With a portfolio that includes Guinness beer, Sterling Vineyards wine and Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskey, Diageo plc is one of the world’s few global beverage companies with products in the beer, wine and spirits categories.

And the company supports its vast portfolio through a mix of global sports, music and entertainment properties ranging from professional rugby (Guinness/RBS 6 Nations) to Formula 1 (Johnnie Walker/Vodafone McLaren Mercedes) and music (Smirnoff vodka/Madonna).

Those sponsorships are overseen by Gary Carey, Diageo’s Amsterdam-based global sponsorship director. In addition to vetting opportunities, negotiating deals and ensuring existing partnerships are working properly, Carey and a team of five sponsorship executives serve as an internal resource for local and regional deals initiated by local brand teams.

IEG SR spoke with Carey about Diageo’s approach to sponsorship, the growing importance of social media, the need for properties to accommodate changing marketing priorities and other topics.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: Diageo is a global company with an extensive array of products. Tell me about your approach to sponsorship.

Carey: There are two ways that we approach sponsorship. One is an out and out connection with a property where there is a big affinity among our target consumer, like Guinness and rugby. Rugby is a real passion point for Guinness consumers, so it makes sense to be involved in the sport.

The second way we look at marketing assets is by using them to service our brand campaigns. An example of that would be Smirnoff and Madonna. We have an exciting brand engagement platform called the Smirnoff Nightlight Exchange Project that offers Smirnoff consumers the ultimate night out experience. We employed the services of Madonna to elevate the marketing platform to the next level.

IEG SR: Where do you see the industry going?

Carey: Too many rightsholders haven’t embraced the digital world. As a result, you have a disjointed meeting point of brand owners that are craving digital content and rightsholders who haven’t got a clue how to service them. Some properties have embraced that world, while others have put their head in the sand.

If they don’t embrace digital media and second guess where brands are going, there will be an issue with their commercial viability.

Another thing that is important to us are rightsholders who are flexible and can tailor their offerings to a brand’s needs. We try to get gold, silver and bronze packages off the table very quickly. We say upfront that sponsorship has to work in service with our brand engagement platform, and we want an open, flexible conversation about exactly what we need to fulfill our requirements.

It’s quite unbelievable how many rightsholders are like a bunny in a headlight. They don’t know how to be flexible. I think there is an opportunity for them as well. We can work with them to identify commercial assets they never thought of, especially with things like digital content and social media.  

IEG SR: Can you share an example of property that gets it?

Carey: The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team. They have come on a journey with Johnnie Walker that started in 2005. At the beginning the relationship was all about branding and building an association with the team.

Over the last seven years our needs have changed. They haven’t always got it instantly, but we have gotten to a point where we have a very good and productive relationship.  When the direction of our campaign changes we can sit at the table and explain where we’re coming from and the assets that we need.

It’s not always easy for rightholders to be flexible. Motorsports teams have contracts with drivers, and it’s not always easy for them to be flexible.  But McLaren Mercedes is a good example of going from an association with the team to Step Inside the Circle with Johnnie Walker, a campaign focused on digital content.

That required a complete shift in assets. Instead of a big chunk of driver time for TV commercials we needed 15-minute chunks over race weekends to shoot something that we can get to our consumers in a very short amount of time. McLaren helped us tremendously in getting to that place.