Bet on Black

Last week I was thrilled to attend BFUTR 2022, presented by TD and curated by the Black Professionals Technical Network. Accompanied by my colleague Hildah Juma, we were there to represent the Black Talent Initiative and support our friends at BTPN. 

The summit did not disappoint. 

Lekan Olawoye: Founder & CEO of BPTN, summed it up in one sentence when he talked about how TD “Bet on Black” when they came on board as his Title Sponsor. Indeed TD and a host of other tech-driven companies have wagered that our community is an essential cohort for them to curate. If some organizations didn’t understand this paradigm before this summit, Lekan and high energy host Nkechi Nwafor Robinson ensured they did. 

My favourite panel of the conference featured Searit Huluf from Pixar, Franella Ngaboh-Smart from Tik Tok, Shontay Lundy from Black Girl Sunscreen and moderator Sonia Oblitey from OkCupid. I admire how each panellist exhibited courage and ferocity to succeed. The critical moral of their individual stories was that the past few years have made them more fearless and less worried about how others interpret them. I support their collective maxim that by prioritizing what they need as individuals, they can better impact society. 

Mina McCullom, President & CEO of SynEnergy, was the motivational spark of the day, which we all needed late Friday afternoon. She called on the audience and, more importantly, brands to celebrate the achievement of Black engineers and not just constantly tout Black athletes in media. Her powerful message makes so much sense. If we celebrate Black success, it will produce Black success.

“Black is the new Black in Product Development” featured Intuit Product Development guru Shani Boston. She shared some startling facts, including that the US government’s Paycheck Protection Program paid Black-owned firms 50% less than white-owned firms of the exact specification. Knowing the challenges of Black entrepreneurs helps Shani lead innovations that will help them with their most crucial issues. Efforts like Shani’s and Intuit’s are significant as we know that without actual ecosystem change, society will never conquer systemic racism.

Betting on Black is not just for corporations, governments, or white allies. It is something any organization or individual can do today. 

Thank you, Lekan and BPTN for doubling down Black.

The Power of Belonging

Image credit: August De Richelieu

How was your Thanksgiving? Or Friendsgiving for those who couldn’t unite with their families. I am sure it was a deserved break to be welcomed by family and friends. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and also a moment to recharge for the last months of the year. 

This holiday weekend illustrates a conversation I have had a lot lately. The idea of Belonging. It is the theme of my talks, many one-on-ones and my conference. Belonging is the North Pole of DEI for me and the motivation for changemakers and policymakers alike. Belonging is the way to combat many of the problems we face.

When we feel we truly Belong, we are at our best. Our performance soars, our confidence overpowers, and our insecurities are long behind us. You cheer for your local team because of the sport and the connection with fellow fans. Your social media friends are the best version of a friend you could ever ask for and ways accessible. If you have been part of a start-up, you felt like it was home because the mission was so inspiring. That is Belonging. 

Image credit: Fauxels

My ask is this. How can you create belonging in our world today? How can you make change and battle through the noise? How can we all? 

You didn’t ask, but here is my answer. I believe in creating Belonging in society; we need to focus on five things:

We need to create equity. This pandemic has been elitist, sexist, and racist. Never before have we witnessed such a great divide, and it will only worsen. When some folks don’t have running water, breakfast, or heat, and others pursue tax loopholes, how will we create balance?

We need to amplify voices. It isn’t enough to put up black squares on social or wear orange shirts. The people with the mic need to help those without by opening doors and stages to speak with our support and conviction helping them. 

We need to reimagine ecosystems. When non-marginalized people control investment, software programming, and what gets taught in schools, the playing field is not only tilted; it is a minefield. Racism is systemic and pervasive in our ecosystems.  

We need to demand results. How long can we wait for things to change? Ten years ago, at the 2012 London Olympics, the women’s gold medal soccer match filled Wembley. In 2022 we are celebrating the same fandom, but have we come close to levelling the investment in women’s sports? No!

We need to protect our Belonging as it is one thing to be fearless in life but another to be fierce. If we believe in a world where no matter what you look like, how you move, who you love, or how you identify is essential, you need to be fierce because the opposition to acceptance is angry, powerful, and organized. 

Image credit: Fauxels

I was recently on a trip to the States and, as is my custom, ate dinner alone at the hotel bar. In minutes I wound up in a four-way conversation with a group of strangers. There was a dentist, a lawyer, a bar manager and me. That is how a marketer would have identified them. The dentist was a budding entrepreneur, the lawyer had a child who was transitioning, and the bar manager was adopted and searching for her birth family. So that is how a preacher believing in Belonging would look at this trio. 

Someone once said we don’t get to choose our families. I agree, but we do belong to them. 



I am calling on all of you who believe in what we do. 

I mean, honestly believe. I am looking for those willing to put your money where your mouth is. A belief that you are ready to stake your reputation.

That belief is that sponsorship marketing works. Faith is in its ability to connect with the consumer, impact perception, and generate interest. Are you willing to put our craft up against any other marketing strategy? More importantly, do you have a conviction that brands should integrate sponsorship marketing with all types of marketing strategies? 

Historically we have seen some of the most successful brands in the world utilize partnerships as a central nervous system of their marketing. As a result, these brands have paved the way for a sector flourishing today at unprecedented levels. 

However, your word, or mine, or that of your colleagues is not enough. Opinions and insights matter but CEOs, CFOs, and Boards want to see results. They want Proof that what we say works, actually works. 

For sixteen years, Dr. Norm O’Reilly, SMCC, and IMI produced the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study to help you with fundamental benchmarks to build your business case for sponsorship marketing. The study provides insights into usage, trajectory, and types of sponsorships. In addition, the study provides the foundation for brands to understand what is occurring and for properties to talk intelligently with brands. 

The best sponsorship marketers are leveraging the CSLS and adding custom research and strategic analysis from one of the many talented industry research firms, consultants, or agencies that comprise our industry. The utilization of multiple inputs allows them the platform to secure marketing budgets, internal collaboration, and external support to build results-generating campaigns.

As a leading practitioner, the first step is for you to participate in the Landscape Study. The study design captures inputs from brands, properties, and agencies alike. It is entirely anonymous and secure as a third party collects the data with academic rigour. But there is a catch. 

The more people that participate, the better the study. The fewer participants, well, you understand. That is why I entitled this blog—100% Proof. 

Suppose we have 100% of the industry participating. In that case, we know that we will have 100% accuracy and be on our way to convincing the powers that sponsorship marketing is 100% worth investing in on a year-round basis. 

You can find the study at, and the results will be shared on November 23rd at SponsorshipX Montreal (SPX Montreal | SponsorshipX), with a full report available online in early 2023. 

I am counting on your support. (Pun intended)



Image credit: Toronto Maple Leafs

Never say never.

Reports claim that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once proclaimed the league would never allow brands to have logo patches on team jerseys, but a pandemic can change many things. (For the record, I keep changing many pre-pandemic “nevers,” a dozen and counting as of this writing, so I empathize with the commish.)

Recently we have seen a flood of new deals as the league’s marketers shrewdly capitalize on the opportunity that the NBA started in 2017 and futbol began in 1817 (or so it seems). So the move by the NHL seemed to me like a natural, and probably more lucrative, by-product of their helmet logo test. 

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So today, we have a flurry of deals. Canada Life on the Jets jersey. Gila River Resorts on the Arizona Coyotes uni. Dairy Farmers of Ontario on the Maple Leafs jersey. Rapid7 on the Bruins jersey. RBC with the Habs. 

I have some questions for our community:

  1. Do you like the jersey patches?
  2. Do you think it was long overdue?
  3. Is the commercial value there?
  4. Which team and brand is the best fit?
  5. Which team and brand are the worst fit?
  6. How about some predictions on nicknames and memes that may result?
  7. How best should these new partners leverage this affiliation?
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I am old enough to remember when the rink boards and ice were clean and brandless, and thinking how odd it was when I saw European hockey, and they had ads on the boards and helmets on every player. Yep, that is a Black & White memory; due to its age, we didn’t have a colour TV at that point. But given the history of marketing soccer (sorry, Imran) teams in Europe with logos and third jersey concepts long before North America, it made sense that their hockey teams followed suit.

So first the NBA, now the NHL. Will MLB follow suit? The NFL? (I suspect not for the latter, given their TV contracts.) But the sports marketing world is shifting beneath our feet daily with NIL, Web3, crypto, NFTs, and sports betting. So is it no wonder those changes are now front and center for the fastest sport on earth?

The Era of Belonging

Image credit: Matt Sylvestre

One fantastic trend emerging at the SMCC Sponsorship Marketing Awards last week is that a new era has come into our industry. 

No longer are we blindly chasing impressions, and money can’t buy experiences. Instead, the brands, agencies, and properties that comprise our unique industry focus on Impact, Innovation, and Inclusivity. 

Whether it be Molson providing hockey content in multiple languages, the best in show program from BMO supporting soccer families in need or my client OLG collecting for the community, many of the award winners had a powerful intersection between purpose, cause, and branding. 

The awards shared last week inspire my point today. I believe we are now in what I call the Era of Belonging. What is belonging? It is that fantastic sanctuary where someone feels connected by a common purpose, allowed to express their shared passion, be rewarded for their effort, and feel accepted for who they are. 

The feeling of Belonging is what every company’s DEI efforts should be pursuing. But it’s far more than a CSR play or a social media campaign. Belonging is good business. Your profits will soar when people feel comfortable thinking they own part of the team, the brand, and the revenue. Your employee engagement will reach new heights. Your brand will become a movement.

This November, we will dive deeply into Belonging at SponsorshipX Montreal. We will hear research on which sport your consumers and fans feel they most belong to. Up-and-coming changemakers will detail how their social justice activities utilize grassroots communities of a shared passion for creating an impact far beyond their size. There will be classrooms to study sponsorship impact, workshops on doing presentations that connect more powerfully with your internal stakeholders, and interactive chats with marketers in the business of Belonging. 

Image credit: Matt Sylvestre

At its core, the sponsorship business is about brands creating opportunities for consumers to enjoy the things they love. Would the festival, the fundraiser, or the match occur without corporate partners or supporters, you could ask? But, of course, it is no longer enough to be about the simple act of underwriting. The sponsorship industry must do more in this era and all we are going through. It must help change the world. To create a place where no matter what you look like, who you love, or how you identify, you feel you Belong.


Three Years is a Long Time

Image credit: Matt Sylvestre

Sometime in May 2019, I walked off my SponsorshipX Toronto stage on top of the world.

My baby, the sponsorship marketing conference I had launched in 2005, was heading to Montpellier the following week for our first European event. We had just concluded an incredible event in Toronto partnered with Sick Kids with the inspiring theme Every Brand Has a Heart and entertaining sessions such as an interview with Andy King of Fyre Festival fame. France wasn’t the only destination on our minds as we concluded our TO event by announcing our 2020 lineup of events, including Vegas at the NFL Draft, Montreal in partnership with Athletics Canada, and Tokyo alongside the COC for the 2020 Olympics.

Forgive me if you feel my top-of-the-world comment was over the top. That is where I thought we were. 

I was hoping you could pause for a moment and consider this question. What was the worst of all the professional or work things you missed or lost during the pandemic? What was the program, promotion, or passion point you didn’t get to fulfill? You need to think carefully about this question through your 2019 lens. To consider it in hindsight will cloud it with situations during the pandemic that became situational lessons.

There is no question that the past few years have made me realize how challenging life is. Issues around mental health, work-life balance, diversity, and belonging that I somehow ignored have become persistent and meaningful. But unfortunately, it took the trauma of the situation to bring them to life. 

I feel like 2019 was so long ago. I was shocked at how emotional I was at the close of SponsorshipX Whistler a week ago. Writing these words brings back those feelings. It has been three years since my favourite time of year. Three years since, I have been able to host, serve, and commiserate with my industry pals. 

Three years. 

The mountains of Whistler called me, and it was an inspiring few days for me to be back among my peers. Nothing can compare to being together to share and support one another. If you were one of the strong seventy in Whistler, I would thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

I am a preparation freak, but I don’t think I did an outstanding job preparing myself for the moment of truth. I rehearsed my opening keynote and studied my Q&A notes, and researched mine—interview subjects. Even took time to deliberate over the flow of the event. But in all that prep, I did not once consider the emotional impact of stepping back on stage. 

I can’t lie. I am not at the top of the world. I am incredibly grateful to all who came to Whistler; I am excited to host more events. But a part of me is angry, and a part of me is confused.

The anger comes from missing out on those three years. The confused part of me questions why I am being so petty.

The pragmatic part of me says to hell with the past three years and the following three. If the pandemic has taught me anything, I should no longer look years down the road for personal fulfillment. But, no, we have zero clue what is around the corner. 

Perhaps the next thirty minutes of my life are a more helpful timeline to consider. The next half-hour may not be more controllable than the next three years, but we must enjoy today as tomorrow has never been more uncertain.

As the years have gone by, I am still learning.

Emancipation Day 2022

Image credit: Yazmin Butcher

We live in a country where slavery was once legal; women could not vote, and our Japanese population endured internment camps and swaths of Indigenous children taken from their families.

I trust many of you know that yesterday, August 1st, was Emancipation Day in Canada. Oddly enough, I saw more mention of Juneteenth, even within my business ecosystem, than Emancipation Day. In a typically Canadian way, I guess we have allowed American history and politics to overshadow our own. I am not surprised when people are unaware that Canada once legalized slavery. Perhaps it was because we were still a colony and not a country. Or maybe it is because we often don’t look as harshly at ourselves as we should. 

We need to. 

Any reaction to my statement being sensational is factually correct. Emancipation brought Freedom to my people. Freedom is a special status for any Canadian from new Canadians, non-French speakers living in Quebec, or a family who has been here for generations. Freedom is not a group of protestors waving swastikas and confederate flags and impeding others from living and working in peace.

Our country needs to think long and hard about words such as Freedom.
I can’t but reflect on the Pope’s non-apology tour of Canada that if I were Indigenous and not Black, I might not be here to share these words with you. These are words that I have written and spoken before, but they are worth repeating. I grew up in Orillia, near a reserve, and I am sure I was not taught properly about Indigenous history. Let alone I was a young child running around the same streets that others may have been taken from and sent away. 
Why is Emancipation Day important to non-black folks? I think this question should elicit a powerful rejoinder for any person in our country. I think everyone needs to understand that.

I have no time for the oppression Olympics many people play – “My parents came here with nothing,” “I grew up in a rough hood,” “Nobody gave me a chance.” But unfortunately, none of this equates to the legalized persecution Black, Asian, and Indigenous groups have faced in Canada. Emancipation Day should be more than a moment for Black people to celebrate. It should signal for you to educate yourself on what Freedom and fairness mean for the future of so many.

Those groups that have always, and will always, enjoy liberty and protection should work harder to understand those who have not and seek it.

C-tribe Live

It was a great honour to attend the C-Tribe Festival last week in Edmonton.

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Created and curated by my friend Sahr Saffa, C-Tribe brought together a compelling cohort of thinkers, innovators, and collaborators. I learned, I shared, and yes, I cried. 

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My favourite moment was hearing the magical words of Titilope Sonuga, poet laureate of Edmonton and a childhood friend of Sahr’s. Titi’s message of seizing power and having faith encouraged the voices of others who followed her on stage. 

Nikiesha Lawson, from the Black Talent Initiative, orchestrated a beautiful panel on Employee Resource Groups, featuring Emiliano Void, founder of nuwave Equity.

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I also enjoyed hearing from Dr. Robin Mazumder, a Vanier scholar, about how physical environments impact diversity, Jacqui Regenbogen from Sauce Labs on tackling DEI differently across global markets, and Deloitte’s Olaolu Adeleye teaching me what diaspora truly means. 

C-Tribe also attracted speakers and attendees from RBC, Innovate Calgary, and Mitacs, along with dozens of entrepreneurs and investors. While I only attended the Festivals’ conference portion, along with a superb fashion show, the event rolled into music, gaming, and more fashion for the weekend.

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C-Tribe is a hidden gem in an emerging gem of a city, that you should consider mining in the future. I share the C-Tribe Manifesto with you to get you pumped for the 2023 event.

C-Tribe Manifesto

We are the misfits, but not the misfortunate. 

The underestimated, but not the under-deserving. 

Rough around the edges, albeit the diamonds in the rough. 

We’re building a world that’s architected by more and owned by all.

A global village that leads with kindness and breaks down barriers.

A collision of like-minds where no two are alike. 

We are building different. Literally, physically and metaphysically.

A gathering IRL and in the metaverse. Built by the cultural and creative communities.

Celebrate culture. 

Celebrate diversity. 

Help innovative and creative people achieve their dreams.

To those still on the fence, tell them: LFG.

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Open & Shut

I share a curse with my friend Don Mayo.

I find it difficult to attend events without pausing to evaluate the activations, participant journey, signage, and layout. I suspect that we are not alone in this manner. It is probably a curse shared by many of us in this biz. No doubt we owe all of our friends and family we do this to as well!

Last weekend I was very fortunate to attend The Open at St. Andrew’s Links. The Old Course venue lived up to everything you may have seen on television or experienced yourself. Whether it be the milestone or the pandemic, the demand to attend this year was so strong the Royal & Ancient ad to resort to a ballot system for tickets.  I witnessed crowds of many happy attendees who were the lucky winners invited to join a record crowd of nearly 300,000 people. 

St. Andrews is a town of less than twenty-thousand, so the smooth hosting of one of the most prestigious events in the world is an incredible accomplishment. Calling the logistics smooth would be an understatement that does not give the experience due. The Open and the people involved deserve much more than that. From the ScotRail staff handing out free water to visitors to the countless volunteers marshalling the crowds across the fairways, they all deserve a standing ovation. 

This entry is an unofficial Scottish Tourism ad, and if the script for this blog is heading that way, it is deservedly so. It was my first time in Scotland, and somehow every single person we encountered was unbelievable. How can an entire country be s good-natured? Everyone we met from the Fountain Cafe on Grove St, where we had breakfast almost every day, to the young couple from Dundee celebrating their third wedding anniversary with a night out in Edinburgh, to the guest services team at the New Club in St. Andrews to the taxi driver in Eyemouth was the most pleasant, welcoming and gracious folks I have ever met. (PS  the “New Club’ in St. Andrews is a golf club founded in 1902. So relatively new by Scottish golf standards.)

Maybe it was the sun; we had a flawless week of weather; the end of BJ’s reign as British Prime Minister, which only came up every five minutes; or the aversion of a Tran strike; the people were happy happy happy. 

So, Mark, is that the secret to a great event? Have happy people involved? Maybe I say. The British Open was a smooth operation far beyond the logistics. The merchandise shop was a mall-sized footprint that felt like an Apple store for souvenirs. The Loch Lomond Whiskey bar execution was so flawless that you never stood in line for a cocktail. Lack of lineups also characterized the restrooms, the free onsite phone charging, and even the shuttle bus. 

There I go again about the logistics, but details done right with a smile are worth mentioning. Again and again. 

The Mountain Is Calling

What mountainous challenge are you facing today? Is inflation, talent shortages, or your mental health blowing directly in your face? Perhaps the mountain you’re facing is the one you have yet to recognize fully. 

2022 is your year to climb the mountain, but you can’t do it alone. I believe wholeheartedly that a lonely journey is a trip that will lead to nowhere. All of us need guides, mentors, coaches, and sponsors. 

I have assembled a cast of advocates for you to meet at SponsorshipX Whistler. I am thrilled to be back in real life with the conference magic we have created since 2005. So join us in the mountains as we connect, collaborate, and celebrate one another. I can promise you inspiration, development, and belonging. I can promise you that in spades. 

First off, our setting is magical. It’s Whistler during Crankworx, the world’s largest mountain biking festival featuring the Red Bull Joyride. It’s a magical setting with a bonkers event on top and a fantastic vibe for an exclusive event where you can build unbelievable lifelong relationships. Relationships that will propel your career, your brand, your company and your trajectory. We don’t do networking events. Instead, we do Yoga, Biking, Hiking, and patio takeovers. 

Our conference sessions are in gondolas high above the firm terrain, and our workshops are in the retail environment throughout the village. Oh, we have a conference center, but it’s in a grove next to a lake and accessible by bike from the town. Even better, we will supply the cycle for you. 

The venues are as unique as our speakers. We are going to hear about the future of Electrification from GM, understand how ARC’TERYX does product innovation, brainstorm how to use partnerships to create more opportunities for women in sport, and hear why RE/MAX chose the NBA. 

Want more? How about new activation ideas for Golf Canada, social Justice initiatives from Blacks in Sports Business, Black Beyond Sport, and Indspire. We are going to tackle everything from how to organize your sponsorship assets to tackling mental health challenges. 

I am so inspired to write these words to you. I believe in the power of connection and relationships, and real-life engagement. I think the relationships we build make us all stronger. 

So take the time for yourself to tackle this mountain; we will meet you at the bottom and help you get to the top.