6 Warning Signs Your Sponsorship Has Passed Its Use-By Date

 />Sponsorships get stale. And when they get stale, they don’t work. What was a great sponsorship or an awesome leverage idea several years ago, may be well past prime now, requiring a total overhaul – if it can be saved at all.</p>
<p>Below, I’ve outlined some of the biggest warning signs that a sponsorship has passed its use-by date, as well as some strategies you can take to fix or mitigate the negative impact on your results.</p>
<h2>You’re using last year’s leverage plan as a template for this year’s plan</h2>
<p>For me, this is one of the biggest red flags.</p>
<p>If you find yourself using basically the same leverage plan every year, with maybe a tweak or two and replacing some tired signage, let’s face it; you’re phoning it in.</p>
<p>I’m not giving you, personally, a hard time, as it may well be your organisational culture behind this issue. You may be managing too many sponsorships or have a poorly structured sponsorship portfolio. (<a title=Here’s how to fix that.) Your company may habitually work too close to deadlines, leaving leverage too late. Or you may have so much red tape that doing what was approved last year is easier than trying to get a new plan through this year.

I get it. Really, I do. But it’s still not okay.

Since you last developed a leverage plan for this sponsorship from the ground up…

  • Have your objectives – the behaviours and perceptions you’re seeking to influence – changed? Has the emphasis changed?
  • Have your brand, product line, or marketing channels changed?
  • Have your target markets, or your understanding of those target markets, changed? Has the emphasis changed?
  • Have your target markets’ brand expectations changed? Has their media consumption changed? Have their influencers changed?
  • Have your organisation’s sponsorship skills or approach improved?
  • Has your organisational structure or direction changed? Key decision-makers?
  • Are there any stakeholders that should be involved with leveraging this sponsorship that weren’t?
  • Has anything changed with your partner (winning season, controversy, blockbuster exhibition coming, etc)?
  • Have we repeated more than about two-thirds of the leverage plan from one year to the next?

If any of these are true, you need to seriously revisit and shake up your leverage planning. I can hear the voice in your head now: “But I don’t have time to do that for all of my sponsorships!”

Here’s the thing…

  1. If you don’t have the time and buy-in to plan and implement a leverage plan properly, you shouldn’t have that sponsorship at all, because you’re basically buying an opportunity and not leveraging it into a result for your brand.
  2. You don’t have to build the plan from the ground up every single year. You simply need to ensure that the sponsorship is relevant to your brand, meaningful to your target markets, and fresh every year.

When I go through the leverage planning process with my corporate clients’ stakeholder teams, we come up with so many great ideas that we can plan leverage for several years in advance. There are ideas we’ll take through the whole term, ideas that we will build on year-to-year, and other ideas that we will only use for one year, then replace them with something else. All we have to do then is a quick, annual review – like 15 minutes with the stakeholder team – to ask the above questions and ensure we’re still on track. So, we’re not using the same plan over and over – we’ve actually created a multi-year plan.

Want that process? You can find the whole thing in The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.

Internal interest is lacklustre

Let’s say for a second that you decide to do a big leverage planning session with your internal stakeholders for a festival sponsorship that’s been around a while and gone stale. You invite ten people. Two agree to come. Two others decide to send a minion. You’ve got a real buy-in problem.

One of the most powerful and cost-effective things you can do to leverage a sponsorship is to integrate it across a range of things you’re already spending money on.

As tempting as it is to think you don’t need broad, internal buy-in and press on regardless, the truth is that you do. One of the most powerful and cost-effective things you can do to leverage a sponsorship is to integrate it across a range of things you’re already spending money on. Anchor a sales promotion, reward your loyal customers, launch a new product, raise staff satisfaction, or any of hundreds of other things. Many, if not most, of the best leverage ideas you’ll have require buy-in from someone outside of the sponsorship or brand team. If they don’t like it, the sponsorship will be less effective and cost far more to leverage, as you have to create marketing platforms, rather than just using the ones you already have.

My best advice is this: When you schedule the stakeholder leverage session, bribe them with sandwiches. Do whatever it takes to get them into the room – even hire an outside facilitator – and then really push the creativity envelope. Chances are, you’ll manage to get that buy-in and reinvent your sponsorship at the same time. If not, and they still think it’s a dud, you need to face it… it’s a dud.

The rightsholder is offering the same benefits… again

Or more to the point, they’re offering the same boring, commodity benefits, and you’re considering saying “yes”… again.

Don’t do it! Counter-offer for some amazing benefits (like these benefits every sponsor should want). Better yet, do your leverage planning session first and build a wish-list of benefits from there.

Your motivation is primarily defensive

If you’re investing in a sponsorship that is a poor strategic fit for your brand, primarily to keep a competitor from sponsoring it, you are doing your brand and budget a disservice.

Play a game with your stakeholder group. Do the leverage process, quick and dirty, identifying the best ideas. If it’s not a great fit for your brand, the ideas will probably be weak and the team will struggle. Then, put the challenge to the team: If you had that same $50,000 (or whatever) and could sponsor anything, what would they do? Brainstorm a few options, pick one, and leverage that. Compare it with the previous exercise and the result will be clear: The ideas will be better and the strategic benefits vastly better.

If the stakeholder group – people across departments, who are trusted by senior executives – make a recommendation to drop the defensive sponsorship in favour of doing something else, the senior team will listen.

Your motivation is primarily political

This happens a lot in the B2B space. There are events and organisations that you’re expected to sponsor, simply to keep somebody on side. These could include things like an influential professional association, events sponsored or run by a huge client, or a government pet project. It may be a defensive situation, as outlined above. But more influential rightsholders fully understand their power to make companies miserable, and collect sponsorship from every major player in their space.

If the sponsorship really is a cost of doing business, and your organisation has accepted that it has little, if any, strategic worth, then negotiate the lowest possible sponsorship you can that keeps the partner on-side.

In many of these cases, there will be someone or some department in your company that is trying to make a case for how great this sponsorship is, when the rest of your company knows it’s really just political.

You may be able to extract some strategic benefit out of the investment, if you think laterally. Or you might be able to pull a few, related, politically-driven sponsorships into an umbrella portfolio, where the whole can be leveraged far more effectively than the individual investments. (Here’s more on umbrella sponsorship.)

If the sponsorship really is a cost of doing business, and your organisation has accepted that it has little, if any, strategic worth, then negotiate the lowest possible sponsorship you can that keeps the partner on-side. It’s still a strategic loser, but at least it’s a cheaper one. Then, just stop leveraging it. Do what you are contractually obliged to do, but stop throwing good time and money after bad. You got them onside when you paid the fee, there isn’t any additional benefit to trying to make it into something it’s not.

You’re increasingly focused on marketing through rightsholder channels

You’re sponsoring a property, so surely marketing your brand or product to those fans, through their channels, has to be your biggest priority, right? Not necessarily, and it surely shouldn’t be your only priority. But for many sponsors, their focus narrows over time, to the point that their only leverage is some pedestrian on-site activations and some promo in the property’s social media. That leaves most of the opportunity unrealised, your stakeholders unimpressed, and puts a giant question mark over the viability of the investment.

The value a rightsholder provides is far less about the marketing channels you are getting access to, than about the assets – the content, experiences, stories, control, etc – that you can leverage both to the fans and to your own target markets, through your own channels. In fact, most sponsors get their biggest impact with leverage that adds value to, and aligns with, their customers, potential customers, and staff.

If your sponsorship has become myopic, your only options are to either rebuild the vision around what’s possible, reinventing both the leverage plan and metrics, or get out and start over with something else.

Need more assistance?

You may be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. Want to build your sponsorship skills and strategies fast? I’ve got comprehensive online sponsorship training for both sponsors and rightsholders. Get the details and links to course outlines and reviews here.

If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive Sponsorship Systems Design service for large, diverse, and decentralised organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.

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