Prepared to give it a go

By Nik Dirga

Sport has been the engine driving Nick Brown-Haysom's life.

It's taken him from ringside seats at a Las Vegas boxing match to the Sydney Olympics, and moved him to leave a promising career heading TV3 sport to start his own sports sponsorship agency.

"I grew up an absolute sports nut," he says. "I practically learned to read from the back page of the paper."

Founder and managing director of the New Zealand Sponsorship Agency, Brown-Haysom, 40, is the man who helps make sports sponsorships happen.

Since starting in 2001, the agency has gone from Brown-Haysom working long hours solo to now having five employees and more than 100 contractors working nearly every weekend at sports events throughout the country.

"Our philosophy is that a sponsorship is connecting clients with their market through something that their market already loves," Brown-Haysom says. "That could be music or sports or gardening."

Or surfing - in between running the agency and seeking out new clients, Brown-Haysom hits the waves as often as he can near his home in Piha, where he lives with his partner and two young children.

Brown-Haysom grew up in North Shore, and after university got a sales job with Mobil Oil New Zealand in Wellington.

He soon become their sponsorship manager in the late 1990s.

"I never even knew that sort of job existed actually," he says. But his mentors at Mobil Oil were "brave enough to give me a chance. It really helped build my understanding of the great role of marketing and communications."

"A lot of what I learned then is still of importance now," he says.

Brown-Haysom was exposed to events Mobil had a hand in like the Mobil Wellington Street Race and as a key sponsor for the Warriors.

When it came time to consider the next step, TV3 beckoned with a job as sales manager for sports and special events. He'd made contacts there through Mobil Sport on TV3.

In just a year or so, Brown-Haysom was promoted to the head of sport at TV3, where he worked from 1998 to 2001.

"At that point I was really dealing with the big advertising agencies and arranging commercial rights and sponsorship deals," he says.

One of the biggest events for Brown-Haysom at TV3 was the world heavyweight boxing championship bout in Las Vegas between New Zealand's David Tua and champion Lennox Lewis in 2000.

Brown-Haysom worked long hours trying to secure New Zealand broadcast rights for TV3, in a tight fight with competitors.

They had to manage Tua's preferences and fan desires not to have commercial ad breaks, orchestrating a restrained screen ad campaign with Lion Red.

Ultimately TV3 got the rights and one of the highest-rated programs in New Zealand sport television history.

"As a sports fan it was pretty amazing," he says of the fight. "You're sitting next to bloody Alec Baldwin and Dustin Hoffman."

The triumph for TV3 was a high point of Brown-Haysom's work there and also got him thinking about the future.

He began to consider forming an agency during a trip to Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. He teamed with original partner Chris Simpson, who is still a director of the company. They had the idea of creating a sponsorship agency that could take on a workload that had traditionally been handled either by companies in-house or through advertising agencies.

"I always thought that I was one of those people that wasn't going to work for themselves," he says. But after studying the lay of the land, Brown-Haysom felt the time was right.

"I'm not a naturally high-risk guy," he says. "There was a lot of time spent in evolving the services we offer.

"To get businesses to spend money on a new service is a slow build," Brown-Haysom says. He says the agency was more of an "overload resource" when they started, filling in gaps that companies couldn't.

The agency has gathered a roster of up to 18 clients and sponsored events all around the country. Their employers include Gillette, Telecom, TVNZ, Speight's, Qantas, Fisher & Paykel and North Shore City Council.

"New Zealand companies are looking to use sponsorship more and more to connect to New Zealand customers," Brown-Haysom says.

A three-part sponsorship program is the core of the agency's services. They offer consultations to help develop sponsorship ideas; media and public relations work, and implementation at the sponsored events.

And the agency's contractors work throughout the country at events manning interactive displays.

"Pretty much every weekend we've got someone working everything from firing T-shirts out of a cannon to dressing up as mascots," Brown-Haysom says.

One of Brown-Haysom's partners, Rich Hatton, came to the NZSA a few years back after working overseas in the world of high finance.

"It's where my passions are," Hatton says of his job. "I can get far more excited about working for a client and watching a successful sponsorship program put in place than I can number-crunching."

When he pitches to a company, Brown-Haysom says it's about "minimizing inputs, and maximizing outputs."

"Our basic proposition is that it doesn't revolve around spending more," he says.

When asked to describe his work partner, Hatton doesn't shy away.

"Two words, really - honesty and integrity," he says. "He's got no qualms in telling a client not necessarily what they want to hear but the truth."

The agency's work is "hands-on at every opportunity," Brown-Haysom says. At the earliest consultancy stage, the agency and their clients consider "how to bring the sponsorship to life then it's a creative process," he says.

The sport sponsorship market is evolving to include more than traditional team sports such as surfing.

"We're doing a lot of work around surfing with brands like Corona and Hyundai and Vodafone," Hatton says.

"That's the great thing about this industry it's not just cricket and golf and rugby. It's whatever you want it to be."

The ultimate mark of success for a sponsorship is advocacy having people at an event speak positively of a brand to their mates,

but if it's too obtrusive or obnoxious, it can turn people off.

"Underpinning everything is it has got to be good for the sport," says Brown-Haysom.

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