Sad, but true… there is not an infinite pool of sponsor money. And when “something big” comes along, it can be a game changer, at least for a period of time.
What constitutes “something big”? It is usually either a mega-event – along the lines of the Olympics or a World Cup. It can also be a disaster – like an earthquake, flood, tsunami, hurricane, or financial meltdown.
Whether it is a huge event with years of lead-time, or a disaster that came out of the blue, events that have the ability to siphon money from sponsorship portfolios have a critical mass of people who care about them and they have to be rare. Rare is important to this equation. The Super Bowl is huge, but it’s not rare. It happens every year, so you don’t have sponsors war-chesting money, limiting acquisitions, and even dropping huge chunks of the rest of their portfolios in order to afford it.
On the other hand, how often does a city get the Olympics? Does a country host a World Cup? And on a much more serious note, thank goodness epic disasters are not routine.
So, what do you do if you’re a sponsorship seeker and suddenly budgets are drying up due to one of these events? Or if you’re not directly impacted, maybe you’re feeling the effects of your region sliding into a deep buyer’s market.
Either way, knowing what to do isn’t always easy. Whatever you do, don’t begrudge the decision to back “something big”. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were a sponsor and a quadrennial event came to your town, and it was a strategic fit for your brand, it would be very difficult to pass up an opportunity that may never come again. If you were a sponsor and had the opportunity to provide relief after a disaster that your customers and staff really care about, you’d do that, too.
So, rather than blaming sponsors who are just trying to do the best thing for their brands, get proactive about being one of the best things for their brands. To that end, here is a short guide to some of the strategies you can take to mitigate the effects of “something big”.
Reinvent and invest in current partnerships
Big events can have a big impact on budgets. I don’t want your event or program to be a casualty of that budget impact, and you don’t have to be. The fact is that they won’t drop everything. Your goal is to be the partner that is too good to drop. Here are some strategies that will get you there:
- Be absolutely sure you understand each of your sponsors’ individual objectives and target markets. Guaranteed, they will all be different. If you need a form to catalogue this information, you can find a Sponsor Information Checklist in The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
- Collaborate with your sponsor to develop creative, strategic leverage plans. Leverage is what they do with the sponsorship opportunity you’ve sold them to turn it into the sponsorship results they need. Have a brainstorm where anything is possible. Have the crazy ideas. Then, work with them to vet those ideas against their objectives and target markets. The goal is a sponsorship that is win-win-win. Not sure what that means? Check out my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship”, downloaded over 750k times. Better yet, share it with your sponsors.
- Be flexible with your benefits. If a great idea needs a different benefits package than the one you sold them, be prepared to swap around benefits until the package reflects their real needs.
- Work with every sponsor to ensure they know how to measure the results of their involvement. In sponsorship-land, if it isn’t measured, it didn’t happen, so while it is not your responsibility to measure results, it is in your best interest to ensure that sponsors do. For a primer on sponsorship measurement, check out “Sponsorship Measurement Basics in About 10 Minutes” on the Power Sponsorship YouTube Channel.
- Train your sponsors. Hold a workshop and teach your sponsors how to do best practice leverage and measurement. I teach 5-10 of these a year – walking sponsors through the leverage process, so they leave the workshop with a plan for this year’s leverage. Whether you do it, I do it, or you hire someone else to do it, this relatively modest investment will reap big rewards as your sponsors increase their results and their ability to measure them.
In an ideal world, you would be doing all of these things already. If not, start straightaway, as these techniques will improve sponsor results, position you as a strategic, responsive partner, and insulate you from much of the chaos that something big can cause.
Encourage multi-year deals
There are many reasons that multi-year deals are a good thing, not least of which is that it’s difficult to break a good contract.
Part of the reason sponsorship was not as hard hit (in many markets) as other marketing media during the Global Financial Crisis is that most significant deals are multi-year. That got most of the sponsorships either through the GFC to an improving economy, or at least through that scary period where corporations were making rash decisions.
If you’ve got sponsors who would like to get out of the contract, or look unlikely to renew at its conclusion, your number one job is to make them see the value of sticking with you. Embark on reinventing those deals, as outlined above, and work on turning a begrudging sponsor into a happy one.
Offer an ambush position
Yeah, yeah, yeah… ambush is unethical… blah blah blah. Heard it all before and I don’t give a rat’s bum, because strategic ambush is legal and it works, and if you can create value for a sponsor or a potential sponsor by providing an ambush angle in a crisis situation, you might want to consider it.
You may not have a direct link to the big event, but you may have some link to the overall event experience. For instance, let’s just say that a mega sporting event is coming to town and you have a museum in a prime location. You could offer it for hospitality. You could turn it into a social hot spot. You could offer one of your sponsors (and event ambusher) space to create a win for the target markets – Bag check? WiFi? Any number of ideas that will amplify the best stuff and/or ameliorate the worst stuff about the event experience. There are so many options, you may well find a way to use this approach to benefit from the very event that you thought was going to hurt you.
For more on how this works, you may want to see my blog “Why Ambush Marketing Legislation Will Never Work (and What Will)”. I also have a tutorial entitled, “Ambush Marketing Basics in About 10 Minutes” on the Power Sponsorship YouTube Channel.
Create totally best practice sponsorship offers
If you are trying to sell a lot of new sponsorship in a climate of “something big”, and you don’t want to discount to the bone in order to get commitments, you will need to embrace best practice sponsorship. Sponsors will still be spending money, and you have to find a way to stand out.
Best practice sponsorship proposals are built on ideas and are, without any doubt, better than 99% of the proposals that sponsors receive. That is no guarantee that they will say “yes”, but they will at least pay attention, and your strike rate will be a lot higher.
For my best advice on how to build a strong sponsorship proposal, see “Sponsorship Proposal Basics in About 10 Minutes” on the Power Sponsorship YouTube Channel. You can also find countless blogs here on offer development, and the whole process is covered in depth in The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
Ask the hard questions
For those big events with lots of lead time, as soon as your city/country is announced, make it a point to regularly canvas your sponsors about whether they have any plans to get involved. If, at some point, they tell you they are considering it or they’re in negotiations, you have to ask if it’s going to have an impact on their current portfolio. Honestly, even if it’s bad news for you, it’s better if you hear about it early.
If the “big” thing is an unexpected disaster, keep tabs on the sponsor’s online media room, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. If they announce a big sponsorship or donation (in this situation, donations are often made at the expense of the sponsorship budget), be upfront and ask if that’s likely to impact their sponsorship decisions and renewals.
As you may have gathered, much of what it takes to survive “something big” with budgets and soul intact come from groundwork you will have, ideally, laid well before any impacts are felt. If you’re past that critical point, hear this: Do it now. Don’t delay. “Something big” doesn’t have to be a big red number on your bottom line.
Need more assistance?
For all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, 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
© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.