5 Ways Rightsholders Need to Get Over Themselves

You’re great. No, really… you, your organisation, your properties, are all wonderful. I wish I could meet you all, and I could happily go to events and sports and museums every day of my life. But, here’s the thing…

When it comes to sponsorship, you really need to get over yourselves.

I’m sorry to have to burst your bubble, but sponsorship isn’t about you, and sponsors aren’t sponsoring you because they care. Sure, you can have a great relationship with them, and your contacts can be fans, but that’s not why they’re sponsoring you, and if you think it is, it’s hurting your bottom line.

So I’m going to make it crystal clear how you need to get over yourself, and what to do instead. As a bonus, I’ve also got some advice on one area where you should be stronger in standing up for yourself.

Get over yourself!

It sounds counterintuitive, but when it comes to sponsorship, shining the spotlight on your organisation and your property isn’t helping you. In fact, to sponsors, it makes you look unsophisticated, self-absorbed, and diminishes your value.

The good news is that, if your organisation – including your board – can get over yourselves, there are many far more effective ways to sell sponsorship, and nurture the sponsors you have.

It’s not about your crowd

A big part of your organisation’s job is to get people to turn up to whatever event or sport or exhibition or fundraiser or whatever it is that your organisation does. Attendance or participation increases are often one of your biggest KPIs. That makes it understandable when you sell sponsorship based primarily on those numbers – how many people come, and who are they. But “understandable” and “right” aren’t the same thing.

For a sponsor, the people who go through your gate, buy tickets, donate, or whatever are just a fraction of the markets that interest them. Those sponsor markets will often include most or all of these:

  • Your in-person fans
  • Remote fans – fans of yours, who don’t attend
  • Fans of the larger themes around what you do
  • Their customers and potential customers
  • Their VIP customers and intermediary markets
  • Their staff
  • Other key stakeholders

Added together, this could be a huge market, when compared to just the pool of people who attend. So, if you go on and on about your attendees in a proposal, and never touch the rest of that list, you’re underselling yourself. All of those markets are leverageable for a marketing return – they’re all valuable to a sponsor – whether they’re valuable to you or not.

It’s not about your profile or prestige

Sponsors don’t care about your 134-year history. They don’t care who’s on your board. They really don’t care about that letter of support from your patron or the mayor or whoever. And they couldn’t give a rat’s arse about all of your press clippings.

You know what they care about? Your fans. They care about your fans – the people who love your organisation, and care about what you do, and the larger themes around it. The advocates. The believers.

As long as you’ve established a threshold level of credibility – and I’m talking about a few sentences, max – stop harping on about how great you are. The sponsors know how to use Google. Instead, harp on about why people love you, and all the various reason your property means something to them. Give sponsors psychographic data and personas or flagbearer profiles. The better they understand your fans, why those fans care, and what their fan priorities and experiences are, the more they’ll understand the real value to their brands.

It’s not about your mission

Your mission may drive your organisation and what you do, which is great, but it may not have anything to do with why your fans love you, and why sponsors would want to get involved.

For example:

  • “Our mission is to increase uptake of alternative energy technologies”
  • “Our mission is to increase interest in STEM careers in lower-income primary school students”
  • “Our mission is to spread the word of the gospel”

Increasing uptake of alternative energy technologies might be your mission, but a sponsor might be interested in your alternative energy expo because they want to develop relationships with people who are planning smart homes and smart renos.

Your mission might be increasing interest in STEM careers, but your sponsor may be interested in underpinning the “healthy brain development” platform for their breakfast cereal.

Your mission might be spreading the word of the gospel, but the people who donate to your winter blanket drive, and the sponsors who align with that spirit of a helping hand,  may not want anything to do with your mission.

I’m not saying there’s any problem with your organisation having a mission, but you need to take on board that it drives what you do, and may not have any resonance at all with fans or sponsors.

It’s not about image transfer

Image transfer was one of those concepts that took flight in the 80s, and still lingers in the backwaters of our industry. The idea is that your organisation can imbue some image onto a sponsor that they don’t genuinely already have; you can make them look cooler, healthier, greener, more caring, or whatever, just by sponsoring.

I don’t care how cool or healthy or green your organisation is, this whole idea is bull. Not only has image transfer been debunked – it flatly doesn’t work, based primarily on consumer cynicism – it flies in the face of the authenticity that drives modern sponsorship and, in fact, modern marketing.

Never tell a sponsor you can make them look like something they’re not. Never, ever use the phrase, “seen to be”. Instead, dig deeper into their brand personality, their priorities, their DNA, because there’s bound to be authentic matches that you can build on.

For more about how authenticity drives modern sponsorship, read “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better”.

It’s not about the benefits

Most rightsholders offer the same bunch of hygiene benefits: Logos, mentions, tickets, hospitality, and maybe some kind of space or speaking slot. If that’s you, congratulations… you’ve just commoditised yourself. And when your property is a great as it is, and your fans love you like they do, that’s really not good.

You don’t sell a new home by showing a hole in the ground next to a giant stack of bricks and timber, AKA “the raw materials”. You sell it by creating a vision of how it would look and feel to live in that future house. Selling sponsorship is exactly the same.

But even if you’re offering a wide variety of diverse and creative benefits – and I hope you are – it’s still not about the benefits.

The benefits you offer are the raw materials. It’s what the sponsor does with those raw materials – how they leverage the sponsorship – that will actually get them a result against their objectives. Think about it… You don’t sell a new home by showing a hole in the ground next to a giant stack of bricks and timber, AKA “the raw materials”. You sell it by creating a vision of how it would look and feel to live in that future house. Selling sponsorship is exactly the same.

Don’t focus on what benefits a sponsor will get for their money, focus on what the sponsor can do with the sponsorship to nurture their relationships with fans, customers, staff etc, and how they can use the sponsorship to achieve their objectives. Don’t talk to your existing sponsors like the benefits are the point, make leverage the point. Creating that vision is what builds sponsorship results.

Stand up for yourself!

If all of the above is making you think you’re not really very important to the sponsorship equation, you’re wrong, because while much of what you may have been focused on in the past isn’t powerful or compelling, your property is still critically important.

You’re the conduit through which they build relationships and alignment with fans. You bring the passion, the meaning, the magic. They’d be lost without you, and making this part of your sponsorship ethos fundamentally changes the sponsorship equation.

If you talk meaning and passion and fans, if you talk fan alignment, advocacy, and leverage, you’ll be talking to sponsors as a peer, who knows how marketing works, and knows where your value lies. You won’t be just another unsophisticated organisation looking for a handout. You won’t be just another earnest, gold-silver-bronze level, rejection letter waiting to happen. And as for your bottom line, you won’t be stuck with a portfolio full of tiny, rats-and-mice sponsorships, because most of your sponsors don’t see enough value to invest real money.

No, your property will be a valuable investment that they can leverage in a dozen different ways to achieve their goals and affect meaningful relationships with the people who are important to them. You’ll be seen and treated as an equal – a partner, not a “partner” – and that’s the way it should be.

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 and strategy sessions, and sponsorship training. 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

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