Sponsorship’s Most Annoying

Sponsorship’s Most AnnoyingI was watching an old movie the other day where one of the lead characters referenced the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted”. While I was wondering if that show even existed anymore, my daughter launched into an unrelated whinge about some playground politics, vastly overusing her word-of-the-moment, “annoying”. While suggesting she familiarise herself with the thesaurus, I started thinking about our industry, its colourful cast of characters, and the ones that – whether through ignorance or nonchalance – cause the most headaches.

So with tongue in cheek, I thought I’d give it a shot. This list is in no particular order and includes characters from both sides of the equation.

The leech

This is the sponsorship seeker who continually goes back to the same sponsors to sponsor various events and projects. One leech might send half a dozen or more proposals to the same sponsor over the course of the year. The rationale seems to be that it’s easier to hit up the same sponsors over and over than to build new relationships, and if we keep individual asks low enough, they won’t even realise how much they’re investing in total.

Of course, sponsors are fully aware of what they’re spending. The only reason they might continue investing in one property is that they see it as a good match, but they universally hate the leech approach. They’d much rather get one comprehensive proposal, spanning multiple events or programs, and then get down to the business of leveraging all of it.

The Sponzilla

We’ve all dealt with sponsors who bully. They’re jerks because they can be, demanding extra benefits, exclusivity, and other sponsorship entitlements to a degree far beyond what is necessary or reasonable. They threaten when they don’t get their way. And god forbid they find out you’re in financial strife, because a Sponzilla is more dangerous than a Great White if they smell blood in the water.

The beggar

“We’re a good cause and look at all the good we’re doing for all of these suffering people/animals/whatever. As our sponsor, you’ll be giving back to the community and look like a good corporate citizen, as well as ticking the CSR box. Plus, your sponsorship will be tax deductible. Did I mention the suffering? Let me tell you about the suffering…”

Oh my god, just typing all of those wrong-headed clichés is making my head hurt. And it is wrong – every single word of it – but this is the rhetoric of the beggars.

They position themselves as needy, rather than as the powerful marketing platform they could be. The fundraising industry has a lot to answer for on this one. I’ve been to countless conferences where I’ve heard sponsorship “experts” tell delegates to “appeal to a sponsor’s compassion”, as if compassion trumps a non-existent business case.

Sir Lunchalot

This is the sponsor who is more concerned with the perks of the job than doing their job. They get tickets to everything and enjoy being taken to lunch by an inexhaustible number of sponsorship seekers and industry suppliers. Leverage is uninspired and measurement lacking – probably a good thing, as they’re achieving so little. They are the envy of their friends, but the enemy of the brands they are supposed to be working for.

The delusional

I get a lot of email and social media DMs, and most of them fall into the category of “delusional”. I’m not saying they need medication, but they could use a huge dose of reality.

These are the people that believe just because they need money for something – their event, charity, wedding, trip around the world, etc – they are sponsorable. Their sponsorship target has nothing to do with their marketing value, and everything to do with their budget shortfall. Things like providing a comprehensive marketing platform or a solid brand fit are foreign concepts, as is the fact that sponsors need plenty of lead-time to make decisions and mount leverage plans.

Then there are the ones with a big idea and no plans whatsoever, who are looking for a “visionary sponsor” to underwrite their entire flight of fancy. They don’t seem to get that sponsors want to work with well-organised professionals, not ideas people with no skin in the game.

The tease

Related to the delusional are the sponsorship seekers that have some never-before-seen, ground-breaking idea that they won’t even discuss until a sponsor signs an NDA (and that never happens). They seem to think that keeping it top secret will add to the allure. To a sponsor it’s all a bunch of yada yada yada, seen it all before, go away.

The hero

This is the corporate senior executive who invests brand marketing budget in pet projects primarily to inflate their social standing among their peers. This is the bank executive who commits marketing money to his old rowing club, the business owner who takes up an inappropriately large sponsorship of her favourite football team, or the executive who sponsors a charity only to miraculously be appointed to the board.

I’m not saying some of these sponsorships aren’t worthwhile, but because the motivation is out of whack, they haven’t faced the rigour that other sponsorships face, and that often leads to a lack of internal buy-in and subsequent lack of leverage.

The true believer

This is the sponsorship seeker that is so invested in what their organisation does – such a believer – that they can’t understand why sponsors aren’t lining up around the block to give them money the second they hear their story.

While you have to admire the passion – and some of them represent potentially great opportunities – their total blindness to commercial realities makes them unattractive partners.

The invisible (wo)man

This is the sponsor that goes missing partway through the sponsorship sales process, giving strong indications that a sponsorship will go ahead, then not answering follow-up calls or emails for weeks or months. Sponsorship seekers are stymied about whether they should continue to wait or pursue other options. Meanwhile, lead-time is ticking away.

Sometimes these gaps are due to something outside the individual’s control, which is understandable. The alarming part is the lack of communication with, and courtesy toward, an organisation with which they are already negotiating.

I’m willing to bet you know at least some of these. I hope that you don’t see yourself in this blog, but if you do, take the feedback on board. If the way you conduct yourself is causing issues with your partners and potential partners, it is surely also causing issues with your results.

Need more assistance?

You may be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.

Rightsholders, 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.

If you need professional assistance with sponsorship, 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/or decentralised organisations.

Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

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