A Sponsor’s Guide to Getting Buy-In (and Why It’s Crucial to Great Sponsorship)

Way back at the beginning of my career, I worked for an agency that leveraged mostly sports sponsorships for Fortune 500 companies. My company got hired, we created a plan – back then, largely centred on in-store and media promotions – and implemented it. What we didn’t do was coordinate with anyone at the client, outside of our direct contacts.

This backfired multiple times, as we were lambasted by retail managers, ticked off that we were trying to sell a sponsorship-driven promotion into retail, at the same time they had already booked a different retail promotion for the same brand. We negotiated radio promotions that were competing on the same stations with non-sponsorship promotions for the same brands. Our assumption was that our contact would have coordinated all of this, but the clients’ culture regarded sponsorship as some irrelevant sideshow, to be ignored entirely until it got in their way.

Sponsorship has come a very long way since then, but there are still companies that treat sponsorship as some poor cousin of “real” marketing, and not really relevant to the rest of the business, creating a cascade of problems and missed opportunities.

This blog addresses not only why you need broad, organisational buy-in for sponsorship, but how to do it.

Why you need sponsorship buy-in

As a sponsorship consultant, I provide advice, review approaches and portfolios, assist with negotiations and capacity-building, and create strong, best practice strategies. I love this stuff. I live for it.

But the unvarnished truth is that, as good as my work is, if there isn’t organisational buy-in, none of that advice will ever be put into practice. This is why laying the buy-in groundwork, and building in ongoing stakeholder participation, is a crucial part of what I do. And if you’re developing a new strategy, reviewing sponsorships, trying to update your approach, or improving your results, that buy-in is just as crucial for you.

Here’s a rundown on the biggest reasons  – practical and strategic – why buy-in is so critical to your sponsorship success.

Eliminates duplication of effort

As noted right at the start of this blog, one of the most pragmatic reasons for getting buy-in is that you can coordinate activities with the various stakeholders, not compete against them. By working together, your company will benefit from the cooperation of subject-matter experts (sales, social, HR, customer retention, regional management, etc) with experts on harnessing the power of sponsorship.

Just imagine if the social team and brand/sponsorship team worked together, combining the power of a relevant sponsorship with the expertise and implementation of the social team. Now, imagine that across all of your channels for all of your key markets – B2C, B2B, intermediary, and internal.

Maximises results

Following on from the previous point, by working with stakeholders from across the company, so they understand the potential for their areas of business, they’ll undertake a range of leverage activities through channels that they manage.

By taking this approach first, sponsors can squeeze a huge amount of value out of a very modest leverage budget.

This creates many points of impact for the investment, adding value to the target market relationship, aligning with target markets, demonstrating brand positioning, and more. It’s not just an activation on-site, plus some social (typical), but a multi-faceted, holistic, and consistent campaign.

Reduces incremental cost

If those broader stakeholders see the value of the sponsorship, and leverage it across some or all of their own channels, not only will the sponsorship be much more thoroughly leveraged, it will be leveraged at very little incremental cost. Stakeholders will be using the meaning and relevance of sponsorship to add power to their already budgeted activities. By taking this approach first – before thinking about stand-alone, often more expensive leverage concepts – sponsors can squeeze a huge amount of value out of a very modest leverage budget.

Note, I’m not denigrating big leverage ideas. I’m saying work with stakeholders to integrate across their activities first, then spend any additional money to fill gaps in the plan.

Provides a brains trust

By getting buy-in and involvement of key stakeholders, you also end up with a brains trust of people that are a) subject-matter experts; and, b) have different perspectives. They can be instrumental in developing creative leverage plans, determining appropriate measures and benchmarks for their areas of business, and pointing out opportunities and issues that might otherwise be overlooked.

It’s the only way you can measure results

When it comes to evaluating the performance of a sponsorship against marketing and other business objectives, you can’t get a full picture unless all of the participating stakeholders get involved in both the benchmarking and measurement of the leverage they do.

Sales is better at measuring sales – wholesale, retail, incremental, upselling, promotion-driven, etc – than you are. Your social team is better at measuring engagement, sentiment, and online advocacy than you are. Your customer retention team is better at measuring uptake of a sponsorship-driven offer or reward than you are. That list goes on and on.

Certainly, there are things that you’re well-placed to measure, or at least coordinate. But even then, you might be better off working with your experts. For instance, you could work with whoever coordinates your brand tracking research to come up with a few questions from the survey that could be asked of fans of the property, providing both advice and benchmarks for perception changes.

For more on this, see Sponsorship Measurement: How to Measure What’s Important.

Mitigates senior executive meddling micro-managing

When it comes to sponsorship, everyone thinks they’re an expert. That includes senior executives, who hold a lot of sway, but often don’t have much of a clue as to how sponsorship actually works. They suggest sponsoring things that aren’t going to work for the brand. They fixate on old-school benefits, like visibility and guaranteed social mentions. They’re dazzled by flashy presentations from marquee rightsholders, even if the offer is weak. This certainly isn’t all senior executives, but there are plenty that make doing sponsorship well really difficult.

This can be greatly mitigated if you have a cadre of stakeholders signing off on highly strategic leverage and measurement plans, as well as making recommendations on whether to commit to various investments, and why. This has the dual role of gently educating the C-suite on best practice, while also demonstrating the degree of rigour and planning that goes into modern sponsorship.

How to get sponsorship buy-in

Now that we’ve covered why you need internal buy-in to do sponsorship well, the question is, how do you get it?

Listen to the stakeholders

Before I develop any sponsorship strategy, I interview a big range of stakeholders. This has been as few as six or seven, and on a few occasions, well over 100. The average would be around 25-35. You might think these would get repetitive, and to some extent, they do. But while getting new information and insights from them is important, it’s even more important to hear what they’re saying, and get them interested in the result.

Most of the time, it’s the first time they’ve ever been asked about sponsorship, and they’re delighted to be included.

I want to know what they’re trying to accomplish, their priorities, their markets. I ask them for any market intelligence they may have, and copies of their strategic plans and other pertinent materials. I ask what kind of benefits they would want from sponsorship? What would be useful for them? What can they leverage? How they measure results in their area of the business?

Most of the time, it’s the first time they’ve ever been asked about sponsorship, and they’re delighted to be included. And the fact that I’m asking their opinion, and asking what they need from sponsorship, piques their interest. They stop seeing it as a distraction from the core business, and start seeing it as something they can use to achieve their goals.

Revisit your sponsorship strategy

With all of that information, from all of those stakeholders, you’re going to need to revisit your sponsorship strategy. And if you’re starting a new strategy from scratch, don’t do it until you’ve done your stakeholder interviews.

These stakeholder interviews will likely impact…

  • The priorities for sponsorship selection and renewals
  • The types of benefits you negotiate
  • The whole process of leverage, measurement, and reporting
  • Your leverage and measurement budgets
  • The structure and role of the sponsorship team
  • The tools and capacity-building required to support both the sponsorship team and stakeholders

There could be other areas of impact, such as competitive positioning, auditing and reworking the portfolio, new products and brand extensions, and more.

Get the stakeholders meaningfully involved in both planning and delivery

Never end a stakeholder interview without asking whether they’d like someone from their business area to represent them on a sponsorship stakeholder group. They always say “yes”. Always.

Hold them to it.

As soon as you’ve completed the interviews, schedule your first sponsorship stakeholder group meeting. Often, the easiest way to kick off is to create a leverage and measurement plan for an underperforming sponsorship. Try to get somewhere between 8-15 people in the room, from across the organisations. Bribe them with sandwiches, if you have to. You’ll only have to do that once.

The leverage and measurement process will get their juices flowing, get them excited about the potential for sponsorship, and deepen the buy-in for doing sponsorship well across the organisation. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. What you’ll find is that everyone will leave with at least a couple of leverage ideas they know they can put in place, and possibly others that need some feasibility-checking. You’ll also have at least a draft idea of their objectives and how they’ll measure results.

I use a design thinking approach for this, the basics of that approach are outlined here: The Best Sponsorship is Process-Driven Sponsorship.

This same group can be used to assess shortlisted opportunities, create negotiation plans, and deal with issues around sponsorship.

Have a senior executive champion

Having a senior executive who believes in best practice sponsorship, and can lead the charge on buy-in and participation is ideal. They can get the right people into the room, even without sandwiches, and carry the flag for best practice into the C-suite.

This person is usually a CMO, or possibly a Group Brand Manager, if they have the ear of the executive committee. In a perfect world, they’d be at least a once-in-a-while member of your stakeholder group. If they don’t want to commit to that, try to get them to be there for at least the first meeting, giving the initiative their stamp of approval.

Use a consultant

With all of the sponsorship resources I put into the world, I do my best to give you the skills and strategies to do sponsorship well – without needing to hire a consultant. But there are times when a consultant can be invaluable, particularly if you have an organisation that puts a high value on outside expertise.

Changing your organisational culture around sponsorship, and getting buy-in for that new approach, is a very smart use of an expert consultant. A consultant can bring objectivity and deep subject-matter expertise, providing advice and making hard calls that may not be taken seriously from someone internally (even if they’re 100% right).

In addition, in the absence of a clued-in senior executive champion, a credible, external consultant may be your best option to get your executive committee on board with best practice sponsorship. Educating senior executives isn’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes it requires a degree of bluntness that could be hard to take from someone internally, but that they welcome from someone who is a clear leader in the sponsorship field.

The upshot

When it comes to doing sponsorship well, internal buy-in isn’t optional. If you’ve got that buy-in…

And who doesn’t want all of that?

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.

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 capacity-building service for large and/or diverse 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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