"Fifteen years ago when my Mum, Dame Pieter asked me to sell her event for her, I truly had no idea what sponsorship was. Just like I didn’t know who Karen Walker was and called her Karen Millen!! I was like the un-coolest and most out of the scene person in the whole fashion industry. Now I know Karen and Mikhail the trailblazers and lovely inspiring people, I try never calling sponsorship, ‘sponsorship’, as its partnership, and I realised I was never in the fashion industry! The event I was a brand manager and more for is a platform for the fashion industry.
So what has changed? I can’t tell you anything about what’s changed with fashion, other than I never make a comment. Lesson learnt from making comments.
A whole lot has changed with partnerships as brands discover that partnering with like-minded brands is a fantastic way to leverage one another. Done well it's one of the best forms of marketing and way more organic than a billboard that’s up for a month. No slur on traditional marketing here and used in conjunction with a deeper strategy it works.
The game changer for me was signing up Air NZ naming rights with the fantastic Jenny Simpson in 2003. I knew how to sell and had done a pretty good job bringing on new sponsor partners, but I didn’t really understand how to service our sponsor partners best and that a great partnership was mutually beneficial and how to measure that. Air NZ sent me off for a two-day session with Kim Skildum Reid, and I have never looked back.
I have been fortunate enough to be in a position with NZ Fashion Week to grow the partnership portfolio and brand while the event was also growing and morphing. Mum let me take chances and gave me free reign to integrate brands without too many restrictions and before we knew it, every single possible aspect of NZFW that could be sponsored was sponsored. The angle always being some cool way a brand can have some ownership of NZFW and fulfil a need for us and at the same time that brand feels like it was their idea. It’s a perfect win-win. The other big focus was how to maintain the NZFW brand partners and grow great relationships over the years as let’s face it by maintaining a partner its a lot less work than hustling for new ones. The answer is simple; it’s a lot of commitment and working on what each brand needs, respect and understanding of each other’s brands and honesty. I think the mark of a great partnership is its longevity. Although they can never last forever as brands change and grow.
Another interesting challenge faced by a big event like NZFW and a massive portfolio of sponsor partners are the designers and their whole set of partners. How does everyone get cut through and not get ambushed by their competitors? It's one if the main jobs of the person looking after partners to limit that ambush possibility. NZFW has strict guidelines for the designer but unfortunately the majority of NZ designers don’t value their sponsor partner relationships as highly as they should. Rather choosing to focus their attention on the fashion show, which is extremely hard for the designers' partners to get cut through. To focus on the positive, there are some brands doing it well, and the simple reason is that they understand these partnerships require a plan for a year and not a few minutes. They work it throughout the year and I admire them, they also appreciate and respect the NZFW partnerships and get that there wouldn’t be a fashion week without sponsorship money and support. To pick a few stars, it would be Trelise Cooper, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Karen Walker and Kathryn Wilson.
I now work one day a week at NZFW assisting with top level strategy and brand plus everything about the event as there is a lot of knowledge and learnings in fourteen years… What I had been noticing for the past few years with the brands that I was interfacing with that less than 10 percent of 80 brands had a dedicated sponsorship/brand person. Often a mix or marketing PR, PA and the person who decided it was a good idea. Because of this, these partnerships could be hit and miss and not a part of a bigger brand strategy. Too often ending when the passionate person behind the idea had moved on.
I saw an opening for me to be able to go and work with companies to help them love and understand their partnerships and grow them organically with my guidance. There is no one else doing what I am, and therefore it’s a slow start educating companies on how it can work. I’m looking forward to new ventures and enjoying NZFW as a guest and assisting some of their brands to get the most out of it! I’m sure ill have some different NZFW stories to tell by getting the time to stand still and see what’s going down."
BRAND PARTNERSHIP SPECIALIST