Help can come from Hell

June 2014

A few months ago the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) found itself having to defend a decision many including its own members saw as controversial.

The association announced to its nearly 2000 members that it had signed a deal with Hell Pizza to sponsor its Children’s Book Awards. Hell, as most will know, periodically becomes infamous for marketing campaigns that tend towards the savoury, if not – for some – singularly offensive.

Suffice to say the company’s talent for courting controversy was enough for some of the association’s members to opine that taking money from such an outfit was not a good fit. The organisation’s president, Laurinda Thomas, defended the decision, saying Hell Pizza had moved away from its “shock tactic marketing…and [is] refocusing strongly on strengthening New Zealand communities”.

She said the fact the company is focusing on working with communities and other social-good not-for-profits (the IHC and Wellington SPCA, for example) was “a key part of why we decided to work with them”.

Her reasons aside, I think the relationship with Hell Pizza is a great illustration of the benefits that can come when associations think outside the sponsorship square. Sponsorship money is hard to come by for most organisations, for many reasons, and frankly, with such a tight market, many associations may not be able to afford principles that are too firm.

And usually flexibility, with due diligence, is a good thing. I believe it is in this case. Businesses that get themselves caught up in a media storm can be judged too harshly without the full information, or, in fact, much more information beyond the easy headlines.

Hell Pizza could be seen this way. Viewed cynically, perhaps their efforts to connect with the community are a well-advised piece of reputation management, but regardless, it can almost certainly only mean good things for LIANZA.

For a start it means getting more support for the organisation to promote children's literacy and its awards. The connection to an edgy pizza giant (and its pizza coupons as incentives to read) is bound to attract the attention of the younger generation, which is all great exposure for LIANZA. Even the controversy of the deal, of course, is good exposure for LIANZA.

That doesn’t mean, of course, associations shouldn’t be discriminating about which businesses they deal with but it’s a great example of the benefits of thinking beyond an association’s usual bedfellows.

It’s also worth thinking about the other side of the association-sponsor relationship. It’s clear what businesses and corporations can offer an association – dollars, marketing and publicity – but what do they get out of it?

They can gain reputation (Hell Pizza/LIANZA) if a company signs up with an association that carries the perception of social good. They gain entry into an association’s “story”, a story that may or may not be – on the face of it – a perfect match.

But think beyond the surface – pizza and children? That’s a savvy marketing ploy with all the toppings.

A sponsoring business also gains public exposure when attached to a certain events (Tremain’s Art Deco Weekend in Napier) or competitions (Speight’s Coast to Coast, Dick Smith Auckland NRL Nines) that naturally attract media interest.

In turn, the association’s members have a compelling reason to remember and buy that company’s products over another. And a sponsor’s potential consumer catchment goes well beyond just the association’s member list, which alone can reach into the thousands.

Associations have frequent communications with their members, and sometimes their members’ secondary circles. If Placemakers offered the Master Builders an outstanding sponsorship deal, for example, I bet a good percentage of plumbers, electricians, roofers, plasters, painters and their supply companies would hear about it.

With their AGMs and regional get-togethers, having a relationship with associations can give sponsors the opportunity to connect with thousands – even tens of thousands – of potential new customers.

Many association leaders have great connections and networks of their own. Again, this widens the pool of potential customers for a sponsor who has invested in the relationship.

Coming back to my point that sponsorship can be difficult for associations to find, I’d suggest that maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Based on those points above, maybe we should be presenting ourselves as a great sponsorship prospect, rather than feeling we’re going cap in hand to corporates, begging for alms.