The sponsorship industry is rife with advice on how to sell sponsorship. A quick search of the web will net you literally thousands of articles telling you which sponsors to target, how to contact the right people, how to develop offers, how to write proposals, on and on and on. Hell, my own blog is full of that kind of advice.
Some of the sponsorship sales advice you’ll find on the web is fantastic, while some is… uhh… let’s just say the opposite of fantastic. But whatever the quality, there’s absolutely no question that there’s a lot of it. All this, while an equally important component of successful sponsorship is largely overlooked: How not to screw up a sponsorship, once you’ve got it.
There is the argument that getting the money in the door is more important than anything else, but every time a sponsor doesn’t renew, you’re having to start all over again. In reality, it’s far easier to renew a happy sponsor than to be continually replacing sponsors that don’t renew. It costs less money, it’s less risky, and it takes less time – time that could be far better spent selling additional new sponsors, increasing your revenue.
The sponsor has given you the nod. They’re going to sponsor your property. Congratulations! You’ve now got about two minutes to bask in that glory before you need to get to work, because laying the foundations for a great relationship and an easy renewal starts before a contract is even signed.
In that limbo period between the yes and the contract, there are a few questions you need to ask.
In a perfect world, you would have asked some of these questions during the sales process, but if you haven’t, do it now. Either way, these questions accomplish a few things:
This step will help ensure that your sponsors don’t expect you to be delivering their leverage programs, when that’s really not your role.
Early in my career, there was a trend toward offering “turnkey” sponsorship, where the sponsor paid a fee, and everything – all of the leverage – was carried out on their behalf. But a sponsors soon realised that the most efficient way to leverage a sponsorship is to integrate it tightly with their existing channels, and that’s simply not something a rightsholder can do for them.
So, while it’s best practice to include sponsorship leverage ideas in a proposal, that doesn’t mean you should be delivering those leverage activities. You need to deliver the benefits the sponsor needs to do those activities, but not the leverage itself.
This period between the handshake and the contract is perfect for setting those boundaries. You can ask if they’re going to be handling various aspects of leverage in-house or through their agencies. Follow up with a question about whether the sponsor would like you to liaise directly with any of those stakeholders, or work strictly with your contact.
This approach positions you as being both strategic and helpful, while not promising leverage implementation that you’re not in a position to deliver.
Once the contract is signed, you want to be able to get the sponsorship underway as soon as possible. Use this lag time between handshake and contract to draw up a plan for delivering the sponsorship.
Your plan doesn’t need to be massive. Most implementation plans are only 2-3 pages long, but provide a roadmap for delivering the sponsorship in a consistent and professional manner. If you want a simply implementation plan template, you’ll find one in The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
You’ve agreed on a complement of benefits, which are being codified in your contract, but those aren’t the only benefits you should be delivering.
As part of your implementation plan, list a few added-value benefits that you will plan to provide to the sponsor as a bonus, during the term. If you’ve got a comprehensive inventory of benefits, this should be a very easy task of reviewing the list, and picking out a few low-cost, high-impact benefits that they’ll appreciate.
Don’t have an inventory of benefits, or it’s only a page or two long (which is just as bad)? Up your game with my Generic Inventory template.
Their signature is on the contract and the first instalment of your sponsorship fee has been paid. You want to meet with the sponsor without delay, covering off a number of tasks and topics.
Sponsorship has a lot of admin – approvals, tickets, guidelines, and so much more. It’s a great idea to get as much admin as possible out of the way in the first meeting.
I strongly recommend that you provide the sponsor with an information kit, which should include:
This is a simple task, but accomplishes a couple of things: It makes the sponsor’s job easier; and, it starts the relationship on very professional footing. Most of this will be the same across all of your sponsors, and the major piece that will be different from one to another – the implementation plan – is something you need to create, anyway.
Once you’ve provided this information, ask for the same information from them, but instead of an implementation plan, ask for a copy of their leverage and measurement plan.
Tell the sponsor that rather than doing a year-end report, you’ll be providing monthly or bi-monthly emailed reports on the progress of the sponsorship. This will ensure that they get important information, in a timely fashion. The report will include:
Circle back to your previous discussion about objectives and who “owns” the benchmarks, saying something like this:
Your sponsor may say that they’ve already got good buy-in, which is fantastic, or they may be really happy to avail themselves of your assistance. Either way, they’ll be impressed that you understand how important getting that buy-in is, and that you are willing to assist.
Following that first meeting, it’s time for the sponsor to get their leverage program happening. Leverage is what delivers results from a sponsorship, not the benefits you’re selling, so it’s critically important that sponsors embrace this part of the process.
If you’re following a best-practice trajectory, you would have included creative ideas for leverage in your proposal, provided benefits to underpin those leverage ideas, put the responsibility for leverage onto the sponsor early in the relationship, and offered to assist them in facilitating leverage across departments. Now, you have to do it.
There are a number of ways you can work with sponsors to facilitate strong leverage. You may do one or several.
Facilitate a leverage planning session with a group of their stakeholders. This isn’t difficult. You can seed the discussion with the leverage ideas from your proposal, encouraging stakeholders to extend and fine-tune them, taking ownership. If you don’t have the first clue where to start, the entire process is outlined in The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
The desired result – for you and your contact – is that these stakeholders all see the value in the sponsorship, how they can leverage it to get a great result, and how that leverage will fit into their normal workflow and budgets.
As a bonus, working with the stakeholders gives you another opportunity to ask the measurement question, this time of the people who own the benchmarks and measurement mechanisms.
Whether it’s the first year, the first season, the first cycle, or what-have-you, this is the time when you will solidify your position as a truly great partner.
The first thing any great rightsholder needs to do is honour commitments:
Sponsors don’t need to be across every little operational detail, but if there’s an issue that could affect the fan experience, delivery of sponsorship benefit, or delivery of the event itself, they need to know. Tell them about any contingency plans, and how you intend to handle it, but tell them.
There’s a rule of thumb that rightsholders should budget and spend about 10% of the gross value of a sponsorship in adding value to that sponsorship, such as:
The upshot of all of this is that your focus and workload will change, and that’s good for you and your sponsors.
Happy sponsors renew, they often renew at a higher level, and they will advocate for you to other sponsors, making future sales easier. And what could be better than that?
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. You may also be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.
If you need additional assistance, 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 decentralised organisations.
Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.
Please note, I do not offer a sponsorship broker service, and can’t sell sponsorship on your behalf. You may find someone appropriate on my sponsorship broker registry.