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Marketing Matters... with Jill Downey, Managing Director at Core Sponsorship

Posted By The Marketing Institute, Wednesday 7 August 2019
Updated: Thursday 1 August 2019

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role.

I am the managing director of Core Sponsorship, the sponsorship practice at Core. We help clients move sponsorship strategies and negotiations from ‘gut feel’ to precision-based decision making by using data-led intelligence and bespoke research tools like our National Sponsorship Index. NSI measures the power of passion for sponsors, proving that sponsorship drives real return for brands. 

We give clients complete confidence in their sponsorship decisions because we understand both the value of sponsorship, and how to measure its impact. Every day we help brands harness the power of fan passion for commercial gain and we work with rights holders to unlock commercial opportunities that brands want. It is a thrilling area of marketing to work in and it is genuinely more fun and fulfilling that I had ever imagined. 

When I am not immersed in the world of sport or music or the arts, I lead Core’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy. Together with our incredible D&I committee and HR team we are dedicated to making Core a more inclusive and supportive place to work, where everyone can show up to work as themselves. At home, I have three adorable daughters who keep me busy, active and grounded and who make it very difficult to concentrate on whatever match or sporting event I am likely to be watching.

Why did you choose a career in marketing?

Following a science degree in UCC, I searched the country for a post graduate course that would excite and challenge me and bring me into a business environment. I found the MSc in Advertising in DIT, applied for it, made it through the interview stage and found myself on an incredibly exciting adventure. I began my career in Mediaworks, which was part of Owens DDB at that point, and I was very fortunate to learn my trade under the guidance of Paul Moran and Fiona Field. It was a wonderful place to work, and I caught the end of the golden era of Irish advertising agencies, the end of full service and the magic of creative and media working seamlessly together. 

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge marketers are facing today? How would you tackle it?

I think marketers are under so much more pressure now more than ever to be accountable for their role and every penny they spend. With ever increasing workloads and often decreasing headcounts, they are constantly required to do more with less. Their positions are sometimes undermined at board level where they often don’t have a seat at the table. As more and more customer sales and interactions happen through the digital sphere, roles such as CIO have overlapping priorities. Marketers need to get to grips with data science and proving return on investment. They need to get a better balance of consumer opinion-based research with real customer data and ROI metrics. The nettle must be grasped, or other departments will do it for you. 

What advice would you give to someone starting a career in marketing?

Don’t be afraid to speak up from day one and get stuck into the challenges that need solving. Find your way to working for a CMO or Head of Marketing who is passionate about marketing, someone who understands the power of brands, the importance of creativity and the value of consistent measurement. Seek out marketing teams who are not afraid to make decisions. Look for a company who will allow you to constantly improve and update your skills through continuous professional development. 

What makes a great marketer?

One who can make a decision based on solid information and gut instinct and who backs that decision all the way – and backs everyone who goes on that journey with them. Passion for brands is infectious - you will do your best work for someone who has conviction and loves what they do. 

What is your favourite marketing campaign of all time? Why?

Now that is very difficult. I loved the simplicity of Guinness’s’ Not Men but Giants’ campaign for their sponsorship of the GAA Hurling Championship. They elevated the sport and reminded us all of the incredible talent on display through our national games. It takes a special brand (and creative agency) to excite passionate fans like that and to do it with such simplicity and clarity, in particular, with their outdoor execution. 

More recently I love Nike’s ‘dream crazy’ campaign - its culturally relevant, on brand, brave and beautifully crafted. Again, it balances great story telling content, with incredibly powerful outdoor posters and it has transformed Nike’s brand ambassador work into more meaningful partnerships. Sport can be such a wonderful platform for brands. 

Where do you look for professional inspiration?

I am a case study junkie and love award winning work. I love pouring over the Cannes Lions winning commentary and looking up winners on their Love the Work site. I can watch video after video and marvel at the creativity and intelligence in our industry. I find myself gasping, applauding, crying and inspired to do better work. Sometimes awards are dismissed as vanity projects and are pushed down the agenda to prioritise day to day work. I think the discipline and practice of entering awards makes you better, it helps you identify what matters, and it sharpens your focus on effectiveness. There is a proven correlation between awarded work and effectiveness. And who doesn’t want to work on work that works?!


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