I’m a sponsorship consultant, undertaking sponsorship reviews, developing strategies, and building organisational sponsorship capacity. I absolutely love my job.
But over all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve figured out which potential clients are going to make the most of working with me, and which won’t. I know the green lights, and I know the red flags, both of which I believe I’d share with most good sponsorship consultants.
If you’re considering hiring someone to create a new sponsorship strategy for you, this blog may help you to understand whether you’re in the position to make the absolute most of the investment, and what needs to change, if you’re not. We’re on your side. We want the best for you. But that’s only going to happen if the right pieces are in place.
“We want a new strategy, but this sponsorship is out of bounds. It’s the CEO’s favourite. We’ve also got a few out in the regions that need to be left as-is.”
If you trust me – or whatever sponsorship consultant you hire – let me do my job. Let me make the recommendations that need to be made to optimise results. Let me manage the politics. And frankly, let me make the difficult recommendations that might be tough for someone internal to make. Let me take that hit. It’s part of the job.
In the end, you don’t have to implement every recommendation. If a recommendation needs to be socialised for a while, before going ahead, that’s fine. It happens all the time. If some C-level says, “absolutely not”, then at least they understand the downside of that position. But fencing off part of the portfolio because of politics is only hurting you.
This one is primarily for sponsors.
So, you’ve got some available budget, and are considering investing it in a new sponsorship strategy. You can approve the expenditure and manage the process, so why do you need the support of senior executives?
The first reason is politics. Sponsorship is such an incredibly powerful marketing media because people really care about what’s being sponsored. The thing is, it’s not just fans and consumers that care. Staff care, senior execs care. Everyone in your company has sponsorship favourites, things they want sponsored, and opinions about how it should be done. Everyone thinks they’re an expert. Without senior executive support, a new strategy could easily be seen as just someone else’s opinion on the sponsorship program. With senior executive support, the rationale and expectations around the consulting project are clear.
The other major reason is about managing the executive committee and, depending on your structure, even the board. A senior manager, such as a CMO, being both on-board and involved in strategy development, can carry the flag for a new approach to their peers, broadening support at the top, and creating an organisational culture for doing sponsorship well.
Sponsorship doesn’t function well in isolation. For sponsors, getting a broad swath of stakeholders bought in and involved is critical to effective, efficient leverage, as well as measurement against objectives. For rightsholders, you can sell lots of sponsorship, but if your broader organisation considers it free money or a necessary evil, you won’t keep those sponsors for long.
Fostering a culture of doing sponsorship well requires the involvement of a cross-section of stakeholders. A good sponsorship consultant knows that. A good consultant also knows that you can read dozens of plans and reports on background, and still miss some of the critical information we need to create a strategy that really works. It’s only by talking to the stakeholders that we can understand the politics, blind spots, opportunities, and more.
Yes, involving stakeholders creates an extra layer of complexity, but it’s worth it. By hamstringing these aspects of a sponsorship consulting project, you’re going to end up with a strategy that doesn’t go deep enough, won’t have enough buy-in, and will be difficult to implement.
This is the case when you want a consultant that works primarily (or solely) in your specific sector. This could be a utility company that wants a consultant that specialises in utility consulting, a charity that wants a charity consultant, or – as happened to me recently – a professional association that wants a consultant that only serves the professional association community.
The thinking is usually that a super-specialised consultant will understand the sector, making it easy to brief and manage them. The issue is that these super-specialised consultants may not know best practice sponsorship well, or may not know sponsorship at all, outside of the sector, limiting the scope of advice they can give.
A strong sponsorship consultant will take the time to understand both your organisation and your sector, before providing any substantial advice. And a strong sponsorship consultant will bring you expertise gleaned from across many sectors. You’ll get more creativity, more resourcefulness, and benefit from an much broader bank of experience.
“We just use sponsorship for the vending rights.”
“It’s all about the hospitality.”
“If a sponsorship doesn’t drive short-term sales, we’re not interested.”
I’ve heard all of the above multiple times, and many other similarly myopic views of what sponsorship can deliver.
As a sponsorship strategist, my job isn’t to stop you getting the results you’re already getting. It’s to expand and improve the results you’re getting. It’s to throw the net wider, so you get the best possible results against a whole range of objectives.
So, if you tell me (or any good sponsorship consultant) that all or part of your sponsorship portfolio needs to stay one-dimensional – that’s all it means to you – you’re significantly reducing the value I can provide.
I realised a long time ago that some organisations just really like reports. They like hiring consultants, getting some kind of report – sponsorship or whatever – and they never actually take any of the advice, because change is hard, and inertia is easy.
It’s true. Change is hard. Part of a good sponsorship consultant’s job – of any good consultant’s job – is to make change as easy as possible; to evoke support for change, and even create excitement for it. But you have to want it. You need an organisational commitment to at least be openminded. You need to be willing to start implementing at least some of the recommendations, and when they start working, to implement more.
I’m blunt. If you read any of my blogs, you already know that, and my clients know it, too. There are certainly strong sponsorship consultants with more tact than I have, but any consultant worth their salt is going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
As I see it, my job is to help you to be great at sponsorship. That requires unflinching assessments, because if we can’t identify the problems for what they are, we can’t solve them. It requires asking tough questions, and giving tough answers. It requires honest advice, not sugar-coating.
When it comes right down to it, no one is going to force your organisation to take my – or any consultant’s – recommendations. But limiting what those recommendations can be from the outset, or taking individual or organisational reticence into a consulting project, is going to hurt the project.
What you should want is a broad assessment, taking into account a wide range of factors from brand values to budgets to internal politics. You should want specific and practical recommendations from a fully-informed, experienced, sponsorship specialist.
But to get all of that, you need to be ready for it – ready for unvarnished feedback, ready for new thinking, ready for a comprehensive approach, and ready for change. If you’re not, you’re wasting your time and money hiring me, or any good consultant.
When you’re confident you’re ready, this blog may help you hire the right consultant for you: How to Hire a Corporate Sponsorship Consultant
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.