You’ve Got the Big Sponsor, Here’s How Not to Screw It Up

 width=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.

After the handshake, before the contract

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.

Ask the right questions

In that limbo period between the yes and the contract, there are a few questions you need to ask.

  • Which of your target markets are you trying to influence with this sponsorship? Will you be using it to influence staff? Intermediary markets?
  • For those markets, what perceptions are you trying to change?
  • How do you measure those perceptions changes now? Brand tracking? Other market research?
  • What behaviours are you trying to change?
  • How are those behaviours measured now? Who “owns” those benchmarks?

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:

  • You’ll know who they’re trying to influence. When pitching a sponsorship, rightsholders often concentrate on the obvious, consumer markets, when the sponsor could have important agendas with other markets, as well.
  • You’ll know exactly what they’re trying to accomplish, so you won’t waste time or energy on ideas or activities that aren’t going to achieve their goals.
  • You’ll have made it clear – in the nicest and most strategic way – that measuring those objectives against their benchmarks isn’t something you can or should be doing.

Set your boundaries on leverage

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.

Make a plan

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.

Plan for adding value

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.

The first meeting

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.

Get the admin out of the way

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:

  • A copy of your implementation plan
  • Standard logos and other IP they may be using (not including anything you will work with them to create)
  • Guidelines for use of your logo and other IP
  • Approval processes for your logo and other IP
  • Important dates and deadlines
  • Key contact details
  • Parameters and guidelines specific to the sponsorship (eg, arranging appearances and experiences, exhibition space, hospitality, parking passes, etc)
  • Provide this information hardcopy and, as appropriate, softcopy (by email, downloadable, and/or on USB).

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.

Brief them on your reporting

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:

  • Contracted benefits delivered the previous month
  • Added-value benefits delivered in the previous month
  • Upcoming dates and deadlines
  • Issues for discussion
  • Any payments due
  • Proposed next meeting

Talk about sell-in

Circle back to your previous discussion about objectives and who “owns” the benchmarks, saying something like this:

We’ve previously spoken about the range of stakeholders that could benefit from leveraging this sponsorship. Is sell-in an issue? Can we assist with that? We’d be happy to do a presentation or facilitate a cross-departmental leverage planning session.

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.

The first month

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.

Facilitate sponsor leverage

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.

  • Do a presentation to stakeholders. Briefly describe your property and target markets, focusing on the meaning to those markets, then introduce your leverage ideas, opening the floor to discussion.
  • Working with your contact to do individual sell-in meetings with stakeholder teams or decision-makers (eg, sales, social, HR, media relations, research and data, etc).
  • Work with your contact to develop materials or a presentation they can use to get buy-in.

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.

The first year

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.

Do what you promised

The first thing any great rightsholder needs to do is honour commitments:

  • Provide every single contracted benefit, on time and drama-free.
  • If there’s ever an issue with delivering a benefit, work with the sponsor to find an acceptable alternative, accepting that if you can’t deliver something as promised, they’re the aggrieved party, and should probably get something even better in lieu.
  • If you agree to do something, put it in writing, and then do it.

Keep sponsors in the loop

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.

Add value

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:

  • Provision of extra benefits
  • Sponsor networking functions
  • Sponsor leverage and measurement workshops (I do a LOT of these!)
  • Provision of target market research (not just the good bits), and inclusion of sponsor-oriented questions

The upshot

The upshot of all of this is that your focus and workload will change, and that’s good for you and your sponsors.

  • You’ll do more servicing and less selling.
  • You’ll ask more appropriate questions and do fewer inappropriate tasks.
  • You’ll do more sponsor sell-in and education and less leverage delivery.
  • You’ll provide more benefits and have fewer exits.

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?

Need more assistance?

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 white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses for both sponsors and rightsholders. Get the details and links to course outlines and reviews here.

If you need additional assistance, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive Sponsorship Systems Design 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.

© 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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