Sponsorship researcher Vera Limpens: "Ultimately, we make recommendations based on data rather than gut instinct; that's where our real strength lies"

In addition to her role as Research Manager within Blauw Sponsoring Insights, Vera Limpens is also known to her colleagues as one of the initiators of the Blauw Bootcamp. Having studied Kinesiology (movement sciences) she learnt how important sport is. So, when Vera is not occupied with sponsor research she can probably be found cycling, playing volleyball or engaged in boot camp. An interview about her area of expertise, the value of continuous measurement of a sponsorship and rubber ducks.

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You studied movement sciences. So how did you end up working for a market research agency like Blauw Sponsoring Insights?

There came a point when I saw a vacancy for a junior researcher in a job advertisement which included the word 'sport'. Sport is the be-all and end-all, as far as I'm concerned and I really enjoy doing research, so I thought it sounded like my sort of work! The thing is, I didn't actually know at the time that it involved a completely different sort of research to what I was used to with movement sciences. So you could say I got into this business by chance, yet I've been working here for five years now.

And you had to learn most things on the job?

Yes, René de Man took me by the hand and gave me confidence, more than anything else. From the point that I came to work at Blauw, sponsoring has increasingly become a separate team within Blauw Research. If you look at where we are now as a team, you can see that we've grown exponentially. What's nice is that I've been able to follow all those steps over the past few years at close quarters. To my mind that growth has been very gradual, and it felt logical to take those steps.

You've now been working for a number of years within the organisation as a Research Manager. What does that role involve, precisely?

You could probably best describe my role as that of a project manager. I'm the first point of contact for clients, I make sure that everything is coordinated in-house with the programmers, and I bring in third parties to translate questionnaires and conduct fieldwork. In other words, I'm at the centre of everything making sure everything runs smoothly for a specific project.

What sort of projects are we talking about here?

I'm responsible for the trackers of the KNVB, Vodafone-Ziggo, the Formula 1 and the Dutch Lottery. I'm also involved with the sponsorship of PepsiCo with the UEFA Champions League. The trackers make it possible to perform continuous measurement for those brands. Not actually around the clock, but that's possible in theory. Because if you just take a measurement at a single point in time, the results don't mean much. Particularly in the football world, where the smallest changes can lead to a situation turning on its head. If you measure continuously you can identify peaks and troughs, and relate them to specific events.

So, you can see precisely when a positive or negative sentiment arises. For instance, do you expect a negative attitude later this year when the FIFA World Cup in Qatar starts?

I think that depends on what a sponsor does during a period like that. Do you, perhaps, make no comment at all? That could, I think, tip the balance towards negative sentiment. During the European Championship games played in Hungary, in 2021, you saw that various sponsors incorporated the rainbow flag in their advertisements. That way, they were really trying to force a change. In that sense, I think that all options are still on the table as far as what the world cup in Qatar will do for individual sponsors. If you think it's too risky then, as a sponsor, you have the option of doing very little at all, as was the case in the most recent Olympic Games in China. In that case, hardly anyone will notice that you're a sponsor, plus you'll be throwing away millions of euros.

Do you advise sponsors under those sorts of circumstances?

No, It's not like we say: 'You must stick a rainbow flag on your LED advertising hoarding'. All we can do is measure the effect of them, for example, incorporating the rainbow flag into the hoarding. It's then interesting to see whether that sort of strategy leads to a more positive sentiment. Ultimately, we make recommendations based on data rather than gut instinct; that's where our real strength lies. We don't comment on that sort of thing in advance. But if a sponsor has doubts about a decision beforehand, then we can provide them with insights on which they can base their choice.

What are your strengths when it comes to conducting research?

I really enjoy immersing myself in data in order to analyse it. I tend to be active in the background rather than up front, so you're not likely to see me giving presentations to clients. I'm primarily involved in the research process. For example, consider what the consequences would be if we were to compile a questionnaire in a specific way. That's where my strength lies. I make sure that everything related to data and research is right and has been thought through. With any luck that'll help us to add a number of nice projects to our portfolio over a number of years.

Which clients would you like to add over the next few years?

I hope that we can do even more research for sport governing bodies. That's a personal interest of mine, projects such as those for the KNVB (Dutch Football Association) are the ones I enjoy most of all.

What is it that makes that more enjoyable than a large-scale, commercial sponsor like Heineken?

Just that: the commercial aspect. I studied motion sciences so I've seen at first-hand how important sport and movement is. That is something I'm firmly convinced about. If, as a result, you have the chance of helping a sport governing body, then that's certainly worthwhile. For example, we are currently busy with a survey for the KNVB regarding volunteers. I know how hard it is to recruit volunteers from my own experience with the volleyball club I'm a member of. Without volunteers the club couldn't exist, so you wouldn't be able to play the sport.

Is there a particular sponsor that you're excited about?

The one I think of straight away is the X2O Badkamers Trofee: that's an occasion when they line the route of the circuit with giant rubber ducks. It's amusing, if not absurd, to see the cyclists standing on the podium with one of the X2O rubber ducks under their arm. Other than that, though, no sponsor in particular. In fact, in the past it never even crossed my mind. Now, though, I can't watch a match without keeping one eye on the advertising hoardings. So, for the past five years my focus in terms of matches has been completely different. For instance, if I know that PepsiCo has a new advertising hoarding, my eyes are glued to the pitch-side advertising for minutes on end during a Champions League match.