Lessons from the Worst Sponsorship Proposal I Ever Got

Street signsI’ve been in this game for 27 years. I’ve seen thousands of sponsorship proposals. Some have been great, many have been perfectly fine, a lot of them needed work, and a few have been almost beyond help. The one I received this morning, however, was easily the worst I’ve ever seen.

It consisted of a short, totally uncustomised sponsorship pitch email for something that I still haven’t quite worked out, a business plan, and a confidentiality agreement. It also, bizarrely, included a half-page “loan” agreement, promising to pay back double upon receipt of some huge chunk of investment cash.

Thinking that this proposal fell into the category of “seriously misguided”, I sent back a short email saying that I’m not a sponsor, that this untargeted non-proposal was not going to get them sponsorship, and that they really needed to go back to the drawing board. The response was a jaw-dropper.

He said their search for prospects was “automated, through several portals online” using “sponsorship” as the keyword, so probably half our industry received this… er… whatever it was. He also implied that I should be looking at this as a moneymaking opportunity for my consulting business. Finally, he said that the fact that I’m in Australia was fine, because “in the United States like to use a well know system know as Interpol” [sic].

Okay, so as this became weird to the point of being comical, I was trying to figure out what our industry – and particularly the newer sponsorship seekers – can learn from this, and I thought there were several important lessons.

Is it sponsorship or not?

If what you’re looking for is a loan or investors or advertisers, don’t call it sponsorship, because it’s not. Speak to your financial advisor about how to find investors or loans. Use other channels to get advertisers. For more on how to assess what is and isn’t sponsorship, see my blog, “Are you really selling sponsorship?”

Be clear about what the sponsorship is about

The first thing a potential sponsor needs to know is what you’re trying to get sponsorship for. Be absolutely clear about the property around which their investment will be built. Is it for an event? A team or league? A whole organisation? Whatever the property, reference it in your covering letter, on your proposal cover page, and concisely describe it early in the proposal.

Make a business case

The Sponsorship Seeker's Toolkit 4th EditionA business plan is not a business case. A business case is your offer to sponsors, and is made up of what you’re doing (an overview of your property), why it’s a good fit for the brand, your understanding of their objectives and how they can use it to meet those objectives (creative ideas for leverage), a list of customised benefits, and the investment required. The formalised version of this is your proposal.

Sponsors don’t care about your business plan or your mission statement or the bios of all of your staff. They want to know what’s in it for them and for their target markets. If you’re going to put something in front of them, make it good. A strong resource for this is The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition, which goes through the whole process and includes a proposal template.

Don’t include a confidentiality agreement

I get this all the time and it bugs me to bits. “We’d love to pick your brain about our top secret event, but you have to sign this confidentiality agreement first.” Ugh. If you’re asking a consultant for advice, or asking a brand for sponsorship, don’t make them jump through hoops. Sponsors get a lot of proposals where the information is right there for them to assess. Why would they bother with yours?

And in case you think making it a secret makes it more desirable, it doesn’t. It just makes you look paranoid. Put copyright wording on the first page of the proposal and leave it at that.

Don’t act like an arse if you don’t hear what you want to hear

Don’t issue threats. Don’t call names. Don’t get on some high horse about how the brand will be sorry they didn’t come on board. If you’ve done a good job on the proposal, but not got a yes, that doesn’t mean that sponsor has written you off forever. It just means this particular thing wasn’t right for them now. Even if you haven’t given them the world’s greatest proposal, you’ll still have the opportunity to pitch something better next time.

Whatever you do, don’t burn the bridge. Sponsors have long memories and big networks, and if you don’t think this stuff gets around, have a look at The Fergus Cleaver Affair.


UPDATE 2 August 2012

Well, according to social media-land (and my inbox), a LOT of us got this and consensus is that it’s a scam. The dead giveaway was the crazy “loan” document. Even so, leaving that part out, there was still a few good lessons for beginners.

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