Rightsholder Sponsorship Strategies for a Great 2024

rightsholder great 2024It’s early in the year, the time when we look at twelve months stretching out in front of us, and the sponsorship possibilities seem endless. You make ambitious plans and lists and put dates on your goals – we all do!

But how many times do you get to the end of the year and realise that nothing has substantially changed? Maybe it’s because you focused on the wrong things. Maybe you didn’t have the right resources or other building blocks in place. Or maybe you just had so many plans that even considering tackling it all became paralysing.

We don’t want any of that, so I’ve distilled what could be a huge to-do list into a handful of high-leverage sponsorship strategies that will make a big impact on your results, your year, and your job.

Stop selling visibility and access

Before we can address the positive strategies that will help get you where you need to go, we need to address the elephant in the room. Most of you out there in rightsholder-land are basing your sponsorship sales on the wrong things: Visibility and access to your markets.

If this sounds familiar, you are selling based on benefits a sponsor doesn’t need. More than that, you’re showcasing a lack of the sophistication that any modern sponsor – and certainly sponsors with significant chunks of cash to invest – wants from a partner.

First off, visibility. There are rightsholders all over the world who want to increase their sponsorship revenue, and the knee-jerk approach is to try to figure out new places to slap a sponsor’s logo, or (ridiculous) new things that a sponsor can “brand”. Here’s a short, funny example.

This is first generation sponsorship, when our industry is currently in fourth – or “last” – generation. It doesn’t move the pin on brand objectives, and you’re treating your properties like commodities, interchangeable with every other property a brand could sponsor. And what you tend to get is low-value, low-sophistication, disengaged sponsors, which isn’t good for anyone. Not you, not the sponsor, and not your fans.

I’m not saying you can’t offer visibility as a benefit, but don’t think for a second that’s why any good sponsor would invest in your property, because it’s not.

These resources will be invaluable:

Now, let’s look at access. Yeah, I know… you’ve got attendees, a database, social followers, etc. And you think that because those people are a valuable market for you, giving access to those people for ads and other marketing messages is something sponsors want. And to an extent, that’s true.

Problem is, they don’t need you to do it. They can market to every single person you can put their messages in front of, simply by mounting a targeted social media campaign. Again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t offer some access, but it’s not where your value lies. And that’s what I’ve outlined below.

Know where your value to sponsors really lies

Just because much of what you may be selling now is low-value and counterproductive, that doesn’t mean you don’t have value. In fact, sponsorship provides the single most powerful marketing platform a brand has. It provides sponsors with…

  • Meaning – Sponsorship is the only marketing platform that has meaning to people built into it
  • Authenticity
  • The ability to add value to the fan experience – Anyone who cares about your properties is a fan – it’s not just a sports thing – and making that experience better is a bonanza for sponsors
  • The ability to build genuine alignment to the fans, their customers, their staff, and much more
  • The ability to demonstrate brand values and attributes, not just talk about them
  • The ability to demonstrate their corporate culture, values, and purpose, not just talk about them

Visibility and dropping ads into your socials and newsletters doesn’t accomplish any of that. None. This is about emotion, passion, and meaning. It’s about building genuine connection, alignment, and advocacy.

You have all of that. Sponsors need all of that. But you need to build it into your offers, your partnerships, and your vocabulary. For more on the real building blocks of modern sponsorship, I strongly suggest you read this white paper: Disruptive Sponsorship

Position yourself as a sophisticated peer to sponsors

There are so many rightsholders that see themselves as the less important part of a sponsorship deal; like the sponsor has all of the power. Listen to me right now, people… that is 100% false.

Knowing where your value really lies is a big part of positioning yourself as a sophisticated peer, but it’s more than that. There are myriad things you can do – big and small – that will demonstrate your sophistication,  and position your organisation as someone they want to do business with. Here are just a few examples:

  • Reach out to only highly targeted sponsors, and make it clear exactly why you think they’re a great fit
  • Do the legwork, so you can provide every sponsor with a fully customised proposal
  • Include customised and creative ideas for sponsorship leverage in every proposal
  • Think creatively about benefits and sponsorship angles
  • Have a marketing plan that provides insights a sponsor needs
  • Know how to structure your sponsorship portfolio, and price sponsorship appropriately
  • Take a holistic, organisation-wide approach to best practice sponsorship
  • Know the vocabulary, insider secrets, angles, dos, and don’ts
  • Be very proactive at servicing the sponsor’s objectives, throughout the relationship

If you can do those things, in addition to knowing where your value lies, how sponsors – current and potential – see you will dramatically shift, your sponsorship fortunes will change for the better, and you’ll love your job more. Among other things, you will be able to…

  • Target fewer sponsors, for a better strike rate
  • Attract bigger sponsorship fees for new sponsors
  • Attract better, more engaged sponsors
  • Upsell existing sponsors at renewal
  • Have sponsors advocating working with you

This blog isn’t long enough to go into all of the how-to on those factors. It’s a combination of your approach, your skill-set, and your processes. Fortunately, you have some solid options for improving all of these:

Focus on selling multi-year sponsorships

Year-to-year sponsorships are a pain in the arse for everyone, but particularly rightsholders. Imagine if you knew that a big chunk of your sponsorship income was going to be there for the next 2-3 or more years. How much more new sponsorship could you sell, if you didn’t need to renew sponsors every year? How much more could you put into keeping your current sponsors happy and inspired?

Unless your property is a one-off, never to be repeated again, all but your smallest sponsors should be on multi-year contracts. The issue becomes, how to shift those year-to-year sponsors, or new potential sponsors, into multi-year contracts.

There are a few reasons sponsors tend to go for year-to-year contracts:

All but your smallest sponsors should be on multi-year contracts.
  • They’re reticent about the value you provide, usually because you’re not operating in a best-practice, high-value manner
  • They’re suffering from inertia – They just keep sponsoring because they’ve done it for a while, and it’s not a lot of money. In other words, they’re disengaged
  • For a new potential sponsor, they don’t trust that you’ll be a good partner, and they’ll get a good result
  • You’ve never asked them for a multi-year contract
  • Your offers aren’t structured in a way that drives multi-year contracts

If you know where your value lies, and have the skills and approach to position yourself as a sophisticated, you’ll go a long way to assuaging any reticence they have about working with you long-term. For instance, creating highly customised, very sophisticated offers – for new or renewing sponsors – will not only increase the value of the sponsorships, but will encourage sponsors to want to lock it down.

You also need to know how to structure your sponsorship portfolio so that you require a multi-year contract for your principal and major sponsors, as well as how to transition your current sponsors into that framework.

The advice is the same as the previous point. Get The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition, sign up for Getting to “Yes”, or spend a bunch of time reviewing my best-of blogs and other resources to up your game. One particularly good blog to read is: 7 Reasons You Should Want Multi-Year Sponsorship Contracts

Treat social and EDM mentions like earned media

“Guaranteed social mentions” and “an ongoing presence in our monthly newsletter” are sponsorship benefits that are almost as ubiquitous as telling sponsors all the places you’ll put their logo. But is offering those benefits a good idea? Not really.

Earned media is a term referencing the amount and value of social sharing. It’s not owned by the sponsor, like their own social, and it’s not bought by the sponsor, like a social campaign. They are trying to create content that’s compelling enough so that people want to share it. They earn the share.

Those people should include your organisation.

My advice here is to frame social and EDM mentions like this:

  • Provide the absolute minimum of guaranteed social mentions, ads in your social, and presence in your EDMs
  • Make it clear that if the sponsor does strong leverage, creating content or offers that will be really compelling – not just some ordinary ad – you’re happy to share the hell out of it

By doing this, you’ll stop cluttering up your social channels with tiresome sponsor ads, diminishing the fan experience. Even better, you’ll be encouraging sponsors do meaningful, creative, interesting leverage. That gets the sponsors a better result, making it more likely they’ll renew, and provides relevant, sponsor-generated content to your fans.

Get your sponsors engaged and leveraging

I’ve referenced sponsor leverage several times. Just in case you’re not sure what that means, it references all of the stuff a sponsor does around a sponsorship, to make it come to life.

The plain truth is that they don’t get results from what you sell them; they get results from what they do with it. This could include sponsor-generated content, fan- or customer-generated content, offers and promotions of all kinds, adding value to the fan experience, working jointly with you on a meaningful project, and so so so much more.

The issue is that they need to a) know how to leverage properly; and, b) have enough vision to actually do it.

There are several good ways to encourage your sponsors down this path:

Sponsors need to know how to leverage properly, and have enough vision to do it.
  • Include creative leverage ideas in proposals for new sponsors
  • Work with existing sponsors to come up with a leverage program for their investment
  • For sponsors nearing renewal, ask if you can have a working session with them to come up with a leverage plan. That way, you can create a renewal proposal that has exactly what they need to enact that plan

Doing these things does require some know-how. The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition and Getting to “Yes” go through the whole offer development (leverage) process, step-by-step. There are also a lot of resources in my Best-of Sponsorship Offer Development Resources list.

Your other option – and I do a LOT of this – is to hold a sponsor workshop for all of your sponsors. The ones I do are typically a half-day. We invite the sponsors and their whole teams, so they get training, a plan, and buy-in at the same time. I then go through best practice basics, followed by a very intensive working session, where I lead the sponsors through the leverage development process right there in the room. They literally leave with a vision for what they can accomplish with the sponsorship, and a plan to do it. As a bonus, I also teach them to measure their real results. Bonus bonus: Sponsors love it.

Make doing sponsorship well an organisational commitment

In far too many organisations, sponsorship is seen as either a necessary evil, or some kind of side hustle, not a core part of both your revenue generation and the fan experience. Or maybe they think you should be doing the absolute minimum for the money you’re getting. None of this is any way to sell sponsorship.

You don’t need every person in the organisation to be a sponsorship expert. You do need them to understand that there is way more benefit than just money, and that if you do sponsorship really well, you’ll also get more money.

I suggest the following. For some of these, you need some skills and a process, but at the very least, do the first point.

  • Ask your key colleagues, including senior executives, to read Last Generation Sponsorship Redux, for a crash course on what best practice sponsorship is, and why you’re doing it
  • Get your colleagues involved in hit list development
  • Get your colleagues involved in brainstorming leverage ideas for sponsors
  • If you can get 15 or more people together for a couple of hours, do an Invention Test. (Such a time-saver – thank me later!)

For more on taking an organisational approach to sponsorship, read this blog: 8 Must-Have Organisational Traits for Successful Rightsholders.

The upshot

This is in no way an exhaustive list of everything you can do to be more successful with sponsorship, but if you do these things, you’ll be a bloody lot closer!

  • Know where your value to sponsors really lies
  • Stop selling visibility and access
  • Position yourself as a sophisticated peer to sponsors
  • Focus on selling multi-year sponsorships
  • Treat social mentions like earned media
  • Get your sponsors engaged and leveraging
  • Make doing sponsorship well an organisational commitment

That said, if you’ve read this and have some specific challenges I haven’t addressed, this blog is a goldmine of resources. Just find the issue(s) that you’re having on the list, and hit the link for how to address it: 39 Ways to Ensure You Don’t Sell Sponsorship.

Need more assistance?

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“.

I’ve also got a self-paced, online sponsorship training course, covering the whole sales process, with lots of inclusions. Interested? Check out Getting to “Yes”.

If you need additional assistance, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer Sponsorship Systems Design for large and/or diverse organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

Please note, 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.

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