How to Manage (or Get Rid of) a Senior Executive’s Pet Sponsorship

In many ways, the Global Financial Crisis of 07-08 was one of the best things that ever happened to the sponsorship industry. As the level of sponsor accountability rose at an astronomic rate, the level of sophistication required rose right along with it. For many companies, it also saw the end of a practice that has been the bane of marketing departments for decades: The senior executive’s pet sponsorship. The dramatic, COVID-driven rationalisation of many sponsorship portfolios, and the accountability demanded of the remaining sponsorships, drove another big wave in sophistication, and even more companies away from this practice.

But for some companies, the senior executive’s pet sponsorship has proved an intractable foe. As the expectations around sponsorship grew, some senior executives addressed the accountability issue with a directive (implied or explicit) to find some way – any way – to justify this wasteful expense.

If you’re in one of those marketing departments, and lament the dent those sponsorships are making in your budget, all is not lost. There are some strategies you can employ that can either rid you of those sponsorships or ameliorate their effects. You may use one of these strategies, or you may use several, but you should find something here to help your cause. At one time or another, I’ve used all of these strategies.

Involve stakeholders in a leverage/audit session

I love creating sponsorship stakeholder groups within companies. These teams come from departments across the company with the role to assess, leverage, and measure sponsorship investments. When you are trying to give a senior executive a wake-up call, this group can provide objective input from the safety of numbers.

Plan a session where the goal is to plan the leverage of this sponsorship. Start the session by talking about its suitability for your brand:

  • Is it relevant to at least one key target market?
  • Do you already have another sponsorship that has more relevance to that target market?
  • Is it a natural match to at least one of the key brand attributes?
  • Is it the right time of year?
  • Does it have the critical mass to be leverageable?
  • Would those stakeholders see value in leveraging it within their plans?

If you ask those questions, chances are that you’ll stop focusing on how to make this sponsorship work and start focussing on whether you should continue the investment at all. Say that. Tell your team that maybe your best course of action would be to make a recommendation to reduce or end your involvement. If they agree, change course and start fleshing out that recommendation.

Go hospitality-only

One option that may get the senior executive what they want, while getting you out of a bad investment, is to shift from being a sponsor into doing really outstanding hospitality.

Instead of sponsoring the senior executive’s old rowing club at some ridiculously high level, could you invite major customers to a rowing clinic, rowing against each other at the end, or some other creative, immersive experience?

Instead of sponsoring a major, public music event with your strictly business-to-business brand, could you do an exclusive backstage experience for your most valued clients?

The basic idea is that you are showing the senior executive that you see some value in the sponsorship, and have put some real creative effort into focusing the investment on the specific area that will net the best results.

Provide alternatives

If you can identify why this sponsorship appeals to the senior executive, you may be able to provide some alternatives that still push his/her buttons while providing a more appropriate platform for leverage.

  • Rather than sponsoring a sport that doesn’t work, could you shift to endorsement by a legend of that sport?
  • Rather than sponsoring the opera, would sponsoring the opera’s schools program, or their school holiday program for kids, be more appropriate for your brand?
  • Rather than trying to do consumer leverage around an ill-fitting local charity in your company’s hometown, could you repurpose it into an employee engagement program?

Conduct a zero-based audit

This process is somewhat more complex and often forms part of an overall sponsorship strategy, but if you’re readdressing your sponsorship strategy, that’s the perfect time to incorporate a zero-based audit.

What’s the difference between a sponsorship audit and a zero-based audit? A normal sponsorship audit looks at investments based on their appropriateness and leverageability. A zero-based audit starts from the premise that you have the same sponsorship budget you have now, but no commitments at all. You then virtually create the perfect sponsorship portfolio. It takes the focus off improvements and puts it on potential. It’s a big process, but can be a very powerful tool in shifting an organisational mindset, and makes inappropriate sponsorships very obvious to all concerned.

For more on a zero-based audit, read, “Sponsors: What If You Could Start Over?

Hire a consultant

Depending on the temperament of the senior executive in question, and the political situation in your company, there may not be any good way (for your career) to tell a senior executive that their pet sponsorship sucks. This is when a strong, credentialed sponsorship consultant can come in very handy.

As one of those consultants, I can tell you that a big part of my job is telling senior executives the unvarnished truth about their sponsorship investments, and it’s often far easier for them to hear it from me than from someone who works for them.

If you can put together a strong sponsorship stakeholder group, seeded with decision-makers who are trusted by the higher-ups, you probably won’t need a consultant. But if you don’t have that kind of group to access, it’s probably well worth considering.

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses 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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