The Best Sponsorship is Process-Driven Sponsorship

Outstanding sponsorship is process-driven sponsorshipFor most sponsors, decisions to invest in or renew a sponsorship are based primarily on analysis against a set of criteria. This may seem sensible, and bean counters love this approach, but it doesn’t actually work very well with sponsorship. I’ll go so far as to say that using analysis to drive your decisions is consigning your results to mediocrity, and the only way to achieve truly outstanding sponsorship is if the decisions around it are primarily process-driven.

Below, I’ve outlined the typical, analysis-driven approach to sponsorship decisions, the far more effective and powerful process-driven approach, and some steps so that you can apply it within your own organisation.

Analysis-driven sponsorship

For new sponsorship investments, there is a predictable analytic track:

  • Is the target market a match?
  • Is it an attribute match?
  • Does it duplicate an existing investment?
  • Does it fit into our annual or seasonal calendar of sponsorships?
  • Do we have enough lead time?
  • Are the benefits appropriate?
  • Is the price appropriate for the benefits?
  • How does the price stack up against other options?
  • Are the terms realistic?
  • Is the offer/organiser credible?

If you’re looking at a renewal, you’d analyse most of the above, plus…

  • Were the benefits delivered as promised?
  • Did the deliverables meet or exceed your expectations?
  • Did the property protect your interests?
  • Were they easy to deal with?

There also might be some kind of visibility or recall report to waste your time analysing.

And then there’s my analysis pet-hate: The matrix. You rate various aspects of the offer or renewal on a scale of one to ten, add them up, and if it gets to a certain number, you’ll seriously consider it. This is analysis gone mad. Rather than seeking the answer to the various questions, you’re going to guess at some arbitrary number – one that is likely different for everyone who analyses it.

I’m hoping some of you would have read this thinking, “Where’s the measurement of results?” Measurement is an absolute necessity, but doing it properly is actually part of a larger process.

The above may seem uncomfortably familiar to you, and I’m not saying that there isn’t a role for analysis in sponsorship decisions. The thing is, making your decisions based on analysing the offer is inherently flawed and counterproductive, because it has nothing to do with what makes a sponsorship great. Instead, consider analysis to be about threshold needs; telling you more about whether you shouldn’t do something than whether you should.

Process-driven sponsorship

Process-driven sponsorship takes an entirely different approach to making decisions, drawing out the most important factors that go into top-performing sponsorship:

This is about organisational belief and commitment, and the only way you’ll know if you’ve got that is if you follow a collaborative process to build vision, commitment, and consensus. And if the investment isn’t right for you, that process will shake out all of the strategic reasons you need to say “no”.
  • Is this property meaningful to at least one of our core target markets? Why do they love it? How does it fit into their lives and who they are?
  • How can we use this property to demonstrate our alignment with the passions of customers, staff, and fans?
  • How can we use this to deepen our relationship with customers, staff, and fans?
  • Do we have a vision for how we can use this to achieve our larger marketing or business objectives?
  • Is there broad buy-in and a shared vision across our stakeholders?
  • Are those stakeholders ready to commit to using this sponsorship across their channels?
  • How can our stakeholders from across the company – sales, HR, social team, regional management, customer retention, etc – use this to add value to our target markets?
  • Can we use the larger themes of the property to transcend geography and time frame issues?
  • Can we use the larger themes to find relevance for additional target markets?
  • Is it most appropriate to sponsor big? Or can we sponsor small and work it hard? Is ambush an option?
  • Are there political or logistical issues for/with any of our stakeholders?
  • What objectives do our internal stakeholders believe they can achieve? How will they measure results, and from what benchmarks?
  • What benefits do we need to accomplish all of this?
  • If we can accomplish all of this, what is an appropriate fee? What’s the opportunity cost?

These are not factors that fit into checkboxes or some kind of matrix. This is about organisational belief and commitment, and the only way you’ll know if you’ve got that is if you follow a collaborative process to build vision, commitment, and consensus. And if the investment isn’t right for you, that process will shake out all of the strategic reasons you need to say “no”.

So, what’s the process?

Here’s an overview of the process-driven approach I take my clients through.

1. Do a first-pass analysis

You need to get rid of the obvious losers, which will probably account for most of the unsolicited approaches you get. (See… there is a role for analysis.)

  • If the proposal is uncustomised, lacking in detail, gold-silver-bronze-style commodity benefits, or otherwise terrible, send a link to your Sponsorship Guidelines (template here) and tell them you don’t accept proposals that don’t comply with those guidelines.
  • If the lead-time is too short and/or the price completely unrealistic, tell them they’re delusional. (Okay, maybe don’t use the word “delusional”, but this is an instance where it’s kinder to tell them the truth.)

2. Identify stakeholders

Identify the likely stakeholders who could benefit from this investment and schedule a group meeting. Better yet, schedule regular meetings with this group and put opportunities with some potential on the agenda.

Stakeholders should include decision-makers or decision-influencers from departments across your company – social media to HR to sales to brand management, and more.

3. Hold a stakeholder meeting

There are several steps to this. You need to do them all, and in this order. This may seem like overkill, but you will make much better decisions about your sponsorship investments, if you do it this way. And when we’re talking about the most powerful marketing tool in the toolbox, it’s important to get it right!

  • Do a short discussion of their general impression and any immediate concerns. Don’t get bogged down – any real problems will come up as you move through the process.
  • Go through the leverage planning process – backgrounding, brainstorming, and vetting. That will include addressing those process-driven questions, above. If your stakeholders struggle with this step, they lack vision and will lack commitment. Even if you think it’s great, it probably isn’t a goer. If most of them are engaged and enthusiastic, you’ve probably got something you can work with.
  • It will be obvious that you’ll need some very specific benefits to make your draft plan work, and you should mention that, but you should also ask the stakeholders if there are any other specific benefits they’d want or need to achieve their goals.
  • Ask what it’s worth – what’s the most you should be willing to pay? You can tell them what the original fee was and a general overview of benefits, to give them an understanding of where the property is valuing it, but your highly customised counter-offer could be a very different figure.
  • Get the stakeholders to nominate how they’d measure the results of their involvement. You don’t need benchmarks or details just yet.
  • Now, ask the stakeholders to talk you out of it. Why shouldn’t you sponsor it? This should bring out any lingering concerns.

There is certainly a lot more to it, but this is a good overview of what you need to do to build vision, buy-in, and a draft leverage and measurement plan. On the other hand, you may very clearly identify a lack of vision and buy-in, which will doom your results, no matter how good your analysis makes the sponsorship out to be.

You can easily adapt this process for renewals, giving you a way to rejuvenate or reinvent your investments. It will also be obvious if it’s time to move on.

If you’re already doing a strong, multifaceted job of measurement, you’d include discussion of the results and the factors that contributed to anything unexpected. If your measurement has been more about getting a post-event report from your partner – about mechanisms, not results – then there won’t be much meaningful to discuss.

The upshot

I’ve lost track of the consulting clients who contact me years, and sometimes several jobs later, just to tell me how much this approach has changed their results, their jobs, and even their career trajectory. I get emails from people after attending my workshops, telling me that shifting to process-driven decision-making has rejuvenated their whole portfolios, and finally given them a politically astute way to exit historic and chairman’s choice sponsorships.

There are plenty of areas of sponsorship that benefit from analysis, checklists, and matrixes, so if that’s how your brain organises things, you can still get your fix. But the biggest decisions you’ll make – should we invest or reinvest, what will we do with it, and why – are only served when your organisation embraces collaboration and creativity and the chaos robust discussion that goes along with it.

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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