I’ve written blog after blog after article after book about the collaborative nature of sponsorship; how it requires both broad buy-in and a commitment to leverage from a range of stakeholders; and that brand managers are generally the ones who approve sponsorship spend.
So, if sponsorship decisions and leverage are being spread across various decision-makers, do we still need sponsorship managers? To that, I answer an emphatic “yes”. They fill a number of critical roles to doing sponsorship truly well.
Let’s face it. Being a gatekeeper is a big part of most sponsorship managers’ jobs – somebody has to sift through the hundreds or thousands of proposals your company receives every month. The thing is, most sponsorship managers either spend too much or too little time in this role.
Sometimes the gatekeeping workload alone accounts for the lion’s share of a sponsorship manager’s time. I’m all for diligence, but if the number of proposals received is untenable, and most of them are completely inappropriate, they’re not worth putting in the effort to fully review.
My very strong recommendation is that all sponsors should have a tight set of sponsorship guidelines and make them very clearly available (ie, don’t bury them 17 levels into your website). If you don’t have guidelines and need a big running start, you can download a sponsorship guidelines template.
This will improve the proposals you get, and will stop a lot of sponsorship seekers from submitting proposals that are clearly not a match. It will also trip up sponsorship seekers who aren’t interested in putting in the effort to meet your needs. There is another step, though. For all of those proposals and letters of request received – where it’s clear by the second page that they haven’t been prepared according to the guidelines or are completely wrong for the brand – sponsorship managers need to stop reading right there and send them an email something like this:
Hello [Sponsorship Seeker] –
We have received your sponsorship proposal. It is clear that this has not been prepared according to our sponsorship guidelines, and as such, we will not be reviewing your offer.
If you want your offer to be considered, you need to review and follow our guidelines. They can be downloaded from this link: www.fakesponsor.com/guidelines.
Once you have thoroughly reviewed the guidelines, if you still believe you can meet our requirements, we encourage you to resubmit a more appropriate proposal that is customised to our needs.
Sincerely, [The Sponsor]
Then, there are the sponsorship managers who don’t spend enough time interacting with potential partners, opting instead for a war of attrition, waged with unanswered voicemails, unread emails, and unopened proposals. Sometime sponsorship managers get overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s a workload issue. Sometimes, frankly, it’s a power trip. Whatever the reason, it’s not a good idea.
If a sponsorship manager is diligent about using sponsorship guidelines, the number of proposals that are contenders for consideration will reduce significantly. Those sponsorship seekers need some attention, and probably more insight into brand and target market needs, so that the offers can be fine-tuned and opportunities explored.
Another big (and time-consuming) part of the job is managing relationships with partners. This is not just about ensuring that a sponsee delivers the contracted benefits – although that’s part of it. It’s about being a partner – working together to ensure the objectives of both parties are being achieved. Got that? Both parties. The sponsorship manager should be seeking to understand the needs of the partners and add value to the relationship, just as s/he should be expecting understanding and added value from the sponsee.
In addition to being a gatekeeper and managing relationships, a big part of a modern sponsorship manager’s job is being an internal consultant. In my eyes, this is easily the most important part of the job.
Realistically, all of those other stakeholders have other jobs. They are specialists in their own areas, and while they may have a good, working knowledge of sponsorship, it is usually a minor portion of what they do. Taken together, these stakeholders will do the lion’s share of the work around a sponsorship, but it all needs to be marshalled and directed and the process needs some leadership. That’s where a sponsorship manager comes in, taking on tasks such as:
- Coordinating stakeholder needs, so negotiations will net the most appropriate benefits.
- Managing the leverage planning process.
- Ensuring all negotiations and leverage are aligned with business and target market needs and reflect best practice sponsorship. (What is that? Read “Last Generation Sponsorship”.)
- Managing renewals, mid-term negotiations, and sponsorship reviews.
- Managing the sponsorship strategy development and portfolio audit process.
If your sponsorship manager has potential, but isn’t quite at this level, one option is to get him/her some training. Another option is to bring in a coach, who will both train and support the sponsorship manager through the transition to a higher functioning role. (If you want to discuss either of these, drop me a line.)
As part of the internal consultant role, there is also the role of information collator. That is particularly important when it comes to measurement.
I’m not saying it is the sponsorship manager’s job to measure sponsorship results, because it’s not. Changes in target market behaviour should be measured by the internal experts across your company, in the ways that your company accepts, and against existing, accepted benchmarks. Changes in target market perceptions should be measured with research, using a selection of the same questions you are asking in ongoing (or at least recent) target market research.
What is the sponsorship manager’s job? Marshalling the process and collating the information into a report that can be distributed across stakeholders and up the line.
Doing sponsorship really well does require some organisational understanding of how it works and the principles of best practice. The role of ensuring that key people from around the company have the skills and tools to get it right, and make the process as streamlined as possible, will usually fall to the sponsorship manager. This could be about bringing in some training or creating a handbook or distributing case studies, but however it’s done, it’s about elevating the approach.
In addition to skilling up your company’s team, many sponsorship managers spearhead training for partners, understanding that a more sophisticated partner will be easier to work with and you should get a much better result.
The upshot is that a sponsorship manager is much more than the administrator that many companies define them as. A sponsorship manager should be the lynchpin to great sponsorship results, not the lackie trying to make something out of nothing with virtually no integration.
It is important to have the right person in the job (or as the head of a sponsorship team). That person must have exceptional sponsorship skills, with enough experience, authority, and charisma to lead a team of cross-departmental stakeholders, without being their boss. That person must either have an balanced analytical/creative mind, or be able to develop and lead a team with that balance. That person must have a strong, working understanding of every other marketing media, as sponsorship needs to be integrated across all of it.
If you’re concerned that you sponsorship manager may have talent, but be low on specific skills, you could make an investment in developing her/him. I offer a few options:
- Sponsorship coaching
- Sponsorship in-house training and strategy sessions
- Sponsorship consulting (which has a major component of increasing both organisational and individual capacity)
- Or if you want to start small, just buy them a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit