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

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

The advocates cite 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, mentions, 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 with tens of millions of impressions and a few hundred tickets may look good on a form, but offer very little real value against brand objectives. They may be a nightmare to work with. They may not understand best practice sponsorship, or your needs, at all. But you won’t see the proposal that will showcase their real, strategic flaws.

On the other hand, you won’t see the best opportunities shine. You can make enormous returns from 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, the meaning, and the passion that will create that return. Some of the least “sexy” sponsorships could provide the best return, and vice versa.

You’re making more work for yourself

When you invest in sponsorship, you are investing in opportunity. It is leverage that provides the results. The best rightsholders 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 rightsholders 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.

Because those forms don’t allow for showcasing leverage ideas, you’re not giving rightsholders a chance to do a big chunk of your work for you.

You probably ignore the form

Years ago, I started asking corporate clients how often they check the proposals submitted through the form. The most common answer? Once or twice a year – ONCE OR TWICE A YEAR! When I query how many of the events or seasons have already happened by then, the answer is “most of them”.

If this sounds familiar, this isn’t about apples-to-apples or streamlining or whatever other “strategic” reason you have for the form. It’s gatekeeping, pure and simple. It’s also really unfair, and terrible sponsorship karma. You might as well use this as the heading for the page:

We’re not going to sponsor you, but feel free to throw your offer into a black hole, using the form below.

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 rightsholders what you need.

  • Create a set of sponsorship guidelines and make it really easy for rightsholders 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 [location]”.
  • 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%, as rightsholders either realise they’re not a good fit, or that they’re not prepared to put in the time and effort to get you something strategic. At the same time, the quality of the proposals you do receive 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.

Want a giant shortcut? Download my 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, 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.

What about rightsholders?

My strong advice to rightsholders 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 also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “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.

© 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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