Why Great Sponsorship Requires Both Right- and Left-Brain Thinkers (and How to Get the Best out of Them)

Why great sponsorship requires both right- and left-brain thinking

Yeah, I know. The left/right brain thing has been largely debunked. But it’s still accepted shorthand for tasks and people that are more analytic (left brain) and more creative (right brain), so I’m going with it.

One of my very favourite things about best practice sponsorship is that it requires both analytical and creative thinking, in almost equal measures. You literally can’t do sponsorship well without engaging both, which is one of the reasons this is an incredibly interesting, satisfying, and fun career choice. You can be parsing reports and research in the morning, and engaging in a no-holds-barred creative brainstorm in the afternoon. Even better, you can be working through a challenge while shifting back and forth between the two.

In any case, it’s critical for both sponsors and rightsholders to identify that there’s a need for both strong analytic and creative skills, and to structure the sponsorship function to meet those needs.

For sponsors, this could look like…

Analytic (left brain)

  • Analysing and synthesising an array of information from stakeholders and partners
  • Managing partner and stakeholder relationships
  • Operationalising leverage ideas
  • Benchmarking, measurement, and reporting

Creative (right brain)

  • Building empathy for the fan, customer, and staff experience
  • Pinpointing the meaning, passion points, and pain points around a property
  • Developing a broad range of leverage ideas
  • Identifying interesting angles and opportunities
  • Inspiring stakeholders to be part of the creative process

It’s a bit different for rightsholders, but no less important. For instance…

Analytic (left brain)

Creative (right brain)

  • Hit list development
  • Building empathy for both sponsors and the fan experience
  • Leverage ideas to anchor sponsorship offers
  • Working with sponsors on leverage planning
  • Flagbearer development

What you’ll notice is that there are a lot of processes that start with analysis, shift to creativity, then get back to the pragmatic job of implementation. Similarly, there are areas like crisis management, that require the ability to define the contours of the issue, come up with a range of often creative options for addressing it, then manage the implementation. And negotiations can also shift back and forth between analysis and creativity.

The challenge is how to cover the substantial analytic and creative functions in a sponsorship role. On that, you have several options.

Find (or be) a unicorn

That’s not really fair. There are plenty of people who are balanced right- and left-brain thinkers. I’m one, and you may be too.

If you’re equally comfortable analysing and synthesising information, and coming up with creative ideas, you have the raw materials for the perfect sponsorship brain. But if you’re more on one side or the other, that’s perfectly fine, as well. There are ways to use your strengths.

The downside to being a unicorn is that, while you have the capability to work across both types of thinking, being a lone wolf is still not going to get you as good a result as if you work with a group.

Build a balanced sponsorship team

If you’ve got a team – ie, it’s not just you – you should work to balance the strengths of team members. Get analytic thinkers and creative people involved, and be prepared to work together on key aspects of your sponsorship strategy and approach.

When you hire, ask open-ended questions about sponsorship challenges and listen for a bias toward one side or the other. You can even ask if they think they’re more on the analytic or creative side, as most people know. There’s no reason you can’t be upfront about wanting a dynamic team that balances creative and analytical strengths.

Build a balanced stakeholder group

Whether you work on your own or not, you should have a cross-departmental stakeholder group that can assist on big pieces of work that require both analysis and creativity. An example is analysing objectives, markets, and other priorities, then coming up with sponsorship leverage concepts.

This group doesn’t need to know all the granular sponsorship skills that you do, but should be bought into the basics of best practice sponsorship and – as a group – have a balance of right- and left-brain thinkers.

Use techniques to bring both sides out of your group

Whether you’re working with a sponsorship team, a stakeholder group, or ideally both, you need some techniques that will get a good result, using both kinds of thinking.

My go-to strategy is design thinking, which has four main phases:

  1. Analysis and inspiration – Analysing the data, insights, and raw materials you have, to fully understand the issue
  2. Developing empathy – Using those insights, putting yourselves into the position of fans, customers, or staff. If you’re a rightsholder, sponsors as well.
  3. Creative ideas – Once you understand the situation and have a strong sense of empathy, take all the constraints off and come up with a broad range of ideas
  4. Vetting and implementation – Not all the ideas will be equal, and some may not be doable at all, so you’ll need to vet them for strategic value, determine feasibility, and plan implementation

I use this process for many aspects of sponsorship, and have developed a set of directed exercises for taking groups through the process, and getting everyone to participate. The different viewpoints and strengths bring value to every step along the way. It’s also a lot of fun.

You can use the above steps to create your own facilitation frameworks around key elements of sponsorship. If you’re stuck, I go through these processes in great detail in my comprehensive online sponsorship training courses for both sponsors and rightsholders, including plenty of notes, so you can easily replicate the processes.

The upshot

Sponsorship is complex. It requires both a diverse set of skills and diversity in thinking. If your organisation wants to optimise sponsorship results, you need to ensure that you’ve got the appropriate skills and you surround yourself with people that can work together to bring out the best in the medium.

So, if you’ve been in the mind that sponsorship leverage and management is just a series of boxes to tick, or sponsorship sales is just selling, or that your job is boring or one-dimensional, you and your organisation need to embrace the right/left-brain approach, and watch your results grow.

Need more assistance?

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 courses for sponsors and rightsholders. Interested? Check them out on my online training page.

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.

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