How to Hire a Corporate Sponsorship Consultant

How to Hire a Corporate Sponsorship ConsultantSponsorship consultants are a dime a dozen – I’m one – but we are far from a homogenous group. When it comes to hiring one to assist with your sponsorship program, do you know how to get what you’re looking for?

I’ve written this blog to assist both sponsors and rightsholders to find the right consultant or agency for their needs. If you get what you’re looking for, you’ll fit together like peas in a pod. If not, it will be more like peas in a blender, and no one wants that.

I’m not including sponsorship brokers in this blog, as that’s really a different type of consulting altogether – selling on behalf of a rightsholder. If it’s a broker you’re looking for, check out the Find a Sponsorship Broker page.

There are a few steps you need to go through to ensure the consultant you hire is right for you…

Be clear about what you want

Sponsorship consultants have a number of different ways of working, and before you can hire someone, you need to know what you want. I’ve outlined some of the critical factors below.

Adding capacity vs building capacity

If you’re trying to fill a gap in your team – whether that gap is time or expertise – you’re looking to add capacity. You may be hiring someone who would define their business as “consulting”, but the type of role you’re trying to fill is more like a highly-skilled contractor – an alternative to hiring another staff member. The role could be low- or high-level, full- or part-time, primarily in-house or not.

Building capacity, on the other hand, is where the consultant provides strategic advice and elevates the expertise, efficiency, and confidence of the team so that organisational capacity to do sponsorship well increases. There is often as much emphasis on education and support as on strategic advice.

I do exclusively capacity-building work, but there are consultants who do both.

Representative vs incognito

This is an interesting one. It’s partly about what’s required in the brief and partly about organisational style, and all about external visibility.

Sometimes a big part of what you need in a consultant is to represent you in negotiations or sponsorship management, or at least accompany your team members in those external meetings. For some rightsholders, having a well-respected consultant working with them provides additional credibility to sponsors.

The other option is to have an incognito consultant – one who works closely with your team, planning and coaching through those external negotiations and management issues from behind the scenes.

You will find a lot of consultants that do mainly representative work, and others who do hardly any. I do about 80% incognito work – making my clients into the heroes – and I really enjoy it. The representative stuff is fun, too. Oh let’s not kid ourselves. I love it all!

Strategy vs implementation

This one is mainly for the corporate side of the consulting equation, but could cross over to rightsholders.

Most sponsorship consultants and agencies position themselves as “full service” – both strategists and implementers. In reality, most consultants are primarily implementers; they work frontline and make things happen. They manage the process and all the arms and legs, and can be extraordinarily talented and indispensable when it comes to making a strategy come to life. Truth be told, though, most of the best implementers – the ones who can conjure an amazing fan experience from thin air – aren’t that great at pointy-end strategy. And when they do strategy development, it can sometimes tend to favour their strengths, rather than offering objective advice.

Then there are the strategists; the people to help to develop and sell-in the overarching strategies that spawn the leverage programs that need to be implemented. They can be very good at what they do, but will probably have little interest in being involved with – or even the expertise for – the nitty gritty of making it happen. I’m a strategist, and by the time the strategies I’ve worked on are actually happening in the marketplace, I often haven’t been substantially involved for six months or more.

If you know you need one or the other of these roles, hire a specialist consultant or agency. If you genuinely need both, consider hiring the two roles separately. If you are bound and determined to hire one agency to do it all, try to find one that has a dedicated strategist with some serious experience.

Project vs portfolio

This one is simple, and related to the preceding point. Is the consultancy centred on one, succinct project? Or does your whole portfolio need an overhaul?

If it is project-based, you could need a strategist, implementer, or both. If it’s portfolio-based, you’re probably looking for a strategist.

Expertise vs credibility

If you’ve got challenges and objectives and you don’t know how to get there, you need strong, strategic expertise and a heavy dose of experience.

On the other hand, you may know exactly the way forward, but your organisation has a culture of valuing outside expertise more than internal. In that case, you’re hiring for credibility and generating internal buy-in for a new strategy. You want someone that is not only experienced, but also has a strong bank of recognisable clients, and a reasonable industry profile.

Hourly rate vs project fee

Some companies prefer to hire on an hourly basis, but a lot of consultants just hate it, because it’s a pain in the bum to do all the admin. The other option is a project fee, where the proposal has a set fee to accomplish the brief. This will be more typical.

Honestly, I think you get more value from a project fee, as it is outcome-based. That consultant is just going to keep working until the job is done, and that’s really what it’s all about. To get a good consultant, you’re not hiring for X number of hours, you’re hiring for their years of experience and talent, and people with experience and talent can crank through good work very efficiently.

Provide a complete brief

I’ve been asked what I can do for a brand on Twitter, and can tell you with utmost certainty that 280 characters is not enough for any consultant to go on!

Providing a complete brief is absolutely essential to get a good proposal. You want to outline…

  • The specific outcomes you want to achieve
  • Timeframe for achieving them
  • The challenges you’ve identified that stand in the way (the consultant may identify more)
  • The general approach and experience level of your team
  • Potential political or budget issues
  • Organisational culture around change
  • Timeframe and process for making a decision

If required, get the potential consultant to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but you need to be upfront if you want to get a proposal that meets your needs.

Don’t fish

Do not ever, EVER hand a sponsorship consultant’s proposal to another sponsorship consultant and ask, “What would you charge for this?” That is an egregious breach of confidentiality and very bad sponsor karma. And yes, this has happened to me.

You’re looking for a professional; you need to be professional. Don’t make a consultant go through the time-consuming process of putting together a strong proposal if you’re not in serious hiring mode. That includes asking consultants to go through that process if you’ve already made your hiring decision, but not telling them all you need is two more proposals to tick some admin box about getting three quotes.

And do not ever, EVER hand a sponsorship consultant’s proposal to another sponsorship consultant and ask, “What would you charge for this?” That is an egregious breach of confidentiality and very bad sponsor karma. And yes, this has happened to me.

What to look for in a proposal

A good consultant will put together a proposal that makes it easy for you to make a decision. It doesn’t have to be long, but should include all of the following:

  • The consultant’s understanding of your situation and objectives.
  • Outline of overall approach.
  • Outline of outcomes and approach for each major component of the consultancy.
  • Exclusivity – Will the consultant be available to your competitors? If not, how long is the exclusivity period?
  • Confidentiality – An undertaking to keep all materials and information confidential, whether an NDA is signed or not.
  • Information required – What background information do you need to provide?
  • Travel required.
  • Availability – An outline of any major issues with availability during the proposed timeframe, such as an office shutdown for the holidays or a major event.
  • Timeline.
  • Fees and other costs.
  • Terms, including when the offer expires.

Unless you have some history with the consultant, or you found them via a trusted referral, you should definitely ask for references you can call – and then call them! Also good is to ask for two or three short case studies of where their advice made a difference to measurable sponsorship results.

From here, it’s about comfort level and chemistry and mutual understanding of the goals, and only your organisation can know whether that works for you. But at the very least, you will be clear about what skills you’re after and have received a proposal that reflects that consultant’s response to your needs. Good luck!

Need more assistance?

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

Rightsholders, 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 need professional assistance with sponsorship, 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/or 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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