Managing the Hardship of Seeking Sponsorship

Running on EmptyI got an email a few weeks ago that was just heartbreaking. The subject line read simply, “The hardship”, and the email went on to detail how difficult it is to be a sponsorship seeker. The exhaustion and disillusionment was palpable, and the saddest thing about it was that I know he’s far from the only one feeling that way.

This is a very tough business – there is no denying that – but there are a few strategies that may help you get through the tougher times.

Change your job description

Chances are, you see yourself as a salesperson and look at your job as a numbers game. You measure your workload and results in numbers of calls, numbers of meetings, numbers of proposals, numbers of yesses, and most of all, dollars in the door. While the bottom line is always going to be dollars in the door, if you frame your job as “sales”, you will be both less successful and less satisfied with what you do.

You’re a strategist, a problem solver, a vision-builder, and a creative. THAT’s the definition of best practice sponsorship managers, it’s what today’s sophisticated sponsors expect, and it’s a hell of a lot more fun than spending all day churning through some list on the phone.

Defining yourself in that way does require some different skills, and you need to be prepared to learn those skills, but the benefits to your bottom line, efficiency, and psyche will be dramatic.

I get a lot of feedback from people who have been through training with me, but one of my favourites is this one:

“I attended Kim’s Power Sponsorship workshop in Atlanta, GA and from that day forward, I had a completely different view of sponsorships.

Before this class, I hated going after sponsorships.  I mean HATED sponsorships, I felt as though I was asking these companies for a handout and spent most of my time embarrassed and contrite.  Not the best way to get someone to believe in your event.  Now, I know I’m helping these companies get through to their consumers.  I know who will benefit the most through the partnerships and I know how to help the sponsors help themselves.  I have such a great relationship with my sponsors now, THEY have started asking me what events I have coming up.  I live in a town of around 60,000 with no large industries – we’re a tourist town, and the same businesses get hit up time and time again.   I walk in with a proposal that compliments what they’re already doing and using our event as a springboard for their products and services.

My professional networking group recently asked me to talk about what a sponsor should expect from events and when I was done they were all amazed.   All this time, sponsors thought they were just handing over money to a charity and not supposed to get anything in return.  Now we work together as partners and what was once the worse part of my job, has now become great relationship building.”

– Debbi Grogan, Peak Events, Flagstaff, Arizona

Elevate your skills

There are so many outstanding resources for upgrading your skills to best practice. Probably the best place to start is to actually understand what best practice sponsorship looks like, and for that, you may want to download “Last Generation Sponsorship”. That should give you a “light bulb moment”, but you still need skills and inspiration. Some suggestions:

Know when to give up

When I typed that heading, I realised I’m a bit of a hypocrite, as my eternal optimism has trumped my good sense on many occasions. That said, we should keep trying to accept defeat when it’s staring us in the face.

If your event is one month away and you’re still $15k short on budget, you have two choices: You can keep trying to sell to people who think you’re unprofessional for even trying; or you can spend that time readjusting your budget, trying to amplify other revenue streams, and setting sponsors up for next year. Either way, you’re not going to raise that $15k from sponsors this year, but one choice is soul-destroying and the other is just realistic.

If you’re trying to sell sponsorship for a new event that you can’t imagine anyone actually attending, you’re probably right. Yes, there are exceptions, but we often know an event’s a loser way before we admit it to ourselves.

And sometimes you need to run an event just because it’s appropriate for the type of organisation you are. That doesn’t mean it’s sponsorable. Not everything has the critical mass or marketing sexiness to attract sponsorship, and your need has nothing to do with it. Instead of knocking yourself out, either work on reinventing the event or – even better – just concentrate your efforts on your most commercial properties and raise as much as you can from them, shunting the extra cash to your less sexy events. (See “Sponsorship Sales Rule #1: Sell What Sells, Not What You Need Money For”.)

Get realistic

Even if your skills are outstanding and you do everything perfectly, you will hear “no” more than you hear “yes”. That is part and parcel of this industry.

Don’t beat yourself up over the “nos”. If you have taken a creative, best practice approach, chances are you will be welcome to pitch that sponsor for another event or some other angle – if not for this year, then for next. That’s not a great outcome, but it’s not bad, either.

Go for the low-hanging fruit

Selling sponsorship is as much about confidence as anything else, and you need some wins.

If you’ve got some sponsors and they’re happy…

  • Work with them to reinvent their sponsorship at a higher level – strategy and creativity at work!
  • Ask them for referrals to other potential sponsors.
  • If one of them is a retailer, ask if they can suggest any of their vendors that would be appropriate sponsors.

If your event is brand new, sorry, but you’re out of luck on this one!

Seeking sponsorship is hard work, can be fruitless for long stretches, and there are a lot of expectations for you to perform – expectations often set by people who have no idea what sponsorship is about or what sponsors need. That could be a recipe for disaster, or it could be the impetus you need to change the game. Don’t wait until you’re despondent. Change the game now.

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

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