It’s been a long time since I first addressed this subject. Back then, I would have thought that the increasing sophistication across the industry would have made this advice obsolete by now. But with the ubiquity and ease of so many messaging platforms, sponsorship consultants are being casually bombarded for free advice more than ever.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it when people call or message me for a bit of ad hoc advice. I really enjoy it. I know a lot of other sponsorship consultants do, as well. It makes me think on my feet, even on days when I’m not in “strategy mode”. Plus, I just like being helpful.
But, if you’re going to contact me (or another consultant), I do have some tips. There are a few things you do, and some things to avoid, that will make much more likely you’ll get advice you can use.
I have received hundreds and hundreds of messages that are more or less identical to this:
Dear Power Sponsorship –
I have an event and need sponsorship. How do I get it?
This kind of general, big picture stuff is not the kind of advice you should be seeking gratis, and there is absolutely no need to. How-to advice abounds on the internet (and this website!) and there are some excellent books. Once you’re into the process and have specific questions, that’s the time to seek out some feedback from specialists in the area in which you work (see “do your research”, below).
This is how I usually answer those emails:
I had an email exchange just this morning with a woman who wanted me to recommend a sponsorship broker that would be interested in selling sponsorship of her self-published books on a commission-only basis. When I told her that it’s unlikely that she’s going to have the scope at this point for a reputable broker to be interested, and that wanting a broker that operated commission-only was particularly unrealistic, she decided to argue with me about how she has ten thousand followers and she’s already written screenplay version of her books, so she should be a hot commodity for a broker before… wait for it… comparing herself to J K Rowling. *forehead smack*
If you ask for advice and get it, then take it. Say, “thank you”, and if you’re game, ask another question. Don’t argue, just because the advice you’re getting isn’t something you want to hear. The consultant isn’t telling you that to hurt your feelings, but to save you from doing something counterproductive.
If you’re looking for my free advice on getting sponsorship for a property, you have to be willing to tell me about it. I have lost track of the number of phone calls I get where the caller wants detailed advice about sponsorship, but will not divulge even the most basic details about the property – like the category – for fear I’m going to steal their “groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting, once-in-a-lifetime” idea. And the number of messages and calls I’ve received with a request for free advice, but only after I sign their non-disclosure agreement, is in the hundreds.
Time to get real, people. There are very, very few ideas that are that different, and if you did your research, you’d probably find someone, somewhere in the world has already done something similar. And frankly, no credible consultant would ever think of stealing an idea you may have. Being cagey while asking for a favour is insulting.
Before you call or email, take a look around the website and figure out what the specific areas of expertise – or limitations – are. Some consultants represent elite athletes and may not be particularly interested in providing free advice to arts organisations, for instance.
For me, I don’t sell sponsorships on commission (AKA “broker”). I make this clear on my home page, my about page, consulting pages, and on my broker registry page – a page I set up specifically because I get so many people contacting me looking for a broker. So when someone contacts me asking me to broker for them – which happens several times a day – they are really telling me that they haven’t put even an ounce of effort into finding out what I can provide.
You also want to dig far enough into a website or profile that you can address your query to a specific person. I’ve lost track of the number of emails I’ve got asking for free advice, but addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam”. Did you not see the giant photo of me on the home page cover photo, Twitter masthead, profile photo, or whatever?
Doing your homework shows the person you’re approaching that you respect their time and their expertise. When looking for free advice, that’s a good thing. And while this lack of diligence may be a mild nuisance to the consultants you’re approaching, the bigger issue is that if you don’t do your homework, it doesn’t bode well for your ability to find reputable, professional advice, and not someone who will take advantage of you.
Asking for advice on an issue is one thing. Sending a form email to god knows how many consultants, asking them for “feedback” on your property, and including 10mb worth of attachments is just a sales maneuvre, and you know it. Other consultants may have a higher tolerance for this crap, but I can guarantee, you will never hear from me, so just knock it off.
I live in Sydney, Australia, but I do have a US phone number in addition to my Australian number. The US number always appears in conjunction with my Australian number, and in blogs, bios, contact pages, etc think I make it pretty clear: I am located in Australia. And amazingly enough, Sydney is not on the same time zone as anywhere in North America.
I have no issue whatsoever with someone calling from America whenever it is convenient to them and leaving a message. I will call them back at a time that is convenient to both of us. I am quite happy to do the math.
What annoys me to no end are the few who call at 3:00 AM every day for a week, don’t leave any way for me to reach them, and leave increasingly abusive messages about me never answering my phone. I’m asleep, people!
There are top consultants all over the world and there is no reason to limit yourself to advice from only your region. I will say that if you’re approaching someone, at least be aware if there is a time difference. That way, you can leave a message with some good times to call back. Or, you may just want to outline the issue you’re trying to solve in an email and take time zones right out of the equation.
With nothing more than a smartphone, anyone can search for and send one-line messages to a hundred sponsorship consultants during a coffee break. And believe me, people do. I get at least 100 of these copy-paste trifles a week. Below are a few I got just today, and yes, these are the whole things – no hello, no name, no context at all, nothing.
If you want free advice from a sponsorship consultant, then take it seriously. This is our job. We’ve spent years or decades learning and honing what we know and, frankly, our advice is worth a lot of money – just like any other specialist. If you got into legal strife, you wouldn’t send one-line emails, asking advice from random lawyers. You don’t message every local plumber with, “Best clogged drain advice. Go!”
Consultants can spot this copy-paste spam miles away, and it will get you nowhere. It takes just about the same amount of effort to delete your lazy message as it took you to send it, and that’s exactly what happens.
I am super happy to take a five minute phone call or respond to an email, but if you want an hour or more of my time, it’s going to cost you more than coffee. This is not a personal slight against you, but the reality is that consultants are busy, and we earn a living by giving advice – in my case, advice it has taken me 30 years of experience to hone. Expecting me – or any other consultant – to give you that much advice at no charge is unrealistic.
I’m not saying it doesn’t happen occasionally – catch me at lunch or drinks at an event where I’m speaking, and I’ll give you advice until I’m blue in the face! – but it’s not something I’m going to rearrange my schedule for.
If you really do need that much advice from me, and you need it now, you can get a sponsorship coaching session.
Looking back over this, it is making me sound a bit like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but I promise, I’m not trying to deter people from contacting me. Instead, I want to ensure that you maximise your chances of getting a bit of good, free advice when you need it – from me or any other consultant.
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. 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, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large, diverse, and decentralised organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.
As noted, I do not offer a sponsorship broker service, and can’t sell sponsorship on your behalf. You may find someone appropriate on my sponsorship broker registry.
© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.