Around mid-2016, I wrote a similar blog for corporate sponsors, giving them the hallmarks of each generation of sponsorship, how that is affecting their results, and what to do about it.
Just like sponsors, a sponsorship seeker’s generation can have a profound effect on how much sponsorship you raise and retain. Your approach will tell a sponsor…
- How sophisticated you are
- How easy you’ll be to work with
- How much you know or care about their needs
- How much you understand the real value of what you have to offer
- Whether you understand the actual mechanics of sponsorship – what a sponsor has to do to make a sponsorship work, and how long that takes
If you’re struggling, chances are it’s because your skills or organisational approach aren’t up to date. This isn’t the end of the world, and it’s not actually difficult to shift to best practice. But before you can power up your sponsorship, you are going to need to rewire – how much or how little will depend on which generation you currently are.
First generation sponsorship is primarily driven by visibility, and as a sponsorship seeker, you’re selling with the mindset that the sponsor will be getting a result just by being there and being visible, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
You are a first generation sponsorship seeker if any of the following are true:
- You use the words “awareness” or “exposure” anywhere in the proposal or your cover letter
- All the places you’re going to put the sponsor’s logo and/or name are first on the benefits list
- The benefits you are providing is limited to only low-value, commodity benefits: Logos on things, tickets to things, some kind of hospitality, some kind of official designation, and maybe someplace to display or sell (eg, a stand at a festival or conference)
- All of your proposals are the same, with just a search-and-replace changing one sponsor’s brand to another
- You offer levels (eg, gold-silver-bronze), with varying amounts of those commodity benefits
- You have put little or no thought as to how any given sponsor could use the sponsorship to achieve their marketing objectives
- You are sending out proposals in bulk
- You are routinely seeking sponsorship within six months of the start of your event/season/etc
If ANY of this looks familiar, you need a major overhaul of your approach. Sponsors – 99% of them anyway – are way past being preoccupied with visibility. In addition, research has disproven any link between visibility (awareness and/or exposure) and changing perceptions and behaviours – also known as “marketing” – in major academic studies going back to 1991.
So please here me when I say this to you: Visibility is the least valuable thing you can provide to a sponsor, and if it’s a major anchor of your offer, you will look like an unsophisticated, low-value option. When sponsors have so many options, that’s basically signing your sponsorship program’s death warrant.
The major hallmark of second generation sponsorship is short-term thinking, usually focussed on sales. Most second generation sponsorship seekers have some of the first generation hallmarks, mixed with some of these:
- Your main pitch is how they can sell stuff (products, services) to your attendees
- Your pitch is heavy with sampling, couponing, ads in programs, on-site sales, and similar. A classic offer is one giant prize, with the suggestion that the sponsor can use it as a sales promotion anchor
- The sales opportunity is framed by the time and geography of your event (eg, one weekend in Kansas City)
It’s a step up from first generation, in that you’re actually recommending doing something with the sponsorship, but if that “something” looks like the above, you’re vastly limiting your value to a sponsor, and sit squarely in second generation.
I’m not saying that a sales promotion is necessarily a bad idea – although one giant prize for one person is definitely not best practice – but what you’re really selling is the opportunity for sponsors to connect with people in a meaningful way through something they already care about. That’s a big deal, and can change people’s perceptions and behaviours over the long term, as well as short. If all you’re pitching is short-term returns, you’re diminishing your value by a long measure.
The major driver for third generation is brand needs. This is a big step up from first or second gen, in that your pitch will likely be customised and have a range of leverage ideas – ideas for how the sponsor can achieve their marketing objectives. These objectives will include both long- and short-term objectives, and may well include fans that don’t attend, as well as those that do.
This is all great, but the issue with third generation is that, at its core, it’s selfish, and every time you sell something to a sponsor that allows them to intrude on or otherwise diminish a fan experience, your fans notice. They don’t appreciate it, they don’t appreciate you, and they don’t appreciate the sponsor. And if you do it enough, and you start alienating fans.
So, if your offers include any of the below, you’ve still got a lot to learn:
- You talk about how the sponsorship aligns the sponsor with your property and/or they can borrow or transfer traits of your property onto their brand (fit, cool, luxury, etc)
- You offer benefits and leverage ideas that you know aren’t great for the fans (and if you were a fan, you wouldn’t appreciate)
- You focus your leverage ideas on the in-event experience, so that the in-person fan experience is wall-to-wall sponsorship. (This acts as an incentive for sponsors to be ever more obnoxious to compete with the clutter.)
Last Generation Sponsorship
Yeah, okay… so it’s fourth generation. But it’s also last, because the focal point is finally in the right place, and that won’t change.
The driving force behind Last Generation Sponsorship is that the fans come first, and your approach as a sponsorship seeker will be built around the following framework:
- You understand that the sponsor doesn’t want to connect with your property, but with people who care about the property (fans)
- You can have fans who attend every event (or whatever), remote fans, who may never actually attend, and lots of people who are fans of the larger themes around your property, such as the motorsport, rugby, self-improvement, children’s health, or performance art.
- The leverage ideas you feed to the sponsor are primarily about how they can add value to the fan experience, at all levels, creating small, meaningful “wins” for all or most of a market
If this looks like your approach, congratulations. You’re probably converting a much higher proportion of prospects, and retaining a higher proportion of renewals, than most other properties.
What if you aren’t Last Generation?
If you’ve got through this and realised you need a rewire, don’t delay in doing it. Every day you’re out seeking and managing sponsorship the old way, you’re underselling yourself and making budget targets harder to achieve.
Getting to best practice isn’t actually difficult. You just need to be willing to let go of old habits, and seek out instruction and examples of how it’s done well. A good place to start is this blog, which has over 250 how-to articles. If that seems a little overwhelming, here are two roundups of must-read blogs for sponsorship seekers:
- 29+ Proposal Development Resources for Sponsorship Seekers
- 41+ Sponsorship Sales Resources for Sponsorship Seekers
I also recommend a bunch of other great sponsorship bloggers.
For the whole process in step-by-step order, with all the checklists and templates you’ll need, get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition. And if you need a crash course, seek out some top quality sponsorship training. I’ve got workshops coming up in June and you can get more information and download a brochure right here.
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, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, you might look into the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265
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