I got this question by email the other day. I think the writer was hoping for a simple answer, but I’m afraid it’s not that easy. How sponsors evaluate proposals depends largely on the type of proposal you prepare and who you submit it to. So, I’m going to try to provide some insights for a few typical situations.
Sponsors always look at the last two pages first – the benefits you are offering and the amount you’re charging. What you put on the benefits page will telegraph to the sponsor not just what you’re offering, but your entire approach to sponsorship, and thus, your appeal as a potential partner.
You have a choice. You can go old school or customised, and how they are assessed varies dramatically.
Old school proposal
An old school proposal includes only as much customisation as can be accommodated using search-and-replace, and is generally based around only the four most uninteresting benefits you can possibly offer a sponsor:
- Logos on things, with the attending media equivalency numbers (cue dramatic eye roll)
- Tickets to things
- Some kind of hospitality
- Some kind of official designation (eg, “official airline of XYZ”)
That kind of proposal is almost always doomed to failure, because you’ve essentially commoditised yourself. You haven’t made a business case. You haven’t sold the real marketing value to the brand at all. You’ve simply said, “this is how much visibility, etc we can offer at this price”. Newsflash, there will always be someone offering more visibility, tickets, etc for proportionally less money, and the old-school sponsors will go for them.
More enlightened sponsors – and as a result of the GFC, there are suddenly a lot of those – will not give this type of proposal any thought at all. They are looking for customisation, creativity, and leverage ideas that are tailored for their needs. Sometime later, often after you’ve left months of unanswered voicemails for the sponsorship manager, you will receive the “all our funds are currently committed” letter.
Your other option is to do your homework (see my blog, “Don’t Send a Sponsorship Proposal Until You Read This”) and provide a highly customised proposal. They will flick to the last couple of pages, see some very interesting benefits – benefits you’ve listed because they support the creative leverage ideas you’ve thought up just for them – and want to see more. Even older school sponsors will have their interest piqued, because, frankly, any proposal that’s customised is already better than 99% of the proposals they usually get.
When you customise the proposal and incorporate creative leverage ideas, you shift from selling benefits to selling marketing opportunity. The assessment then also shifts from numbers to ideas. Sponsors love ideas, and if you’ve bothered to come up with some good ones, part of their assessment will be based on the fact that you’ve done part of their work for them, making it easier to implement.
Here are a few more blogs and tools that will be helpful in creating a customised proposal:
- Video Tutorial: Sponsorship Proposal Basics in About 10 Minutes
- How Do I Get Sponsorship for My Event?
- The Problem with Sponsorship Levels
- Five Things a Sponsorship Seeker Must Bring to a Sponsor Meeting
- 29 Ways to Ensure You Don’t Sell Sponsorship
- Sponsorship Pricing Basics
You may also want to get your hands on The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition, which has full instructions and a proposal template.
Letter of request
There is actually one other option, but it’s such a non-starter, it’s hardly worth mentioning. It’s the “letter of request”. That’s the one- or two-page letter a sponsorship seeker sends outlining how needy or worthy they are and basically begging for assistance.
These are often sent by smaller charities and community organisations, but that’s no excuse. If you are looking for sponsorship money, it’s not a handout. It’s a marketing investment, and you have to be prepared to be a marketing partner. That means work. You want free money? Put someone in a koala suit on a street corner with a bucket.
Who you send it to is almost as important as the content of your proposal, and can have a huge bearing on the process and eventual success of your offer.
You send sponsorship proposals to the sponsorship manager, right?? Wrong. A large portion of most sponsorship managers’ jobs is gatekeeping. That is, keeping you and your proposal away from anyone who makes real decisions.
If you send your proposal to a sponsorship manager, chances are, it will land in a pile with dozens, if not hundreds of other sponsorship proposals. Maybe the sponsorship manager will get to it, maybe not for months, and maybe not at all. And calling to follow up is, as you are probably well aware, about as effective as if you followed up by throwing messages in bottles into the sea.
If they do review it, it will likely be a very cursory examination, simply because they have so many others to review. Even if you send in a fabulous proposal, the chances of a sponsorship manager putting ample time into the offer to see its greatness is slim. Frankly, there is every chance they won’t get to it until after your event.
If you get a sponsorship manager on a good day, or if they have enough staff to put in the appropriate time reviewing better proposals, and they see how great your offer is, the next step is usually to put it in front of the appropriate brand manager. It’s that brand manager who will likely make the decision, although you could hear “yes” from either the sponsorship or brand manager.
The brand manager makes the decisions 99% of the time, so that is really your best option for a strong proposal. They are not nearly as inundated as the sponsorship manager and tend to be turned on by great ideas. Here is the rub: It’s not the great idea you have for your event (or whatever) that turns them on, it’s the great ideas you provide them for how their brand can use the sponsorship to change people’s perceptions and behaviours. Honestly, they don’t care about your event and all the associated aren’t-we-great blah blah blah nearly as much as they care about what’s in it for them, so you just need to get over yourself.
If you do the proposal right, you will have done your homework (see my blog, “Don’t Send a Sponsorship Proposal Until You Read This”) and spoken to the brand manager (see blog, “The First Sponsor Meeting (And How Not to Make an Idiot of Yourself)”) before submitting the proposal, so the likelihood of them at least paying attention is quite high.
If they’re interested, they will then shop the proposal around to colleagues. Sponsorship works best – and leverage is much lower cost – when it is integrated across a lot of existing activities, but that requires buy in from sales, HR, whoever handles your online stuff and social media, loyalty marketing, and any number of other departments and business units. They will want to see interest in using the sponsorship from at least a couple of other stakeholders before investing in anything significant. This process can take a bit of time, so you need to be patient. A good idea is to say something in your covering letter like, “I understand you may want to discuss this with colleagues or other business units. Please let me know if there is any additional information you need or if you/they have any questions.”
If they say yes or want more information, they will contact you directly. If they are going to turn you down, you may hear directly from them or they may flick that unpleasant task back to the sponsorship manager.
Here’s the thing: Unless it is a pet project, CEOs of larger companies rarely get involved with sponsorship. They don’t want to be seen being mean to people, either, so they usually flick the proposal to the sponsorship manager and it goes onto the pile somewhere with the rest of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
This is not a hard-and-fast rule, by any means, but sending a proposal to a sponsor’s agency is basically akin to sending it down a black hole. I’ve worked with a lot of agencies, and can tell you with all sincerity that most agencies are either threatened by sponsorship – its sexiness, its growth – or just don’t have enough expertise to feel comfortable presenting it to a client. In either case, it’s a roadblock for you. In other words, the process for evaluating it is to receive it and then bury it.
(Yes, I know there will be exceptions, but this is the rule.)
Sponsorship submission form
I cannot count the ways that I hate these things. Seriously, they represent the worst of sponsorship and should be avoided at all costs.
Basically, it’s an automated gatekeeper. It gives you no room to showcase your creative leverage ideas. Instead, it spits out an Excel worksheet with whatever you’ve inputted for how many logos, tickets, hospitality, and what official designation you’re offering. In other words, they’re designed for old school, least-common-denominator, commodity sponsorships.
That’s not the kind of proposals you create, so hear me when I tell you this: Ignore the forms. Do your homework. Go to the brand manager. If the brand manager refers you to the form, they’ve just told you no. Game over.
If you want the cleanest, fastest route through the proposal evaluation process, your best option is definitely:
- Do your homework
- Customise the proposal, including creative leverage ideas specific to the sponsor’s brand
- Submit the proposal to the brand manager
Even if you do this perfectly, you will hear “no” more than you hear “yes”. The good news is that, even if it’s a “no”, if you do this process well, they will always be happy to hear from you on another project in the future.