The First Sponsor Meeting (and How Not to Make an Idiot of Yourself)

Dunce capYou’ve done the homework and you’re on the cusp of actually talking to the sponsor. What to do… what to do…

Well, what most sponsorship seekers do is totally lose their mind. They get so excited about actually getting an audience with a sponsor that the first thing they do is launch into an extended, hyperactive tirade about how great their property is. They totally miss that the sponsor’s eyes glazed over after about thirty seconds.

You should never go into an initial sponsor meeting or phone call thinking you’re there to pitch. You’re not. Your first interaction with a potential sponsor is primarily about three things:

  1. Enhancing and fine-tuning the research you’ve done about their brand and target market needs (see “Don’t Send a Sponsorship Proposal Until You Read This” for more on pre-meeting research).
  2. Positioning you and your organisation as professional, sophisticated, responsive, and creative, putting you in the top 1% or so of people who approach them.
  3. Getting them to invite a proposal.

That process is not difficult, but it does require you to let go of the typical, sales mentality. This meeting is not about what you’re selling, but understanding what they need. If you’re talking more than the sponsor, you’re doing it wrong.

I thought it might be helpful if I outlined a suggested meeting structure. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, but if you really don’t know where to start, it’s pretty tough to get into trouble with this approach.

Step 1: Approach the right person

Do not approach the sponsorship manager. One of their main jobs is being a gatekeeper, and they usually can’t say “yes” unless a brand manager says “yes”. Ditto the CEO. If you go in high, your proposal will eventually filter down to the sponsorship manager, who will send you the dreaded “all our funds are currently committed” letter.

Do not approach the sponsorship manager. One of their main jobs is being a gatekeeper, and they usually can’t say “yes” unless a brand manager says “yes”.

Ditto the CEO. If you go in high, your proposal will eventually filter down to the sponsorship manager, who will send you the dreaded “all our funds are currently committed” letter.

Instead, target the brand manager or a senior member of the brand team. If you are in a regional area, a regional marketing manager is also a good choice, as they can be a champion on your behalf with head office.

Step 2: Set the stage

Tell them…

  • Your goal with the meeting is not to “sell” them, but to understand their needs, so you can create a customised offer.
  • Before you develop a proposal, you want to know that there is a solid fit between their brand, your property, and what you can offer. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

Saying these two simple things will position you as someone worth talking to. Most people approaching them couldn’t care less about their needs or markets, much less wasting their time.

Step 3: Thumbnail it

Without going into massive, salesy detail, overview the property.

  • What, when, where
  • Who? Who are the target markets? (Talk mainly in psychographics – what kind of people they are, not demographics – statistics about who they are.)
  • Most importantly, why what you’re doing matters to these people? Why they care?

Important: Even if the exact structure and size of your event (or whatever) is not confirmed, you need to present a firm view of the size and scope of what you’re selling to the sponsor. Even if some components of what you’re doing are budget-dependent, they should not know that what the property looks like is largely dependent on them.

If they ask for more detail, by all means fill them in, but be cognizant of time. You want to spend the lion’s share of time talking about brand needs, not your property.

I strongly recommend against trying to show them a video (aka, a “sizzle reel”) as part of the meeting. A video, by its very nature, is general and uncustomised. If you’re interrupting a strategic, collaborative conversation to show them a generic, aren’t-we-great video, you’re wasting precious time. You can always send them a link in your follow-up email, but you need to know, it’s almost a dead-set cert they won’t watch it.

You are welcome to leave some very basic materials about what you’re doing, but don’t overdo it. If you provide them with any more than a brief overview of your property – and anything with even a hint of sales – they’ll use it to start forming a decision, and you don’t want them to do that until you have a proper, customised sponsorship proposal in front of them.

Step 4: Research

Using your mostly filled out Sponsor Information Checklist – or however you’ve compiled your research – as a starting point, you want to fill in and confirm the rest.

Start by saying, “we’ve done some research on your brand”. Then, using what you do know about their brand and markets, extend and confirm what you’re still not sure about. Some examples:

  • Your last couple of marketing campaigns seem to be pitched markedly younger and more urbane than previous. Is this a trend you’re going to continue? Or was it more tactical?
  • Your recent campaign pushes your already edgy brand personality even further. How has that worked for you? Do you envision continuing on that trajectory?
  • Obviously, you have some flagship stores, where you control the experience. How important is gaining retail support and influencing the experience in competitive environments, like boutiques and department stores?

After getting the basic brand needs, you can shift into some research that gives you information, positions your event as creative and responsive, and starts to showcase the versatility of what you’re doing and how they can use it.

  • Your most recent campaign is controversial, but seems to have hit a chord with your key target market. If we can work that into this sponsorship, is that something you’d like to explore?
  • I note that you seem to have some very interesting charitable projects. Project X, in particular, has a great fit with what we’re discussing. If we could work that into the sponsorship in a meaningful way, would that interest you?

As you start talking about the ways you’ve identified that this could work with their existing activities, they may start to get very engaged with the process. If that happens and they start getting creative right along with you, just go with it.

Step 5: Wrapping up

Before you commit to anything – you’re not ready – you need to wrap up.

  • Tell them that you believe there are some great fits and have some ideas on how they could use the sponsorship to meet brand and target market needs. Note: Only say this if you are still convinced there actually are some great fits. If it’s clearly not right, thank them for their time and retreat gracefully. That way, they’ll be happy to hear from you at some point in future if you do have something more appropriate.
  • Ask them if it’s okay if you get them a proposal in X days.
  • Ask them if there is anything specific they would like to see in the proposal that will help them to make a decision and sell it internally – anything you may not have discussed, any specific information.

They will probably ask about price. Don’t commit to a figure. Tell them that you haven’t developed the offer yet, and the price will be based on the value of that.

If they ask for a ballpark estimate (most will), answer with latitude, such as “I think we’re looking at mid-five figures” or “low six-figures” or “low-five figures”. Any of those gives you a lot of scope in pricing, while giving them a comfort level. Need information on pricing, see “Sponsorship Pricing Basics”.

There is so much more on this process, I could write a book on it. Oh yeah, I did! 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.

Good luck, everyone!

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, you might look into the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
admin@powersponsorship.com
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265

This blog was originally written in 2010, but was fully updated in September 2016.

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

One response to “The First Sponsor Meeting (and How Not to Make an Idiot of Yourself)”

  1. Quora says:

    When pitching a sponsorship opportunity, what are key things you should say?…

    First you should do more listening than talking during your first meeting. Your sponsorships should be customized for each particular sponsors needs…not what you want to sell them. I know this is sales 101 but it’s often forgotten in the sponsorship…