Here we are, at the beginning of 2024 – 366 days where you can stick with the status quo, for more of the same uninspired approach to sponsorship, the same frustrations, and the same mediocre (or diminishing) returns. Alternatively, you can make some changes early, and alter the entire trajectory of your sponsorship program, your returns, and even your job.
That’s what this blog is about. Things you can do and plan now that will make sponsorship more effective, efficient, accountable, and fun. To that end, I’ve compiled some of the highest-leverage changes sponsors can make, along with some short, sharp action items to get you going.
I’m a fan of sponsorship audits. I do a lot of them for clients. The problem with audits, though, is that most companies do only a third of the job. And while that’s certainly better than not auditing your portfolio at all, you’re not going to get the powerhouse portfolio you want, unless you do the whole process.
Auditing individual investments for effectiveness is the typical approach. Questions tend to be things like…
These are fair questions – and questions you should be asking – but one of the biggest questions of them all is usually left unasked:
Because if you don’t have the time or people or buy-in to leverage it properly, it’s never going to deliver on your objectives. The unvarnished trught is that an unleveraged sponsorship is a waste of money. You’re better off having fewer, better matched sponsorships that are fully leveraged, than a portfolio full of sponsorships with potential, but that potential is totally unrealised because of a lack of leverage.
One of the biggest issues with auditing simply for effectiveness, is that you can end up with a portfolio full of dozens (or more) perfectly suited sponsorships, but because there are no efficiencies built in, you have to leverage each of them individually, creating a mountain of work for your team. Inefficiency is one of the biggest reasons sponsorships go unleveraged, and don’t deliver.
Instead, as part of your audit process, I recommend you put efficiency front and centre. Are there ways that you can structure the portfolio so it’s easier to leverage, manage, and measure? The answer is almost certainly “yes”, and has been “yes” for every single sponsor I’ve worked with for decades.
In addition to getting rid of the dead wood, you’re looking for ways that you can group sponsorships together, so they can be leveraged and measured as one, larger entity. This could include:
By undertaking one or more of these strategies, a small team can very effectively leverage, manage, and measure a substantial portfolio.
For more, I suggest you read this blog: How to Structure a Sponsorship Portfolio.
This is a very different way to audit a portfolio, but there’s no question it has been the most powerful, in my experience. Why? Because it takes the focus away from improvements, and puts it on potential.
I call this kind of audit a zero-based audit, and it’s really very simple. Take whatever your annual sponsorship budget is – or what you want it to be – and pretend you have no commitments whatsoever. What would you sponsor? What would you do with those sponsorships? How would you break down the budget?
For a more comprehensive take on the zero-based audit, I suggest you read this blog: Sponsors: What if You Could Start Over?
I’ve already alluded to leverage being the critical factor for getting results from sponsorship. But doing that thoroughly and well from within the sponsorship team is unrealistic.
The key to maximising the impact, and minimising the cost, of leverage is to get buy-in from across the company. You want them to see the sponsorship as a valuable asset to achieving their objectives, and to commit to leveraging it to their target markets, through their channels.
Even better – waaaaay better – get that buy-in before committing to a sponsorship. Work with those cross-departmental stakeholders to determine…
By doing this before committing, you know that a sponsorship is going to be a success, that it will be leveraged with minimal incremental spend, and that the stakeholders who own the benchmarks will be measuring real results.
For more on this, read this blog: A Sponsor’s Guide to Getting Buy-In (and Why It’s Crucial to Great Sponsorship)
Sponsorship has quite a heavy workload, and it’s easy to just keep doing the same things over and over. If this sounds like your situation, you – and possibly your whole team – need a big hit of inspiration, and you need it now!
One of the best things you can do is dive into case studies, and lots of them. There is no better source of case studies on the planet than Activative. You’d be mad not to subscribe. (And no, I’m not getting paid to say that.) I will note that the focal point is sports, but there are lots of creative ideas and angles that can be applied across all types of sponsorship.
You should also read my white paper, Disruptive Sponsorship. It covers a lot of the edgier trends that drive best practice sponsorship. Read it, share it with your colleagues, and you’ll never look at sponsorship the same again.
The Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass online course is built to inspire. The first chapter is packed full of angles, ideas, and case studies to get your juices going, and the rest of the course is about operationalising that inspiration. Got a whole team to inspire? Do live training in-house, but be sure you work with someone who has a reputation for inspiration.
Technology options for sponsorship leverage are exploding, but that doesn’t mean they’re all smart choices. But if you change the framing, tech that advances your brand will be very quickly parsed from all the rest.
In order for a technology to be a viable choice for sponsorship leverage, it needs to…
This second point is critical. Currently, virtual reality is super-cool, but hard to scale. That’s in contrast to augmented reality and artificial intelligence, where there are myriad ways to add real value to the fan experience AND scale it to a huge fanbase, and there are many other technologies that can deliver that one-two punch. This is how you need to look at tech, as it is now, and as it will be. Don’t waste money, time, or brainpower using some new, you beaut technology, just for the sake of it.
For lots more on this, read this blog: Sponsorship and Emerging/Improving Technology: The Rules of Engagement
I’ve been giving this advice for twenty years, as have other credible sponsorship pros. But many sponsors still – STILL – base most of their sponsorship “measurement” on mechanisms, not actual marketing and business objectives.
Sorry, but this needs to be said: Bloody hell, knock it off!! You’re doing your brand, your company, and yourself a disservice!
There are so many ways to measure sponsorship properly, but through ignorance, inertia, laziness, or the outmoded expectations of the C-suite, it’s still not the norm in a lot of companies. Rather than reiterating the extensive how-to on measurement, I suggest you read the following blogs:
And as far as the C-suite goes, you may want to recommend my white paper, What Every CMO Needs to Know about Sponsorship, as it provides a high-level look at sponsorship measurement, the right way to do it, and what not to do or expect.
Sponsorship is a fantastic career choice, but in a lot of companies, being a sponsorship manager is little more than a glorified admin. Sure, you get plenty of tickets and VIP invites, but as soon as you get back to work, it ceases to be any fun at all. And you’re thinking, “There’s got to be more to this than managing clueless partners and sending rejection letters, right? Right??”
The answer to that is a resounding “YES!” But unlocking the potential of the job requires a total reframing of the roles of the frontline sponsorship team, and very possibly some upskilling.
As a start, I recommend you review these blogs, which will outline how much more creative, expansive, and fun your job really should be:
I also strongly suggest you implement a set of sponsorship guidelines. This step will significantly reduce your proposal assessment workload, creating capacity for expanding your role. You can download a newly updated MS Word template here.
You also need to ensure your sponsorship skills are 100% up-to-date, reflecting best practice, because if they’re not, reframing isn’t going to work. You may want to consider signing up for my Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass online training, which will get your skills where they need to be. As a bonus, it has a big section on structuring the sponsorship team, changing the roles of the team, as well as getting buy-in for that change.
Finally, you’ll need to create a proposal for restructuring the frontline sponsorship team/role. If the proposed changes are a big departure from how sponsorship has been done, you may get better traction for change if you build in some support, such as expert coaching
There is undoubtedly a lot of things you could do that would contribute to stronger sponsorship results this year and beyond. But if you find yourself flummoxed by all of those options – to the point where you don’t change much of anything (it happens) – the six strategies I’ve outlined will give you a huge running start:
There’s a ton more information for sponsors in my Best of Sponsorship Resources for Sponsors list, so book yourself out for an hour or so, and have a good look!
If you find yourself needing outside help – whether for the expertise, objectivity, politics, or just because your company puts a high value on outside advice – I’m happy to talk to you about consulting, training, or coaching. I may or may not be the most appropriate option for you, and if I’m not, I’m very happy to point you in the right direction.
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 a self-paced, online sponsorship training course for sponsors, covering the whole process of sponsorship strategy, selection, negotiation, leverage, measurement, and management, with lots of inclusions. Interested? Check out the Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass. I’ve also got Getting to “Yes” for rightsholders.
If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, 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.
© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.