Bad Idea #148: Outsourcing Sponsorship Sales to an Online Stranger

Outsourcing SMIn amongst the pile of emails in my inbox the other morning was one of the stranger requests for advice I’ve ever received. The sender was looking for sponsorship sales work, but wasn’t sure how to pitch for a job listed on Elance, or whether it was even worth it.

Now, for anyone not familiar with Elance or ODesk or other outsourcing websites, these are platforms that allow you to list a job – generally with very specific parameters and outcomes – and then freelancers from around the world bid for the job. Bids can be incredibly low, but so can expertise levels. You get to decide who to hire, and most hires have a balance between low price and experience/good reviews. Some people find these platforms invaluable – and I’ve used them myself for (again) very concise jobs – but sponsorship sales? No way.

With an attitude somewhere between perplexed and horrified, I logged onto Elance to have a look at this job posting. Upon finding it, I settled on “horrified”. A North American organisation was offering $20 an hour for up to 20 hours a week, over two months, to sell sponsorship to an event just a few months away. It was specced like some kind of cold-calling numbers game, and it was destined to fail.

If they hired someone to do the job as specced, they’d end up with an offshore call centre with no specific sponsorship expertise to pitch sponsorship as a commodity, in a manner interchangeable with those never-ending telemarketing calls about water coolers and phone systems and toner cartridges. I don’t care how many hundreds of times someone says, “Hello. May I please speak to the person who handles sponsorship?”, they won’t see one dollar of sponsorship. Not one.

The guy that contacted me wanted to figure out whether it was possible to do anything resembling best practice sponsorship sales within that framework. My answer was an unequivocal “no”.

As useful as platforms like Elance and ODesk can be, it is the wrong place to look for sponsorship talent. And that’s what you need: Talent. When it’s done well, it’s a mixture of strategy, research, and creativity that you’d be hard-pressed to find in many other fields. And when it’s done well, that mix of talents will result in compelling sponsorship offers that are both worth a lot more money and more likely to get a “yes”.

So, with online outsourcing platforms ruled out, how do you get your sponsorship sold? Well, you really have three options…

Hire a broker

I know, I know… sponsorship sales is hard and you all want brokers; someone to sell on your behalf on commission. I hate to break it to you, however, but good brokers are in short supply, and they cherry-pick the best properties to sell. Most brokers represent properties that are big, established, run by established organisations, have a very substantial lead-time, and have a genuine commercial value for sponsorship well into six-figures. There are very few exceptions to this.

If you are willing to go with a new broker, you may be able to get one to take on your less sexy property, but keep in mind, new brokers have far fewer contacts and far less credibility than established brokers. You could risk a lot and burn a lot of lead-time waiting for a broker to deliver, and end up with no sponsorship and no time to sell it yourself.

In any case, you’re likely to be looking at a retainer-plus-commission situation, and there are some lesser-skilled brokers who will pick up lots of properties primarily for the retainers. They will then run the sales campaign as a numbers game, with uncustomised proposals going to their whole database, just in case someone bites. Meanwhile, you think they’re running their arse off on your behalf and that the money will be coming in the door soon. Wrong.

There are great brokers and not-great brokers. If you’re bound and determined to try to hire one, you should read my cheat sheet, “Questions to Ask before you Hire a Broker”.

Hire in-house

Hiring in-house can also be a case of “you get what you pay for”, but at least you know that they’re dedicated to selling your property. You can also dictate the approach and insist that your sponsorship manager does their homework and creates customised proposals, maximising both the value of each proposal and your chances for a “yes”.

You can hire a permanent employee, which is probably best if you have a large property with potentially many sponsors and/or many properties to sell. If you really only have one property with a handful of sponsors to sell, you may want hire a contractor for a specific timeframe. If you hire a contractor, you need to put that sales timeframe in the right place. Don’t hire them for the six months prior to the event. The sponsorship sales window will close far before that. It’s far better to hire them 9-10 months out, with a view to ending the contract 3-4 months from the event. You may want to extend the contract into sponsorship management after that, but sales should be over.

You also want to ensure that they are working collaboratively with the rest of your team, so they should spend at least some time working in your office. You need to insist on seeing every proposal that goes out – at least until you have a strong, working relationship – ensuring you’re being represented in a manner that represents best practice and a strong level of professionalism.


If you don’t have the financial capacity to hire an employee or contractor to look after the sponsorship function, and your property is new or relatively small, you need to face facts: You’re going to have to sell it yourself. Better to know that and just get on with it than spend a lot of time trying in vain to find a broker.

This really isn’t the end of the world. You know your property, you have a passion for it, and you’re motivated. That gives you a big running start that you shouldn’t discount. What you really need is a process.

You can find a lot of that process on this blog, but it’s all in pieces and not sequential, so could be hard to follow, especially if you’re starting from scratch. In that case, you’re much better off just splashing out the $37 or so to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to have a read through it even if you do hire a broker or hire in-house, simply so you know the difference between the sponsorship approach you want (and sponsors certainly want) and the approach many older-school sponsorship pros still employ.

By all means, use Elance and platforms like it to build an app or do some research or update your website, but if what you want is sponsorship revenue and great, engaged sponsors, that’s not how you’re going to get it.

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, sponsorship training, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
[email protected]
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265

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