A while back, I wrote a blog entitled, “8 Traits of a Great Corporate Sponsorship Manager”. I think that gives a good rundown on the type of sponsorship or brand manager you should want running your sponsorship portfolio.
But, there is another side to this: The traits you don’t want in a corporate sponsorship manager, or in a brand manager who is managing sponsorship. Some of these could be fixable, while others are more intrinsic. In either case, if a sponsorship or brand manager has them, your sponsorship portfolio is destined to underperform , and the more of these toxic traits your manager has, the worse your results will be.
Sponsorship is a sexy portfolio and this manager knows it. They want full control and absolutely no one questioning the approach to sponsorship. They actively avoid collaborating with other stakeholders and often try to work around the chain of command, providing reports much higher up, to avoid the scrutiny of anyone close enough to the day-to-day management of sponsorship to know what’s really going on.
The impression this manager tries to build is one where sponsorship is bafflingly complex, and the sponsorship program would be nothing without their expert leadership. They want you to think that they’re indispensable, instilling fear that they can’t be replaced because the organisational knowledge around sponsorship is so closely held that a clean transition to a new manager would be nigh on impossible.
Unfortunately, this closed-shop stranglehold on sponsorship also strangles results. Sponsorship doesn’t survive on its own. The power comes from integration across many marketing and business channels, which requires broad understanding, buy-in, and collaboration, in order to work.
This may or may not be fixable. It all comes down to whether the manager can stop being a control freak and start working well with others.
At first glance, the solo act might look similar to the empire-builder. There’s a lack of buy-in and collaboration, so this manager does what s/he can to get sponsorship results on their own. The big difference is that being a solo act is not something the sponsorship manager is by choice, and is generally due to one or both of these things:
- An organisational lack of vision about what sponsorship can deliver. If the stakeholders don’t get it, they won’t participate, leaving this manager to try to get results on their own.
- Putting someone too junior, inexperienced, or admin-focused in the sponsorship manager role – someone who doesn’t evoke respect or an interest to collaborate from cross-departmental peers.
The organisational approach is 100% fixable with some education and a demonstration of what’s possible, but from there, you need someone in this position who will continue to inspire creativity and collaboration and vision. That requires someone with some experience, strong sponsorship skills, and the ability to lead a diverse team of stakeholders through the sponsorship process.
Sponsorship involves negotiation, it involves compromise, and it requires equity. But some managers see each of these aspects of the job as an opportunity to assert themselves. They see sponsorship as a win-lose proposition, where the rightsholder losing is as important as the sponsor winning.
- Screw down the price on that cash-poor community event, just because you can? Win!
- Get a rightsholder to cave to your ridiculous demands by threatening a renewal? Win!
- Exploit every little grey area in the contract to your benefit and the rightsholder’s detriment? Win!
The adversarial sponsorship manager has either forgotten, doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about a couple of key things that make sponsorship work:
- Sponsorship isn’t a transaction, it’s a partnership. It requires collaboration and cooperation to work, and if you’ve gone out of your way to hurt that partner, they’re not going to go out of their way to add value or look out for your interests or get you involved in new opportunities. If you hurt them, you hurt your own results.
- When you invest in sponsorship, you’re investing in something that people have already decided they care about. There aren’t two parties to a sponsorship, there are three: The sponsor, the rightsholder, and the fans. You may think you’ve won in the short term, but if you hurt the rightsholder, you’re hurting the fans. The only way you’re going to win in the end is if everyone wins.
You can try education, but in my experience, turning someone who’s in the job for the thrill of the kill into a master of equity and collaboration is generally fruitless. You can’t cure a Sponzilla.
This is the manager that has very fixed ideas on what should and shouldn’t be sponsored, and in what manner.
- We don’t sponsor individuals or motor sport or anything even vaguely religious or [insert long list of arbitrary limitations]
- We only sponsor national organisations
- We only sponsor in major cities
- We only sponsor if we can get naming rights
- We only sponsor if the CEO can make a speech
This inflexibility means that some amazing, effective, and cost-efficient opportunities may go by the wayside, strictly because there is a lack of vision as to how to make other types of sponsorship work.
Building that vision is easy – it really is. And you want to have an organisation that knows how to recognise a hidden gem, that knows how to make a local sponsorship work on a national level, that knows how to get great results from smaller or slightly left-field sponsorship.
You may have specced the job as admin-heavy, the person who came into the job may have found their comfort zone in the admin, or maybe the manager just got stuck with admin work and didn’t have the spine to say “no”. Either way, it’s not going to work.
A sponsorship management role requires someone who understands and can build a strategy that works across multiple business units. It requires the very rare talent of being able to inspire and rally decision-makers across those business units to leverage and measure sponsorship. If the manager is spending 90% of their time arranging hospitality, distributing tickets, and sending boxes of collateral materials to trade shows, the most important parts of the job will be neglected.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for implementers, but this is not a management position. In a leaner organisation, or one with a reasonably concise sponsorship portfolio, most of that implementation will take place in the departments that benefit (eg, sales will handle trade show collateral and hospitality).
If your organisation is larger, you may have some implementers on the sponsorship or brand team, but they’re not leading that team. (This is where you put mileage on your juniors.)
Sponsorship is equal parts analysis and creativity. An approach that’s all about systems, forms, and checklists will stifle the creativity that brings a sponsorship to life – that makes it meaningful to fans, consumers, staff, and anyone else you might be targeting. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for having a process, if that process doesn’t get in the way of ideas and strategy and meaning.
The two biggest red flags that you’ve got a bureaucrat in the job is if…
- They want to implement an online sponsorship application form. Why? Read, “Think an Online Form Will Make Sponsorship Selection Easier? Think Again!”
- They assess potential sponsorships on a points-based scorecard, rather than assessing its true potential for your brand. (Read, “My Top Five Priorities for Sponsorship Selection”.)
This is generally fixable with education, the primary goals of which are to establish a vision for how sponsorship really works, instilling an appreciation of the critical component of creativity, teaching processes that don’t strangle the life out of sponsorship.
Ghosts will fully engage themselves in the interesting parts of the job, while the more mundane and tedious tasks go completely ignored. This is particularly the case for dealing with the calls and unsolicited proposals of hundreds of rightsholders. Or maybe it’s all of those rats and mice sponsees, calling and asking them to “engage”, as if that’s ever going to happen. Instead, they get ghosted like a wedding crasher ghosts a stage-five clinger.
The ghost will blather on about how it’s impractical to answer all those emails and voicemails, but doesn’t do a single thing to reduce the number of approaches. They’ll make excuses about how those little sponsees don’t have the critical mass to be leverageable, but does nothing to either reduce their number or restructure the portfolio so they do start delivering.
Whether this can be fixed hinges on whether you can actually light a fire under this manager – giving them the impetus to stop ignoring a bad situation and find a solution.
While we all enjoy the perks of sponsorship, this manager is all about the perks, and only about the perks. Spends more time in sky boxes, as VIP guests at events, and being taken out to lunch and drinks than actually working. Phones it in on strategy, internal buy-in, measurement, and basically anything else that would contribute to improving results.
Can this be fixed? Probably, but this manager doesn’t want to change anything. Their work life is perfect, their Insta game is on fire, and they are the envy of their friends. So, uhh… good luck with that.
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