Struggling to Sell Sponsorship? Stop Blaming the Economy!

Drowning piggy bank_smI’ve just come off the back of a set of workshops where a number of sponsorship seekers were complaining about the lack of sponsorship available in the marketplace. Opinion seemed to be split between whether that was because sponsorship hasn’t recovered since the Global Financial Crisis eight years ago, or whether it’s because sponsors are only interested in “big sport”. While I understand the desire to want to find a scapegoat, neither of these is in any way true.

If you’re struggling to sell sponsorship, you need to stop blaming the economy and stop blaming sponsors for your lack of success. Sponsors are investing a lot of money in sponsorship of all kinds, they’re just investing it with a lot more sophistication and accountability than they used to. If you’re not seeing it, it’s your fault and no one else’s. The good news is that, by accepting that, you can fix it.

If you’re not seeing sponsorship success, one of three things is happening…

Your offer isn’t compelling

This is the major problem for unsuccessful sponsorship seekers and is still, unfortunately, rampant. There are a number of big signs that your offers aren’t compelling, and are doomed to failure:

  • Your proposals aren’t fully customised
  • Your proposal is structured in some kind of gold-silver-bronze garbage
  • Your proposals don’t focus on how the sponsor can use this investment to achieve their marketing goals, including providing them with creative leverage ideas
  • The benefits you offer are centred around low-value, commodity benefits: Tickets to things, logos on things, some kind of hospitality, and some kind of official designation
  • It’s priced based on what you need, not what it’s worth

If any of the above are true, it’s no wonder you’re struggling. If most of them are true, I’d be surprised if you’re raising much sponsorship at all.

You’re approaching the wrong sponsors/roles

This problem often goes hand-in-hand with non-compelling offers. It plays sponsorship like a numbers game and goes something like this:

  • You compile a huge list of every company and brand you can think of, with the biggest brands and the biggest sponsors at the top. Alternatively, you buy access to a marketing database.
  • You send all of them the same, generic proposal – either addressed to the Sponsorship Manager, CEO, or Managing Director
  • You also send your generic proposal to every ad agency in your area and every sponsorship consultant and agency you can find on Google (OMG, I get a lot of these!)
  • Bonus points if you then spam all of your LinkedIn and Twitter contacts or spam the #sponsorship hashtag on Twitter
  • You spend the next six months leaving voicemails, getting almost no responses, and after months have passed, get the inevitable “all our funds are currently committed” letter. That, by the way, is almost always a lie.

Here’s the kicker: Even if your offers are reasonably good and the company a good match, if you get them to the wrong people, they won’t go anywhere.

Sponsorship managers are primarily gatekeepers and look after sponsorships that are already on the books. Approaching a sponsorship manager is a rookie mistake. So is approaching a CEO, Managing Director, or similar. They don’t want to say “no” to you, so they will eventually flick the proposal to the Sponsorship Manager, who will. In 99.99% of cases, your best point of entry is the Brand Manager. In smaller companies, that could be the Marketing Manager, Communications Manager, or similar. For more on who to contact, see “How to Find Out Who to Contact for Corporate Sponsorship”.

The upshot is that sending twenty or thirty fully customised proposals to brand managers of very well-matched sponsors will be miles more successful than sending 200 or 300 uncustomised proposals to sponsorship managers at some generic list of companies.

The sponsorship has no commercial value

This is a hard pill to swallow for some organisations, but just because you need money, that doesn’t mean you’re sponsorable. In order for whatever it is that you’re seeking sponsorship for to have any chance of success, it need to be:

  • Relevant and meaningful to at least one of a sponsor’s target markets
  • Credible – The property is credible, you’re credible, and you’re either bigger than, or different than (in a good way), a sponsor’s other options in the category
  • Leverageable – That is, a sponsor can use it in multiple ways, including leveraging it across multiple already budgeted marketing channels, to achieve their marketing objectives

It’s also possible that what you’re offering has some commercial value, but that it’s not really sponsorship. You should read, “Are You Really Selling Sponsorship?

Need more assistance?

There are lots of blogs on this site that address what you should be doing. Just check out the Sponsorship Sales category for a big, running start. If you’d prefer your advice in a step-by-step format, with templates and tools, you should consider a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.

If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
[email protected]
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265

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