A few years ago, when Bear Grylls took over from Mike Rowe as my favourite Discovery Channel hunk, I never thought I’d see the day that Man vs Wild would be gone. It is, but I think we can all agree that we’ve learned a lot: Colourful caterpillars are poisonous; pull the stingers off scorpions before you eat them; and it is possible (though unpleasant) to sleep inside of a camel carcass.
What we would have also noticed is that no matter where he is, there is a process he goes through to get himself safely back to civilisation. That process, as it happens, very closely mirrors the process for renewing a sponsor. So, with that in mind, I’ve created The Bear Grylls Guide to Sponsorship Renewals.
Figure out where you are
Bear Grylls has any manner of ways to figure out which way is north and which way is likely to lead to rescue, and like Bear, before you do anything else, you need to take a realistic assessment of where you are. Be as objective as you possible can and ask yourself and your team…
- Have you done a good job at servicing the sponsor?
- Have you added value to the relationship? Been responsive?
- Have you asked the hard questions about the sponsorship and encouraged unvarnished feedback?
- Are they measuring their real results or relying on simple mechanism measures provided by you?
- Is the sponsor getting more or less engaged?
- Has the investment simply run its course? Or is there room for reinvention?
- Have the sponsors given any indication they may exit? (You may benefit from reading this blog.)
This is the most crucial step in this process, as if you go into a renewal blind, or worse, just assuming everything is peachy-keen, you may well get yourself into a more stressful, strife-filled situation than you started.
Make a plan or three
Bear Grylls makes plans, then he backs himself. If it doesn’t work out as planned, he has a fall-back position, and he goes for that with just as much vigour. So, based on your assessment, you need to create a realistic plan for renewing the sponsorship.
If your assessment of the situation isn’t great, and it’s at least partly your fault, your plan needs to include:
- Owning up to your part of the issues.
- Outlining how you have addressed those issues and ensured a renewal won’t be a repeat performance.
If there has been a lack of engagement, leverage, and/or measurement on the part of the sponsor, or you are trying to shift them to a higher/larger sponsorship, your plan needs to include an offer of reinvention. You should offer to work with them to develop a great leverage plan, and work with them to create a strong measurement plan off the back of that. Offer to do all of that before you renegotiate. This will create some vision on their part and you will be able to negotiate for the exact benefits they need to make it happen. This also demonstrates that you are willing to invest in their results before they re-sign.
If you think there is a chance the negotiation could go pear-shaped enough that you could lose the sponsor altogether, you need a fall-back position. That fall-back position needs to be strategic, forward-thinking, and devoid of guilt. You need to decide whether you would be best off letting them go or renegotiating to a smaller sponsorship for a while or some other option. Those options should not include threats or “playing hardball”. Either you can cooperatively work together or you can’t.
Know what you’ve got to work with
Bear Grylls is forever pulling apart his parachute for parts, will use almost anything he finds, and always carries around a knife big enough to fell a tree. In short, he’s resourceful, and chances are you have a lot more creative, interesting benefits at your fingertips than you think.
The sponsorship equivalent of the huge, all-purpose knife is your inventory of benefits. This should be a giant list of all of the benefits you could possibly provide to a sponsor, depending on their needs and the scope of the sponsorship. You would never offer everything on the inventory to a sponsor, as no sponsor needs all of those benefits, nor would you offer some of your biggest, best benefits (eg, naming rights) to just any sponsor or for too little money. These are just options, but knowing what you have to work with does expand your options for getting through a renewal with a positive outcome.
To give you a huge running start on your inventory, download a copy of my Generic Inventory from the Free Articles and Tools page of this website. That’s one of the dozens of tools included in The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
Take calculated risks
You don’t want to lose a sponsor and Bear Grylls doesn’t want to die. The thing is, both you and Bear need to take some risks to achieve your goals. The key is to know the difference between a calculated risk and a stupid risk.
A stupid risk is to invoke threats…
“If you don’t renew, we’ll just go to the media and tell them that you’re leaving us high and dry.”
“Take it, or we’ll just go to your competition. They’re already sniffing around.”
“If you don’t renew, we won’t be able to provide services to 5000 children in the community this year. Think of the children. Think of the children!!”
Sponsors aren’t interested in being partnered with game-players. Keep it strategic and businesslike, but don’t sell yourself short.
One of the areas where sponsorship seekers play it way too safe is in the area of first right of refusal. In basic terms, first right of refusal gives a current sponsor the first option to say yes to a new sponsorship, before you shop it around to their competitors. It does not mean you are obligated to renew them at the same level, if that level is no longer appropriate.
If, for instance, you are trying to graduate a small sponsor into a larger sponsorship that’s more commensurate with their needs, size, or category, you may decide it’s worth the risk to just say, “We’ve done a review and determined that a telecommunications sponsor should be positioned higher in the sponsorship hierarchy.” You can then give them first option to take up a strong, customised proposal at that more appropriate level, knowing that if they don’t go for it, the revenue they bring in now will be easily replaced and the opportunity is then open for a bigger, better sponsor in that category.
As any fan of Man vs Wild knows, sometimes Plan A just doesn’t work out, and sponsorship renewals are exactly the same.
If a sponsor isn’t receptive to your offer, you need to regroup and do it fast. Do a quick debrief to find out:
- What are their specific issues?
- Are the issues with the offer, with their relationship with you or your organisation, or both?
- If it’s the offer that’s the problem, what are they trying to accomplish, or who are they trying to reach, that isn’t addressed in your first offer?
- If their issues are with the relationship, are there any circumstances where they would consider renewing?
Depending on the feedback you get, you could go back to the drawing board and create a new offer, or you could just decide that it probably isn’t worth the effort and it’s time to move on.
Sometimes you’ve got to eat the bug
I’m pretty sure Bear Grylls doesn’t really like eating bugs. (And I’m damn sure his wife isn’t crash hot on kissing him after he has!) But he does it because sometimes survival means doing things you would never otherwise consider.
In sponsorship renewal terms, that is either accepting defeat or realising that renewing that sponsor will do more harm than good, in the long term. Why?
- Sometimes your lack of good servicing has broken the relationship beyond repair.
- Some sponsors want way too much for way too little.
- Some sponsors will only renew if they get benefits that will diminish your target markets’ experience.
- Sometimes the sponsor has lost internal support for the investment.
- Some sponsors will blame you for a lack of results last time, even though that was down to their own lack of good leverage.
- Sometimes a new decision-maker (or budget) is making indiscriminate choices.
- Sometimes you’ve burned the bridge.
- Sometimes they’re just being jerks.
In any case, having a sponsor not renew (or choosing not to renew a sponsor) is something that happens to everyone. Accept it with grace, whinge about it in private, and move on. This is a great industry and with the right approach and attitude, there are always other opportunities to be had.
Need more assistance?
If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, 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
Photo by Samantha Henneke
© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.