of the event’s organiser Branded, who asked him for this thoughts on the future of the sports industry in Asia.

“The future is rosy [for sport]. But given the importance of sponsors funding growth, sponsors need to get better at doing it. And rights holders are there to partner with sponsors and not just there to take the money,” he said.

Morgan said he did not think sponsors could get much out of staging exhibition-style sporting events. “I’m not an advocate of exhibition stuff. Sport is binary in my view. There needs to be a winner and a loser.”

Red BullWhen asked by Donat which brands were getting it right with sponsorship, he pointed to Red Bull and beer brands “in the markets they can do things.”

These more consumer facing brands “can be a bit edgy,” he said, adding that Red Bull had invented the sector for taking sport to the extreme.


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