This blog is for all the sponsors out there. And no, I don’t think you’re a bunch of jerks. Not at all. But there are some things that a lot sponsors do that unintentionally cause more strife for rightsholders than is really necessary.
Below is a list, as well as some suggestions for how you can achieve your own goals efficiently while keeping your sponsorship karma intact.
I know you don’t want to disappoint people, but it really isn’t helping a rightsholder if you’re indirect.
Don’t imply there’s a glimmer of hope, if there’s not. If the answer is “no”, just say “No”. Don’t tell a prospective partner that all of your funds are currently committed, when the real reason you’re knocking them back is that their proposal sucked or you didn’t have nearly enough lead-time. Don’t tell them a renewal is “unlikely”, as they’ll just redouble their efforts to change your mind.
Believe me when I tell you that rightsholders would rather know the truth – even if it isn’t what they want to hear – than continue to put in effort on a losing proposition. You don’t have to be mean, but please be direct. For instance:
“We will not be investing in your proposed sponsorship. The proposal was weak, uncustomised, and demonstrated no understanding whatsoever of our brand, objectives, or target markets.”
“Despite your assurances that you’d be more responsive, that hasn’t happened. There’s no internal buy-in left and we will not be renewing.”
I get it. You get a ton of approaches – more than you could possibly review and get the rest of your job done – and 99.9% of them are crap and you wouldn’t consider anyway. Even sending the decline letters is a ridiculous amount of work.
So they pile up. They’re in your inbox, probably in some folder that taunts you with the number of unread emails in it every time you log in. They’re piled all over your office, complete with collateral material and press clippings and USBs with videos you’ll never watch. Your voicemail is always full with people chasing up your “positive response”.
When you finally block a bit of time, you realise that most of those proposals are for events and other properties that are already over – a situation that fills you with both guilt and relief. One of my clients just gave up and went the “nuclear option”, trashing an entire folder full of literally thousands of email approaches and an entire credenza stacked high with proposals. He reckoned some of them had gone unanswered for two years. This whole situation is bad for you and bad for the sponsorship seekers, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you know the proposal is going to be terrible and you just don’t want to deal with it, there is a much better option than letting it die a death in your inbox. It doesn’t take much review to know whether a proposal going to be any good. As soon as you spot the signs, stop wasting your time and respond with a copy of your Sponsorship Guidelines (download a template here) and this note:
“Thank you for submitting a proposal.
Unfortunately, this proposal doesn’t provide the type or amount of information we need in order to make a decision, and on that basis, we will not consider the offer. I am attaching a copy of our Sponsorship Guidelines. Feel free to resubmit a proposal based on these Guidelines for reconsideration.”
Even better, you can dramatically reduce the number of approaches you get by putting some good Sponsorship Guidelines on your website. Ask your switchboard to refer anyone who wants to “speak to someone about sponsorship” to those Guidelines. Include on your voicemail that you don’t review proposals not based on your Guidelines. Finally, set up an auto-responder on your sponsorship@ (or similar) email account, saying the following:
“Thank you for contacting [company] about sponsorship. We will review your submission and respond as soon as we can. We normally get back to sponsorship seekers within four weeks.
Please note, we do have comprehensive Sponsorship Guidelines available. If your proposal doesn’t comply with those guidelines, we won’t consider it and you will not receive any further response from us.
You can download a copy of our Sponsorship Guidelines from [link].”
By making your comprehensive Sponsorship Guidelines readily available, and being very clear and strict about their use, the number of proposals you receive will drop drastically, while the quality will go up.
This might make a sponsorship easy for you to sell internally, but it is flatly not fair.
It’s not a rightsholder’s job to sell your product or service. They can provide a very powerful platform to induce trial or influence purchase intent, preference, loyalty, alignment, and advocacy, but actually making the sale is your job, not theirs. And when it comes right down to it, most sales are made based on multiple marketing messages through multiple channels. And even where sponsorship is a major factor, those incremental sales could spread out for months or years.
If you want to put performance incentives on a sponsorship fee, and the rightsholder is open to it, go ahead, but make it about things that are likely to lead to sales, not the actual sales themselves. That’s a lot easier to measure, and a much more realistic way to reward a property.
Rightsholders want you to sponsor bigger, so when it comes time for renewal, they’ll often ask if you’d like to consider a larger sponsorship, such as principal or naming rights. Unfortunately, many sponsors will go ahead and ask for a proposal, mainly out of curiosity as to what it would look like.
I had this happen with a client not long ago. The rightsholder specified the minimum price for naming rights at the outset, then jumped through hoop after hoop pulling a super-customised offer together, only to be told that the sponsor never had budget for anything like a sponsorship of that size.
Here’s the thing, if you know the maximum amount of money you have for a given sponsorship, don’t feign interest in something big. Those major proposals take a ton of time and are a huge team effort. Wasting that time and effort on a whim is really bad sponsorship karma.
You’ve got a great proposal in front of you. It’s creative, strategic, and you’re really interested. It’s also big and you think you’ll need more information in order to get it across the line. But what information?
Don’t ask for media equivalency figures. Media equivalency as any kind of indicator of the value of a sponsorship to a brand has been thoroughly debunked since 1991, and in many studies since, and has been widely accepted as both arbitrary and irrelevant. If you ask a good rightsholder for this information, they won’t be able to give it to you. They know it’s meaningless and haven’t shelled out the huge fees for a dinosaur logo-counting company to do the analysis, nor should they. Grow up.
Don’t ask for a breakdown of the a la carte value of each benefit. That’s like valuing a ladder by adding up the cost of the component parts. The cost of eleven rungs plus four struts, plus two large hinges, plus two cross-braces, plus four dozen bolts, plus a few other random parts equals a ladder. Except no, it doesn’t. A ladder has value because it’s whole and specifically constructed to be fit-for-purpose. Same goes for sponsorship. The sponsorship’s value is based on its potential as a leverageable marketing opportunity for your brand, not a collection of unrelated marketing commodities. If you’ve got a problem with the price, then counter-offer or negotiate down.
If the issue is that you think you need this stuff to sell it internally, in 99.99% of cases, you really don’t. Work with the rightsholder to understand objectives, markets, and sensitivities across your organisation, and come up with leverage strategies that address all of the most important ones. Your colleagues will be much less interested in old-school, meaningless information if they’re getting good ideas for how the sponsorship works for them.
Good rightsholders hate this. They want to dazzle you. They want to demonstrate their understanding of your brand, your markets, and your goals. They want to showcase how you can use the investment to achieve your objectives. And they want to show you that they put in the work to be really good partners.
Rightsholders know that the first impression is important, and that you’ll start making your decision on whatever hits your desk first. Asking for a generic proposal, or some kind of “top-line one-pager” doesn’t allow them to put their best foot forward. It’s like asking a fashion designer to start the show with the sweatpants.
Instead, spend ten minutes on the phone with them to discuss your objectives, target markets, and priorities, so they can create a fully customised proposal. Even easier, send them your Sponsorship Guidelines with a covering note on the specific priorities you’d like the proposal to address. Either one of those strategies will get you a much better proposal, allowing you to properly sell it internally. And that’s the primary job of a sponsorship proposal – not to sell to you, but to help you to sell it internally. Help them to help you.
None of this is difficult, nor does it create more work – and in some cases, significantly reduces the workload. It’s simply a change from how it’s traditionally been done that benefits all parties.
Partly, this is about creating more professionalism and accountability on both sides of the equation, but it’s also about elevating the industry. If sponsors set the sponsorship bar high, and increase the transparency around needs and decisions, that’s good for the whole industry.
You may also 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.