THE BLOG
02/12/2013 04:51 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2013

The Other Olympics Success Story

The Olympics and Paralympics are now (almost) universally viewed as having been an unqualified success. From Danny Boyle's opening extravaganza, through a few bumpy moments over ticketing, to gold medal success for British athletes and a nation united in our love for Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and their team-mates - we disproved the doom-mongers' predictions of a national embarrassment.

One of the undercurrents of the sceptics' criticisms - bubbling to the surface before and throughout the Games - was a cynicism about the role played by corporate sponsors. Many argued that private companies supporting the Games was inappropriate - presumably preferring the idea of the public bearing the entirety of the cost - and sponsors faced angry disbelief over their promises on the philanthropy, greening activities and broader social purpose that formed their commercial agreements with LOCOG. Now that the glitz and glamour of the Games themselves are behind us it is time to take a scientific look at the extent to which those promises were, or weren't, delivered on.

One sponsor - Coca-Cola - decided to ask itself serious questions about the actual impact of its sponsorship. In order to do so, it asked Demos to conduct an independent evaluation of what its activities had or hadn't achieved. We have done so - as part of a two-year study that began long before the first race in Stratford - and today we release the results for the public to judge for themselves.

We designed a unique Social Value model to measure the impact and contribution of Coca Cola's sponsorship across a range of areas - its environmental impact, its work on healthy behaviours and its aims to contribute to collective efficacy in those communities that were a focus of its Olympic work. Our assessment was carried out independently - and on the (scary for any company) proviso that whatever we found, we would publish.

The results are good but show areas for improvement - our grading system, which measured delivery and impact against stated social aims - gave Coca-Cola an A for its efforts on sustainability and B's for its impact on healthy behaviours and community development. The activities we measured, our scoring system and methodology and an explanation of how we conducted our study can be found here.

More important than the specific score for one event, however, is a principle. Companies that make claims about the social value they add must open themselves up to scrutiny - so that public trust might be restored in their promises. A number of lessons need to be learned.

This process has highlighted the need for commercial sponsors to collect and collate data on the social value of their sponsorship. In some areas of Coca-Cola's activities it is not the lack of achievement that delivered the company a slightly lower score than might have been hoped, but rather the lack of quantifiable data. Companies looking to prove the worth of the social impact elements of their sponsorship - as all sponsor companies should attempt to do - will generate better understanding and a more complete assessment if they engage seriously with data collection from the very start.

In many cases this will mean being tough and clear with partner organisations and charitable beneficiaries about the need to record their successes meaningfully. This may seem overbearing to some in business, but on the contrary it is useful to understanding impact not just for sponsors but also for their partners - increasingly important in an age of restricted resources. No company would invest in a large-scale marketing activity without identifying how they will measure success; the wisdom of that approach should be applied to social value.

This lesson is not only important as a way of setting clear criteria for success at the initiation of a sponsorship arrangement but also when it comes to measuring success over time. This model of measurement is built to respond to the relatively short-term relationships that sponsorship of particular events can generate. But it is important that companies continue to monitor their long-term positive impact. Working with a group of young people can produce instant impact but it is also important to measure the long-term impact that companies may have had on those young people's lives; measuring the legacy of sponsorship can help to show the holistic social impact that has been achieved.

This project has helped to demonstrate how companies might seek to ensure that the social value of their sponsorship activity with every bit as much rigour as they already do the commercial and brand value of their engagement. Our findings show that Coca-Cola, having decided to allow independent measurement of that value, has much to be proud of.

It also shows how it and other sponsors might use better and more ingrained measurement of sponsorship's social value to improve the value they add for the money they spend. This is important because in a world where there is cynicism and scepticism about CSR and the value added by business, it is no longer the case that social value is simply an add-on to the brand-building, commercially valuable aspects of sponsorship.

Instead it is a key component of any successful sponsorship. Businesses that are clear, open and transparent about their social value aspirations and achievements will benefit from greater consumer trust. Those who fail to live up to our new era of transparency run the risk of being punished by increasingly savvy consumers. Coca-Cola has led the way in exposing themselves to independent evaluation, and other companies must now follow suit.