Sponsorship Rejection: The Importance of Being Gracious in Defeat

I do a lot of workshops – I’m in the middle of a tour right now – and in every workshop for sponsorship seekers, I tell them two things:

  • Even if you sell sponsorship perfectly, you’ll hear “no” more than you’ll hear “yes”.
  • When you get a “no”, don’t take it personally, because it’s not. Be gracious and discuss ways you may be able to work together in the future. If you’ve done your pitch well and accepted the strategic decision not to go forward, the sponsor will be open to hearing from you again.

I also warn them of the dangers of behaving badly, because sponsors do talk – even sponsors who are in direct competition. They always get this look, like “yeah right, competitors talk”, but oh how wrong they are.

This was illustrated in spectacular fashion just this week in what is referred to as the Fergus Cleaver Affair – a one-word response to a sponsorship rejection that spread through every major sponsor in New Zealand and Australia in a matter of days. I was actually in NZ doing workshops at the time, and received the email chain at least half a dozen times. If I were to add up all of the people in just those email chains I received, and take away the duplicates, there would be at least 250 separate decision-makers and influencers who had heard about it.

So, for all you doubters, I have run through the emails below. I am providing them simply to illustrate how sponsors really do know and communicate with each other – even competitors – and how fast word can spread if you do the wrong thing. I’m not saying for a second that sometimes a sponsor doesn’t really deserve a good telling off – however, probably not how Mr Cleaver has done it – but I want to make it very clear what could happen if you don’t manage to control yourself.

You should know that Fergus Cleaver is blaming the email on hackers. So far, I can’t find anyone who believes him, but there you go.

I’ve blurred emails, phone numbers, and such, even though this whole trail and a lot more is posted all over the web unedited. At the same time I’m trying to illustrate the lesson to be learned, I don’t want to make it worse.

This was the pitch email:


This was the response from DB, brewers of Tiger Beer in NZ:


This is the email that started the furor. I have to say, I would have been pretty furious, too:


And Ms Isaac’s response:


And it gets forwarded… and forwarded… and forwarded. Here are just a couple:



So if you’ve ever been tempted to let a sponsor have it, please don’t. It’s not worth it. Your response to rejection may not go viral, but it probably will go somewhere. Remember the Fergus Cleaver Affair.

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

Comments are closed.