Sponsorship is an amazingly creative medium. Unfortunately, most sponsors still lack the imagination to really harness it. Either that or they are so deep in a rut that they can’t even see they’re going in the wrong direction.
They negotiate the same types of sponsorship, and for the same boring benefits, over and over again. They buy logos and tickets and stock-standard hospitality, with the overriding assumption – and point of comparison – that it’s largely a commodity business and more is better.
Go ahead and negotiate some of those commodity benefits, but understand that’s not where your real marketing opportunity lays. Instead, concentrate your efforts on getting the type of benefit that can be:
- Used in multiple ways
- Used over a longer period of time
- Used to add value to the fan or customer experience
- Used to make fans, customers, or your staff the heroes
Note, when I refer to “fans”, I’m not just talking about sports. Not all fans wear face-paint, but all events, sports, cultural organisations, charities, conferences, associations, or whatever have fans.
Value-adds that can be passed through to fans and customers
Some of the most important and powerful benefits you can negotiate are those that can be passed through to fans and customers. These are small, meaningful benefits that comprise the third “win” in win-win-win sponsorship. (For more, see “Last Generation Sponsorship”.)
It could be…
- A bag check at a festival
- Preferred parking for your customers or for fans with kids under six
- Sign-making stations in the stadium
- A VIP lounge for your platinum card holders
- Child care at a weekend trade show
- Express lane entry for customers
- Luxury rest rooms for retirees
The list could go on and on, but are generally comprised of one or the other of amplifying the best stuff or ameliorating the worst stuff about an event experience. Negotiate for, and deliver, these benefits to your customers and fans, and your brand becomes a welcome part of the experience. That’s a lot more than signage will ever get you.
Control that can be passed through to the fans
If fans love an experience, they love it even more if they’ve had some influence on it. Try to find something that your brand can take control of, and then hand that control to customers and fans. An example from a few years ago was when Pepsi asked fans to vote on the songs a major Canadian band would play at halftime of the Grey Cup (the grand final of the Canadian Football League).
Can you crowdsource the programming of a stage? Do a people’s choice award? Let people nominate the charity or program a donation will go to? There are so many options!
Not only will this enhance the experience for fans – that third “win” – but it will open up your promotional period, as you could be running the voting/crowdsourcing for months before an event, season, or program kicks off. You could also use this to make your sponsorship look bigger and more impactful than it “should”. While bigger sponsors are being super-loud and visible, you’re doing something meaningful for fans during a big run-up to the event.
Durable, exclusive content
Content is king. We’ve all heard that before. And “durable content” is even better; that is, content that is relevant and lives on well after the event that generated it. The bonus for us is that sponsorship is a mother lode of content.
There is the property itself – the festival, the game, the cause, the museum, etc – and plenty of information about that, but that’s usually easy for people to access. What’s much more desirable is access to exclusive content – the stuff people don’t generally see or know. You can negotiate access to it – such as sourcing weekly blog posts by the team captain. Or you can create it – such as doing a YouTube series showing a day in the life of a professional athlete, or tips for curating an artistic home from a gallery curator.
Personally, I’m a big fan of creating content, as you can be more creative and responsive to what your target markets and fans want to know or see. But this still often requires access to the right people, which brings me to…
When we think of athlete or celebrity appearances, we generally think of the big, name-brand people doing meet-and-greets. That’s all well and good, but it’s also been done to death. It’s time to think about appearances more broadly…
- Could that appearance be used to generate content for thousands or millions of people, not just meet a few hundred?
- Could you use that time to take photos or do a video? And what could you do with it – YouTube? Virtual reality? Creating a game or app? Something personalised for fans?
- Does it really have to be the biggest star? Could it be a support player? Or someone who is usually behind the scenes? A rookie or a larrikin?
- Could you do something funny or unexpected?
- Could you ask the fans for suggestions on how to use one or more of the appearances?
Getting access to inner-sanctum-type experiences, places, or people can be very effective for a lot of reasons…
- Could you use it for amazing, one-of-a-kind hospitality?
- Could you create exclusive, durable content?
- Could you do a virtual reality tour?
- Deliver messages from the fans right to the stars?
The access you need will depend on what you want to do with it, but you should be negotiating for at least some of this.
This has been part of a negotiation package for a long time, but generally consists of some huge prize – backstage at a concert, for instance – that anchors a sales promotion where lots of people enter, but only one person wins. Bo-ringggg.
The trend now is to use that one what-money-can’t-buy experience as the pivot point for something much bigger.
- How can you make the process of the winner being chosen more inclusive, participative, and fun? Could people upload something – photo, video, poem, song, haiku, etc – in order to enter? Could fans nominate a shortlist or vote for the winner? Could there be some kind of audition process that could be captured and shared?
- How about the prize itself? Could that what-money-can’t-buy experience be captured and shared, as unique and exclusive content?
It’s no longer, “SMS to win a backstage pass to every mainstage band at Splendour in the Grass”. Now, you could get people to submit two minute videos of themselves interviewing a (fake) band. These are shared in your social media, with a shortlist chosen based on social media feedback of the best, funniest, most insightful, etc. The winner would be chosen by a vote, and then would be charged with conducting two-minute video interviews with all of the bands as soon as they come off stage, creating content that could live on for years.
Beers in the skybox… yada yada yada… Everyone and his dog has had beers in some corporate suite at some time or another. You can do it, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but let’s face it, it’s not that special.
If you have clients that really deserve or expect something special, you need to think more creatively about how you can deliver it…
- Could you give them a day-in-the-life experience? Top level training in a sport?
- Could you have a super-special dinner in some behind-the-scenes or generally off-limits venue?
- Could you do something amazing for their kids or grandkids?
- Could you arrange a volunteer day with a charity, and invite your clients? (Note: This is a trend.)
These days, hospitality isn’t necessarily about a luxury experience, it’s about a special experience – something very few people will ever do. That could happen at a major concert sound check or in a soup kitchen. Again, the key word is “special”.
Changing your approach
Above, I’ve listed some of my very favourite and most useful benefits, but in order to take this sort of thinking forward, you may have to change your organisational approach to sponsorship. There are many, many ways to do this, but two of the most powerful are listed below.
Leverage before negotiation
I’m a big fan of putting together a sponsorship stakeholder group – people from around your company who can use sponsorship to make what they do more powerful and effective. One of the best ways you can use this group is to plan leverage around your sponsorships, and the absolute best time to do that is BEFORE you negotiate the sponsorship.
If you know how you’re going to use the sponsorship – how brand marketing and sales and social media and HR and others will leverage it – you will know exactly what benefits to negotiate for, and there is every chance a lot of them will come from the list above.
If you need a process for putting together that team and developing those leverage plans, the whole thing is outlined in The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.
Reclassify your role as a “creative”
Sponsorship sits perfectly at the intersection of analysis, strategy, and creativity, and yet, so many people involved in corporate sponsorship are primarily administrators!
Once you embrace those three roles – and particularly the creative part – the entire way you see your job will change. You are basically giving yourself permission to have more fun and see sponsorship with more scope, so long as you put in the proper analytic and strategic rigour. I did this for myself a decade or so ago, and you should too. (Plus, it was a great excuse for me to stop wearing suits. I’m a creative, after all… hahaha!)
Can’t reclassify? At least try to add some elements of being a “creative” to your job description. Can’t even do that? Reclassify it in your head. Put a sign in your cubicle that says, “Stand back! Creative at work.” Whatever it takes, you need to think of your job differently.
Holy dooley, that turned into an epic post. I do hope it helps you think more broadly about what does and doesn’t have the most value to your brand in a sponsorship negotiation.
Need more assistance?
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.
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