10 Things Everyone Hates about Sponsorship
I’ve always been quite upfront about how procuring sponsorship is not easy. I understand–even doing what I do for a living–that some of you reading this loathe sponsorship. It’s not the rewards you hate, but all the effort to get there. What in particular do people complain of in sponsorship?
Here are 10 things everyone hates about sponsorship:
- Cold calling or emailing
- Asking for money
- Deciding on assets
- Valuating assets
- Writing only a bit about yourself in the sponsorship proposal
- Coming up with activation ideas
- Scheduling meetings
- Following up
- Dealing with rejection
Listen, if you have any of the above gripes, I definitely hear you. These are valid concerns for sure. Fortunately, in this article, I’ll tell you what you should be doing instead so you can minimize these issues and get your sponsorship program running smoothly.
Hate These 10 Things in Sponsorship? Here’s What to Do Instead!
What You Hate: Researching
As the head of your company or organization, you wear a lot of hats. Your schedule is almost always jam-packed. The thought of mailing out surveys to your audience, waiting for their responses, and then tabulating the comments is enough to give you a headache.
That’s not to mention that you have to research the 10, 20, or more target sponsors your business may partner with. You expect that most if not all of the target sponsors will say no, so your research efforts are for naught.
You’d like to just skip the research, but you recognize that isn’t the smartest idea. However, until your calendar clears up a bit more, you’re not sure how you’ll have the time to research.
What You Should Do: Think of the Risk-Return Ratio
In business, there’s a concept called the risk-return ratio. Yes, it’s often used to justify putting money into a venture, but for non-financial avenues like sponsorship research, the risk-return ratio comes in handy as well.
The risk-return ratio indicates how worthwhile it is to spend your time on a task. The formula is this: R= (P end – P start)/P start.
If, at the end of the period, you’re in better shape than you were before you started, then the risk-return ratio will have rendered your venture beneficial. That will be the case with researching your audience as well as your target sponsors.
Audience research will come up again and again as you put together your sponsorship program. Your audience is your biggest sellable asset. The best way I can liken it is this. Imagine you had a favorite necklace that you wear every day. Then one day, someone pulls you aside and says the jewel in the necklace is worth millions of dollars. You had never realized!
Now you’ll start thinking of the necklace differently, right? You’ll also treat it differently.
When you don’t know the value of your audience, it’s like having a super-valuable necklace you never knew was worth anything. You could be sitting on a goldmine if your audience aligns with the target sponsor. Yet without research, how will you know?
In a recent blog post, I talked about a client of mine with who you probably have a lot in common right now. They hemmed and hawed about starting their sponsorship program because they wanted to have all their ducks in a row.
Through a bit of convincing, they came around to the idea of pursuing sponsorship now. Within a few weeks, they had a five-figure deal in the works with a sponsor.
How many opportunities have you missed out on by waiting to start your sponsorship program? Probably more than you’d like to admit, I’m sure.
Let’s be real: you’ll never have all your ducks in a row. No one can, as life isn’t perfect. If research is one of your biggest obstacles to starting a sponsorship program, then divvy out research assignments among your staff, get it done, and continue with the sponsorship process.
What You Hate: Cold Calling and Emailing
Okay, but even if you could dedicate some time to research, you absolutely detest the thought of having to pick up the phone and call a complete stranger. Not only that, but you have to ask this stranger for money! It’s so demoralizing.
It feels even more insulting to send a cold email. You want to put a lot of time and effort into it, but then you think, what’s the point? If the email doesn’t end up in the spam filter, it will be sent straight to the trash, probably unread.
What You Should Do: Find Contacts Within the Sponsorship Company
I don’t disagree with any of your points. Cold calling is uncomfortable and almost everyone hates doing it. Even salespeople whose job entails cold calling aren’t fans of doing it.
Here’s the thing: I don’t want you to cold call your sponsorship prospects. At least, not most of the time. I don’t want you cold emailing them either. You’re right that your email open rates will probably be abysmal, provided that your email makes it to the recipient’s inbox at all.
Just like you don’t like being contacted out of the blue by strangers, neither does a sponsor. They’re people too at the end of the day, which is something you must always remember when putting together your sponsorship program.
A sponsor would be much more willing to give you five minutes of their time for a phone call or read through your email if you’re in their orbit.
Ask around your company or organization. Does anyone know someone at the target sponsor company? It doesn’t have to be the head of the sponsorship division, but anyone within the company.
If not, maybe someone on your digital Rolodex can connect you. Even if your connection is flimsy at best because it’s a friend of a friend, that’s better than being a virtual stranger.
What You Hate: Asking for Money
The whole sponsorship process, in your opinion, just masquerades the fact that you’re asking for money. You wish your business or organization was in a spot where you didn’t need the financial assistance of another company because you’re really not sure how you’re going to beg for cash with your dignity intact.
What You Should Do: Reframe Your Mindset
Your mindset here is all wrong. You’re not some lowly beggar on the street asking a rich businessperson for cash. You’re entering a professional arrangement. Remember that you’re not getting something for nothing. In exchange for funding your event, the sponsor expects you to live up to certain expectations, such as increasing their leads or boosting their revenue.
You’re not a charity case even if your organization is a charity. You’re not looking for pity or woe, just a bit of assistance. Besides, sponsorship doesn’t only have to be about the financials! You could wish to work with a sponsor for the promotional perks so your business can increase its brand awareness.
Yes, the sponsor has something you want: clout or money. However, if you did your audience research, then you’ll realize it’s an even playing field. You have things the sponsor wants as well, such as a viable audience to tap into. Don’t denigrate yourself by thinking you’re less than, as you’re certainly not.
Sponsorship is about forming a mutually beneficial partnership where both parties are better than they would be working on their own. If you keep that in mind, asking for money isn’t such a big deal.
What You Hate: Deciding on Assets
Outside of your audience, you have to come up with more assets, which are valuable tangibles and intangibles you can sell to the sponsor. It’s not that your business or organization has nothing to offer, but honestly, you’re having a hard time deciding which assets might be worth pursuing.
What You Should Do: Make It a Collaborative Effort and Use Research to Guide You
It’s a lot of pressure to put on one person within your organization to greenlight all the assets. You’re much better off sitting down with a few key stakeholders and crafting your assets list as a group.
Which assets will appeal to your target sponsor? That depends on the sponsor. Fortunately, the research you should have done by now will guide you towards the assets that might earn you the funding you’re looking for.
What You Hate: Evaluating Assets
Deciding which assets might be up the sponsor’s alley is only part of the equation. Next, you have to determine the precise market value of each asset. Yes, that means if your assets list currently sits at 50 assets, 75, 100, or more, you have to go one by one and evaluate each of these assets.
I know what you’re thinking: ugh.
What You Should Do: Grin and Bear It
Yet in this case, my best advice is to just deal with it. Of all the mistakes you can make when putting together your sponsorship program, mispricing your assets is undoubtedly the biggest and most egregious error.
Maybe you misprice your assets out of laziness. Perhaps an inflated sense of self-worth led you to pump up the prices of the assets. You could have even gotten bum information from your market research that caused you to go astray when pricing your assets.
Even if it is an innocent mistake, the above behavior does not fly.
If you’re a business, then you undoubtedly sell products and/or services, right? Imagine you come out with a new product like a smartphone. You put so much time into the design of this phone. You created it with the kinds of features today’s phones aren’t addressing. You had your team bug-test the phone to death. It’s one of the best products your company has ever made and you’re very excited to sell it to your audience. You even know the exact audience segments your new smartphone will appeal to because you did your research.
There’s nothing left to do but determine the price of your phone. Now imagine you decided, “eh, I’ll take the lazy route. The new iPhone is $XX, so my phone will be about that much money.” Or maybe you said “my phone is 10 times better than the new iPhone. Theirs is $XX, so mine will be priced at $XXX.”
Either way, you didn’t put enough time and consideration into product pricing. Your phone comes out and your audience balks at the price. It flops.
You wouldn’t be caught dead releasing a product with such carelessness, right? So why is it okay in sponsorship? It shouldn’t be. If you skip asset valuation or overinflate the price of your assets, your sponsor will balk and the deal will flop. That’s not what you want, so please, please put the work in. It will pay back dividends later.
What You Hate: Not Having the Focus on Yourself
You read through my sponsorship proposal template and you can’t believe what you saw. In the first paragraph on the second page, you’re supposed to talk about your company or organization, but only in that paragraph. Then the second paragraph is about your event or program, leaving you with such little room to talk about yourself.
How can you only have a single paragraph to outline all the many amazing things your business or organization has achieved? How do you also share that paragraph with a discussion of your cause when that cause is so great that you can write pages about it?
You’re not sure how you’re supposed to stand out from the many, many other companies that are targeting this sponsor when all you have is one measly paragraph. Maybe you’ll write an ultra-long paragraph? Then you’d be worried about making a poor impression grammatically.
What You Should Do: Think of the Bigger Picture
Trust me, you are not the first client of mine to complain of such sparse space to write about your organization and cause. I know that my template can seem ludicrous for that suggestion alone, but hear me out.
If you read that sponsorship proposal template in full, you’d see the part where I say: “this is about what you can do for them [the target sponsor], not what they can do for you.”
Let me say that again. Sponsorship is not only about what a sponsor can give you, but what you can give them.
I know you want pages and pages to introduce your company in what you perceive as the right way. I know you want to discuss your cause to the fullest because how else are you supposed to get the sponsor onboard?
Sponsors sometimes choose the companies they work with on the merit of their cause or niche. Much more often, they choose the company that can help the sponsor achieve more of its goals. Does that sound kind of selfish? Sure, but you’re going to the sponsor for selfish reasons too. That’s business.
So keeping in mind that your sponsorship proposal should be about what you can do for the sponsor and how you can help them meet their goals, why would you need more than a paragraph to talk about yourself?
If you want to put all your effort into describing your audience, adding pie charts and visual data, that’s fantastic! If you want to pour your creativity into a well-designed sponsorship package, be my guest! If the contents of the sponsorship package are evaluated fairly, then the sponsor will bite. But don’t write several pages about your company and your cause. It’s not what a sponsor cares about.
It’d be like if you went to a restaurant but the appetizers menu was pages long. You just want to see the dinner menu. The sponsor wants to look at your sponsorship package, not read your life story. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you can stomach it, you’ll start gaining more traction with your sponsorship program.
What You Hate: Coming up with Activation Ideas
You wouldn’t host a birthday party and then ignore all the guests, nor would you not have anything for the guests to do, right? That’s just like how you can’t plan your event and then not engage with your audience to the fullest. Brand activation is one of the best ways to do that.
Activation is any marketing tactic that can drive engagement. You’ll want to come up with ideas that will make your event memorable while also keeping your brand top of mind.
One of the easiest activation ideas is free headshots for all your attendees. The booth for the photos would be branded so that the company name is in the background of all the photos. When your attendees eventually upload their headshots to Instagram or Facebook, the brand name spreads.
If a headshot becomes someone’s profile picture, then the brand promotions can continue on some scale for months if not years.
You can see the value of activation ideas, but you’re not the most creative person. How can you dream up activation ideas that will get your sponsor excited?
What You Should Do: Spitball Ideas with the Sponsor
When in doubt, ask the sponsor! I’m serious. You can go to them saying “I’m thinking about X, Y, and Z as possible activation ideas. What do you think of those?”
The sponsor might tell you they love your ideas. If they don’t, instead of outright admitting it, they might suggest amendments. As you two bounce ideas off of one another, new activation ideas can emerge. Before you know it, you have some killer activation ideas that will make your event the best one of the year.
Don’t be afraid to go a little off the wall with your activation ideas. I once knew someone who hired fire dancers for their event. The dancers spelled out the name of the company in flames. If you can find the personnel to make it happen and it’s within your budget, then any creative activation idea can become a reality, even the zany ones.
What You Hate: Scheduling Meetings
Although you’re glad you’ve gotten underway with your sponsorship program, it’s taking time that you don’t really have. Once you get to the point where you talk to the sponsor and even see them in person (or virtually through Zoom), you just don’t know how you’ll get the time to schedule these meetings, let alone actually go through with them and chat for hours.
What You Should Do: Make the Meetings You Do Have Count
This is something you and the target sponsor can probably agree on. Your time is valuable and so is theirs. You don’t want anyone to waste their time, so why not ask some discovery questions that will help you qualify the target sponsor?
Wait, you get to qualify the sponsor? Sure! In the end, they’re the ones who will decide if they want to work with you, but you have the right to walk away before that if the sponsor isn’t a good fit. As I said earlier, you have power in a sponsorship arrangement too, you just have to know how to use it!
That link I shared has more than 35 discovery questions, of which you’ll only ask five to seven. I’ll say what I always do: the first meeting isn’t an interrogation! It’s not a sales meeting either. It’s just a time to feel one another out.
That said, you can make the meeting more worthwhile. I have an in-depth guide on the first sponsorship meeting that tells you what you should expect. If you follow these steps, then even if things don’t pan out with the sponsor, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time.
I do want to say that you should expect several meetings with a target sponsor in the early days. I would suggest clearing some room in your calendar, as you’ll need to be available!
What You Hate: Following up
The target sponsor seemed excited to discuss your sponsorship ideas and plans during the meeting. They even asked for further documentation, including your sponsorship proposal. That was a week ago though, and you haven’t heard a peep from them since.
You had figured that since you were the one to send the documents to the target sponsor that the ball was in their court to respond. Now you’re wondering if you’ll have to follow up.
What You Should Do: Don’t Follow up Too Early (or Too Late!)
You can’t be afraid of following up in the sponsorship process. If you wait for the sponsor to get back to you, you could be waiting for a very long time in some instances. Considering you have a time-sensitive event on the agenda, you can’t afford to wait too long.
I always suggest you give it at least a week. If your event is coming up quick, then maybe you wait three business days, but in the future, I would recommend not cutting it so close to the last minute to pursue sponsorship.
Communicate using your preferred method with the target sponsor. If you two have mostly emailed, then it doesn’t make much sense to call them on the phone and vice-versa. Don’t be accusatory, angry, or pushy when you two chat. You’re just following up to see where things stand with your sponsorship proposal. You can even use that exact verbiage if you want, I don’t mind.
Maybe the sponsor completely forgot to read over your proposal or they still need more time with it. Either way, wait another week. At that point, if you don’t hear back, follow up again.
What You Hate: Being Rejected
The sponsor finally got back to you and they told you they’re not interested. You can’t believe it. You put so much time and work in and you have nothing to show for it.
What You Should Do: Understand That It Happens
Not true! At the very least, you learned what a sponsorship program entails, and that’s huge.
Besides, are you sure you even got a firm no? Unless the sponsor used that word exactly, then it’s possible you can turn around their objections. You just have to listen to what they’re really saying. For example, if the sponsor tells you their budget is too low right now, then choose another sponsor for this event but come back to the original sponsor later in the year. Their situation may have changed.
You shouldn’t have hinged all your success on this one sponsor. If you can’t change their mind, then you have to dust yourself off and move on to the next sponsor on the list.
Rejection will happen in sponsorship a lot. Yet failure is not always a bad thing. I wrote about failure in this post. I’d like to share a Seth Godin quote from that article that I think you’ll appreciate: “he who fails the most wins.”
Wait, how do you win when you’re failing? You win by learning. You win by realizing that the current way you’re going about sponsorship isn’t cutting it, so you need to do something better. Don’t take failure personally. Instead, use it as an opportunity to improve your sponsorship program!
I’m not a sponsorship hater, but I totally understand that some are. I hope after reading this post that you understand that the difficult parts of sponsorship are there for a reason. Best of luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.