The Breaking Bad Guide to Sponsorship Sales

Blue poprocksI’ve spent the past few months watching Breaking Bad as I fly around the world. And as I’ve beavered my way through the episodes – currently mid-season four, so no spoilers! – I realised that there are a number of valuable lessons that sponsorship seekers can learn from Walter White.

If you’re not a Breaking Bad fan, some of these references may seem a bit obtuse, but the advice stands, so please read on.

Be sure your offer is in a league of its own

Walter’s meth is the best. Nothing else can touch it for quality, and that’s what you should be aspiring to.

Sponsors receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of proposals every single month. Selling sponsorship is not something you can phone in. In fact, you can be a good, solid average and you won’t even be close to getting their attention.

The good news is that there are so many ways to ensure that your offer is head-and-shoulders above the rest. The bad news is that you need to do all of these well, and that’s no mean feat:

  • Approach only very well-matched potential sponsors, and make that relevance clear
  • Spend the time to research every single sponsor before you contact them
  • Round out your research with a call (not a pitch) to the brand manager
  • Provide a totally customised proposal
  • Include target market segmentation and an overview of your marketing plan in your proposal
  • Include several highly strategic, fully customised leverage ideas – how the potential sponsor can use the sponsorship to achieve their goals – in the proposal
  • Offer interesting, creative, leverageable benefits – and no levels!
  • Sell with lots of lead-time and no desperation

There’s lots more to it – a whole book worth, actually – but I wanted to illustrate that there are many, many ways that you can get this right. Most approaches don’t get ANY of these right, which is frustrating for sponsors and is almost always unsuccessful.

If you get a lot of this right, you will get their attention. They’ll start into the process and think, “Now, we’re talking!”. That doesn’t guarantee a “yes”, but you will be taken seriously. And even if they knock you back, they’ll be happy to hear from you again, because they’ll know you get it.

Even better for you is the fact that getting all of this right – establishing strong relevance AND creating a vision for how the sponsor can use it – it will be worth more. You’re offering quality, not search-and-replace rubbish, and that’s worth more.

The book? You may want to consider The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.

Make your property a status symbol

Walter’s meth is blue. Blue! That makes it easily recognisable. If something is both high-quality and recognisable, it becomes a status symbol that people will talk about, brag about.

You want sponsors who are not only achieving great results, but who are so happy, they want to advocate the benefits of sponsoring your organisation. You want them to…

  • Tell their peers how great it is to sponsor you
  • Deliver case studies of the sponsorship at industry conferences
  • Provide case studies of the sponsorship in industry media
  • Provide short case studies that you can include in the addendums of your proposals
  • Offer to provide references to potential new sponsors

The end result is that, whether your property is big or sexy or not, you’re positioned as a premium sponsorship opportunity, because sponsors get great results and you’re great to work with.

Don’t compromise your audience

While the competition puts god only knows what in their meth to stretch out the quantities, Walter insists that his meth is sold pure. He won’t compromise the target markets’… er… experience… as he knows that will be bad for business in the long term.

It’s exactly the same for you.

Never, ever, ever provide benefits or develop leverage ideas that make the fan experience worse. Don’t let sponsors do anything that is intrusive or disrespectful of the fan experience, no matter how big the dollars offered. Compromise your audience’s experience, and they’ll hate the sponsors and love you less. Do it enough and you’ll alienate them altogether.

Own the territory

While most dealers divide up territory by corner or suburb, Walter dominated first with quality, then by volume and distribution (and attending bloodshed).

For you, there may or may not be a geographic aspect, and there will most certainly be no bloodshed. Instead, the focus of the territory you should try to own is your category of sponsorship. Whether that’s professional sports in your city or music festival tours or what have you, you want to “own” the position as the go-to sponsorship opportunity for sponsors looking at that category.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to be the biggest organisation or have the biggest event, but if you use the above strategies, you’ll make the alternatives look like two-bit hustlers with no real game, by comparison.

Keep it professional, but don’t take crap

Walter tries to position this all as a business, where deals are done and commitments kept. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way and there are moments where it all goes shockingly unprofessional very quickly, and mild-mannered Walter turns anything but.

But then there are Sponzillas; sponsors who bully and issue ultimatums and withhold payments and surprise you with damaging leverage, demonstrating all manner of bad behaviour. You should do your best to keep it professional for as long as you can, but at some point, you need to put on your black hat and turn into a badarse.

Here’s the thing: Your pitches, negotiations, re-negotiations, and the rest of your sponsor relationships should go along pretty smoothly. Professionalism, and a genuine air of partnership, should rule the relationship.

But then there are Sponzillas; sponsors who bully and issue ultimatums and withhold payments and surprise you with damaging leverage, demonstrating all manner of bad behaviour. You should do your best to keep it professional for as long as you can, but at some point, you need to put on your black hat and turn into a badarse. Only you and your organisation will know when that’s the appropriate response, but as an organisation, you need to decide that sponsors are your peers, who should treat you with some respect, and you’re not going to tolerate anything but. (Check out this blog on dealing with Sponzillas.)

Get ‘em hooked

Walter makes a living from addiction. That’s certainly not a good thing, but if you’re in that business, those people become your steady revenue.

In that vein (pun intended), you don’t need to just sell to your sponsors one time. You need to get them hooked. The way you do that is to service those sponsors like no other partner has ever looked after them.

  • Provide sponsor networking opportunities
  • Provide sponsor education opportunities (great sponsors = great results and easier renewals)
  • Initiate sponsor cross-promotions
  • Do and provide really relevant sponsor research (read “Sponsee Research that Really Benefits the Sponsors”)
  • Offer to facilitate leverage brainstorms with their teams
  • Be flexible with benefits, if they need to swap them around to underpin a great leverage idea
  • Champion their sponsorships at conferences, in social media, and in industry media
  • Provide a few extra benefits throughout the sponsorship, so they are even more effective at achieving their objectives

The end result is sponsors who are smarter, getting better results, and who know you’re always looking out for their best interests, and who wants to divest from that kind of sponsorship? Offering a steady stream of thoughtful added value to increase their results is absolutely the best way to get them hooked.

Need more assistance?

For all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.

If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, including training sessions for your sponsors. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.

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