Event sponsorship in the marina sector in serious need of innovation
A colleague of mine at GMBA, David Lewin, and a man I regard as a nautical industry authority, wrote an article in July declaring the lack of leadership the major mainstream players have so far provided in the sustainability of the leisure marine industry.
And so it is in the world of marina development. Just as everybody acknowledges the need for innovation (a word that both gives hope and can benefit sales) and the need to team up for well-organized events by others in the industry, have you ever tried to get a serious sponsor for a given respected event? You need patience, remain hopeful, and be prepared for disappointments and elaborate excuses. Industry leaders with turnovers in the millions of euros (or US dollars, or kuna) would not happily sponsor a well-known international event for 40 or 50k, as if the sum will threaten their financial stability.
Everybody must protect their own interests, and part of that is to evaluate the return on marketing investment, but we are witnessing a selfish approach to marketing: give me more business at the lowest possible cost, full stop. Curiously (take it as sarcasm) the industry abounds with big mouths stating their contributions or letting know their interest in making a presentation in this or that marina conference, or asking publications to print their news, expecting to be done for free. We are not operating as a unified industry but as a scattered group of guys operating marinas, suppliers, or event organizers. The operators and organizers show some common interests and keep the weak fire burning, but it is not enough to catapult the industry to the next (needed) stage.
I do not agree that the wealthy must pay more for the sake of their wealth, but a contribution to the industry development will always be appreciated and be considered natural, as all guilds did through history, and sometimes it could also be directly beneficial for the benefactor. Particularly good examples are the factories promoting and sponsoring training courses: there is no better source for the future workforce. Large yacht shipyards like Lürssen invest heavily in lowering yacht emissions and development of alternative propulsion systems, while knowing that lots of people will follow their lead and guidance, without any special gains for them. In our case, contributing to projects apparently alien to our core business (like trying to harmonize the quality and quantity of the safety equipment boats must carry onboard) can have a general benefit to all nautical, attracting new enthusiasts by simpler rules and regulations. New enthusiasts mean need of more berths. There we are. Big marine industry companies are potential testing grounds of everything worth trying, and sponsoring innovation and knowledge would bring almost immediate results. In Palma a few years ago, Seabin was allowed to try the prototypes at a local marina, the marina financed some of the costs, and now Seabin is successful and known worldwide. The opportunities are there, they have to be identified and sponsored.
The marina associations could and should be working closer to reach consensus. Icomia Marinas Group has been developing interesting projects in the last years, including the Code of Practice for marinas in Covid affected areas and the meticulous description of different government concession conditions. The last World Marina Conferences have been very successful both in organization and the subjects discussed, but no association can get results without an appropriated working budget. Look at (ex) UCINA, SEABASS, ANEN. Serious associations cannot be depending on the charity of higher bodies (nothing negative implied here, IMG depends on ICOMIA’s budget and has to live with the associated limitations. That is a fact as strong as gravity. A reserve of funds to be administered by an international marina body (existing or new one) would permit the continuation of studies with a scientific base for subjects like marinas water quality and water renewal ratios, efficient energy use or pump out and waste disposal rules and new equipment. PIANC is helping us on a few fronts, but they need scientific data and not circumstantial evidence from a recurrent experience. We are using 30-year-old technologies in marinas. A good-looking pedestal is NOT innovation: it is a 20-year-old unit with modern looks. There are so many issues to resolve: pylon maintenance, service ducting, sea growth farms underwater, non-aggressive illumination, remote fire detection . . . yes, we have been lucky with the low accident ratio within the marina world, but to use it as justification to stall is an extremely poor and unjustifiable behaviour. In the past 10 years marinas in the First World have been related to juicy profits (not always the case), the image transcended geography and reached Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Shrewd businessmen have made marina groups attractive to trust funds which would buy and re-sell after a few years of good (sometimes pumped-up) results and most times a healthy profit. And with all that money flying around we still cannot get our big ones to support our evolution. Is it the comfortable lying back and waiting until the industry creates (in their own eyes) something worth investing in? Or is it the lack of control once the money is invested and the uncertainty that it will be used efficiently? Most probably a bit of each as both are valid reasons, and the lack of interest to change things from that side too.
At conferences and events, we have become a non-marketing police body. Tough, clear instructions about not mentioning anything remotely commercial in the presentations. Excesses have been committed in the past, and I was one of those who supported the “no promo policy” action at the time, but we have reached an almost obsession with the matter, to the point of censoring chats during Zoom meetings. Any extreme is bad, but what are we offering to speakers who (or who’s companies) pay their travel and accommodation and spend time preparing their presentation to share their knowledge and experience to us and for our benefit. We must reinvent the model. We must ask for support as a money contribution or event sponsorship but also must offer compensation to the individuals and companies that make all these activities possible. The easiest compensation is to give them the exposure they deserve for what they pay for. The pens, bags, coffee times and paper blocks are remains of a bygone era. By sponsoring drinks after the conference, most of us will be a bit wasted as result of the long day, listening to presentations and networking. At such times, two drinks cause a diminishing effect and a certain sensation of leaving the world behind, including the drinks sponsor.
Exclusive visits to factories, sea trials, witnessing laboratory tests, one day workshops with industry leaders would be remarkably interesting alternatives, a unique way to have a unique “hands on” experience at top level. Even if not everybody can make it at least the effort and opportunity was there to be shared, and those participating would become unofficial ambassadors of the experience’s hosts, and the example will be copied and improved and made better by other industry players. Most of us are good at copying well (not all of us). When we create a working system or protocol and it is presented during marina industry events, people implement it in their own marinas. As Renzo Piano, the famous architect said, “there is nothing wrong with copying, but you must copy well or better, what is inadmissible is to make a bad copy”. Everybody knows the corner cutting bunch.
How do we make this necessary change happen? I would identify 4 or 5 industry players from different sectors (2 operators, big supplier, event manager, known speaker). They can build up the grounds for the “new order”, and once the concept is achieved other players can join and contribute in various roles. Why 5 and not 20? A small amount of people will take decisions quicker and set a more agile pace.
The operators will be there to bring the discussions down to earth and keep everyone’s feet on the ground. The big suppliers will explain their company and sponsoring needs and limitations. The event manager will assess the feasibilities of an event and create new added values for everybody, like special trade day or database sharing or small TV production including industry known players. The speaker will contribute with time allocations, presentations order, and different angles to approach the subjects. Each of them speaking on what they know best. More members from other areas of the industry could be necessary, but the success of it will be related to the short number of members.
Are we ready for this? No, and that is the perfect reason to do it now. The soft moaning but keeping the status quo of things is a scary road to follow, it foments bad attitudes and makes us stiff and inflexible. We all are aware of big associations stuck in the limitations of the past and not being able to adapt to the faster pace of today, the need for understanding the changes to our customers (I recently saw “dungeon master” as an entry in the CV of a lawyer with an excellent reputation) and industries and to make moves that do not have a 100% guaranteed success. Calculated risk is what will bring anybody forward today. Unnecessary mobile use takes our time and attention, but we cannot ditch it or leave it at home because someone will be expecting us to answer a WhatsApp within 5 or 10 minutes, not 2 hours later. That was unthinkable 20 years ago, when many of us were in our prime, but that world does not exist anymore, and the only thing we can do now is adapt ourselves as much as possible to the new one and use that part of our experience that is still valid.
Let’s get together, put this to work, and create a future. The industry needs it desperately.
Oscar Siches CMP , GMBA Spain
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