How Do You Sell Sponsorship to an Old-School Sponsor?

How Do You Sell Sponsorship to an Old-School Sponsor?The sophistication level of sponsors increased dramatically in the aftermath of the global recession of 2007-2008, as sponsors had to deal with a new level of accountability. The pandemic has led to another huge increase in sophistication, as sponsors clear the dead wood from their budgets, and increase their focus on remote fans.

The upshot is that sponsors now are generally well ahead of rightsholders in sophistication. As a result, much of this blog and The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition have been focused on helping those rightsholders to effectively sell and service this new era of sponsors.

There are also a lot of rightsholders who “get it” – more every day – and when they come across a potential sponsor who doesn’t, it can seem like a trip in the way-back machine. I’ve lost track of the number who contact me, asking how to sell to an old-school sponsor while staying true to their hard-earned best-practice approach. This is what I tell them…

Dig for objectives

Even if the potential sponsor hasn’t made the direct connection between sponsorship and overall marketing objectives, one of the smartest things you can do is to draw those overall marketing objectives out. So say:

  • Let’s back up a bit here. It would really help me to understand your bigger picture if you could tell me a bit about your overall marketing objectives. Like, what perceptions are you trying to change around this brand? What do you want people to know or believe about the brand?
  • What behaviours are you trying to change around the brand? Do you want to increase loyalty? Get new customers? Evoke advocacy? Something else?

Sometimes, a sponsor will swing it back around to old school thinking, saying something like, “We’re really only interested because we want to be seen to be giving back to the community” or “Our main interest is just to get our logo ‘out there’”. If you hear something like that, spin it back to objectives.

  • Okay, let’s say you’re successful at giving back to the community and everyone in the community acknowledges that. How does that change how they feel about your brand?
  • Let’s assume we’re super-successful at getting you lots of logo exposure. How does that change their behaviour? Increased preference? More likely to try your brand??

I do suggest you throw a couple of suggested objectives into your conversation, as that can get them started.

The result of this conversation is that now you know what the real job of the sponsorship is, even if the sponsor doesn’t.

Mix it up

Even if the sponsor is stuck in a time warp, I don’t suggest dumbing down your proposal to that level. You still need to follow a best practice, strategic story arc, and you should still anchor your proposal on creative ideas for how the sponsor can use the sponsorship to achieve their overall marketing and business objectives. If you do this well, even a very old-school sponsor should be able to envision the scope and impact of the investment, and will probably appreciate you opening their eyes.

That said, they may have a more difficult internal sell, and that is the primary job of a proposal. To that end, you should include the information that will help them with that sell. If they need to know the reach of their logo on your materials, website, social media, etc, just tell them. If they’re focused on hospitality, tell them all about the cool hospitality things you can do.

If they’re stuck on the euphemism that is “good corporate citizenship”, be sure to emphasise what your event/program/etc means to your fans – something you should always do at the start of a proposal! – and emphasise how they become part of that meaning through the leverage ideas you provide.

Do note that I said to include these things in your best practice proposal. Don’t ever replace best practice with old school.

Need a best practice proposal template? Look no further than The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition. For a quick primer on how a best practice proposal is constructed, see Sponsorship Proposal Basics in About 15 Minutes.

Reference case studies

When you’re speaking to an old school sponsor, be sure to talk about the perception and behaviour changes some of your other sponsors have achieved. Include short – like 150-word – case studies as an addendum to your proposal. If you can demonstrate real marketing results from what you offer, they will be less likely to focus on the old-school, mechanism-based benefits.

Approach the brand manager

Every old-school sponsor in your portfolio is like a ticking time bomb. The time will come – and it will be soon – where they will all embrace best practice. You don’t want to be the sponsee that “took the money and gave them nothing but logo exposure”, because they’ll blame you for their lack of results and won’t renew.

I’m a big fan of approaching the brand manager – not the sponsorship manager – with any sponsorship opportunity. There are many reasons for this, but one is because they tend to take a bigger picture view of marketing, and if you can create the vision, they will see how sponsorship can fit into that picture.

Longer term

If you are successful at signing an old-school sponsor, you can’t just breathe a sigh of relief and move on. Every old-school sponsor in your portfolio is like a ticking time bomb. The time will come – and it will be soon – where they will all embrace best practice. Their understanding of the media will change, and the frame they put around your relationship will change along with it. You don’t want to be the sponsee that “took the money and gave them nothing but logo exposure”, because they’ll blame you for their lack of results and won’t renew.

Instead, make it your mission to educate and elevate them. Do a boardroom lunch for your sponsors and invite your best sponsors to present ten-minute case studies. Hold a workshop for all of your sponsors. Even better, do a live leverage and measurement workshop, so they leave at the end of the day with a best practice leverage plan all mapped out. (I do a lot of those – they work great!)

Whether the old-school sponsors in your portfolio elevate their approach or not in the shorter term, when they do embrace best practice, it will be crystal clear that you’ve done your absolute best to get them a great result.

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: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.

If you need additional assistance, 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 decentralised 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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