Think an Online Form Will Make Sponsorship Selection Easier? Think Again!

Think an Online Form Will Make Sponsorship Selection Easier? Think Again!I’ve recently been involved in a lively discussion on LinkedIn about the value of online sponsorship submission forms. The response has been divided, to say the least.

Some people advocate their use, citing two main reasons:

  • It allows for an apples-to-apples comparison of properties.
  • It is a faster way of vetting sponsorships than going through stacks of unsolicited proposals and request letters.

I am not a fan of these forms in any way, although I can understand why they have appeal. On the surface, it absolutely looks like a time-saver and an objective assessment tool. If you look a bit deeper, however, there are some fatal flaws in this premise.

Sponsorships are not apples

As for making apples-to-apples comparisons, every sponsorship is so different, it would be impossible to compare them unless distilled into the most basic of commodities. How much exposure, tickets, hospitality, etc for how much money? Sponsorship simply isn’t a commodity industry, it’s a creative ideas industry. Imagine if ad agencies had to pitch for business using an online form!

Sponsorship comes in all shapes and sizes, all degrees of engagement and creativity. The huge sponsorship will tens of millions of impressions may look good on a form, but offer very little real value against the objectives of a mature brand. They may be totally disengaged. They may be a nightmare to work with. You can also make enormous returns from small sponsorships that are leveraged creatively, but for a sponsor to see that potential, the property needs to be able to showcase the creative leverage ideas that will create that return. Some of the least “sexy” sponsorships could provide the best return, and vice versa. None of that – positive or negative – will come out in a form.

The value isn’t in what you get, it’s what you do with it

When you invest in sponsorship, you are investing in opportunity. It is leverage (aka “activation”) that provides the results. The best sponsorship seekers are providing those creative ideas for leverage in their proposals, making it very easy for a sponsor to see how they can make it work for their brands.

Old school sponsorship seekers tell sponsors what they’re about, list the benefits, and in effect, say “you figure it out”. That “figuring out” of what’s in it for you takes a long time, but that’s exactly what sponsors set themselves up for when they use sponsorship submission forms.

If you really want to figure out which of those proposals submitted through a form will work for your brand, you need to go through the process of idea development. This takes a lot more time than reviewing the ideas that great properties will provide to you, if you give them the chance. And if a sponsor isn’t prepared to go through the process of “how could we make this work for our brand”, then they are making decisions about who to sponsor or further consider and who not to based on least common denominator mechanisms.

My recommendation: Sponsorship guidelines

Rather than creating walls, how about sponsors  just being more open and specific about your needs. And no, including the line “we only select sponsorships which meet out needs” does not count. You have to tell the sponsorship seekers what you need.

  • Create a set of sponsorship guidelines and make it really easy for seekers to get them.
  • Put them online, but don’t bury them six links deep on your website.
  • Ensure your voicemail says, “if you want to submit a proposal, please understand we only consider properties that meet our needs, as outlined in the sponsorship guidelines you can find xyz”.
  • Ensure every point of entry for sponsorship requests has access to electronic copy. This includes brand managers, regional managers, sales managers, and senior executives (who often say “yes” just so they don’t have to say “no” – this gives them an out).
  • Ensure your switchboard knows that if someone calls asking to “speak to someone about sponsorship”, they should direct them to your sponsorship guidelines online.
  • Finally, make it absolutely clear you’re serious. The first sign a proposal doesn’t comply, send an email telling them that the proposal wasn’t compliant and if they want to be considered, they need to follow your sponsorship guidelines.

Anecdotally, the number of proposals you get will drop by around 60-75% and the quality of those proposals will rise dramatically. They will be more comprehensive, creative, and objective-driven. I get a lot of love letters from sponsors about how sponsorship guidelines have made their lives easier.

Get your free, comprehensive sponsorship guidelines template.

If you use a template as a starting point, creating sponsorship guidelines takes maybe an hour. You will probably have to get sign-off, which can take a bit of time and fine-tuning, but my experience is that you could have them on your website and in the hands of all of your proposal touch points (electronically), such as brand management, local and regional management, senior managements (usually their assistants), and more – within about two weeks.

Even smaller sponsors can benefit from having good sponsorship guidelines. They may not have the massive workload that comes along with hundreds or thousands of proposals a month, but they still want good proposals that are about their needs. I know many smaller and mid-sized companies that are very happy with the reduction in workload, and especially the higher quality of proposals, that they get. I even know of several companies that have guidelines for smaller sponsorships (eg, for investments under $2000) that are not as demanding as their guidelines for larger sponsorships, but still require a degree of strategic benefits and ideas.

For all you need to know about best practice sponsorship selection, leverage, measurement, management, and more, you may want to get a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.

What about sponsorship seekers?

My strong advice to sponsorship seekers is to ignore those forms and go straight to the brand manager. Don’t pitch. Contact them having done your homework and seek to fill in the blanks so you can create a customised, creative proposal with great ideas for them to leverage. If they tell you that you have to submit via the form, they have just told you “no” and basically didn’t want to do it themselves. Go ahead and submit, but the ultimate decision will rest with the brand manager, and if s/he’s just given you the flick, it’s highly unlikely to be “yes”.

For more on reading the signs, I recommend my blog, “Six Signs a Sponsor Is Just Not That into You”.

The upshot

The upshot for all concerned is that sponsorship submission forms are a false economy. They work only in an environment that rewards old school thinking and constrain the creative process that is part and parcel with gaining the best returns at the least possible spend.

Need more assistance?

You may be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.

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 capacity-building service for large and/or diverse organisations.

Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

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