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14 Misconceptions about Sponsorship

by | January 6, 2021

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Is 2021 the year you want to pursue sponsorship for the first time? If so, then you might have been voraciously reading my posts on what not to do, such as this one or this one. As I’ve discussed on the blog, it doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a virtual event or one that may go on in-person: tempering your expectations is important. Keeping that in mind, what are some sponsorship misconceptions to avoid?

Here are 14 of the most common misconceptions about sponsorship:

  • If you brand your event well, your audience won’t notice the event isn’t great
  • Small companies or organizations can’t get sponsors
  • Tiered sponsorship levels are a good idea
  • Logo placement is one of the best things you can offer a sponsor
  • You need as many sponsors as you can find
  • Your sponsorship package will sell the sponsorship for you
  • You can just assume the value of your assets since you have a good idea of their worth
  • Sponsorships, once you get them, last forever
  • Your sponsor can come up with the activation ideas, not you
  • It’s okay to promise less and deliver more later, as this makes you look better
  • A company sponsored a business like mine, so they’ll surely sponsor me
  • Your organization a really good cause, of course you’ll get a sponsor
  • Once you get the money, the sponsorship can fall by the wayside
  • Sponsorship is the answer to all your problems

Phew, that’s quite a long list, but we’re just getting started. Ahead, I’ll go over each misconception one by one, clearing the air so you understand why these mindsets are the wrong way to go if you want to secure and keep sponsorship!

14 Sponsorship Misconceptions Debunked

If You Brand Your Event Well, Your Audience Won’t Notice the Event Isn’t Great

Most organizations and businesses that seek sponsorship are doing so for an event. Perhaps you’re involved in sports or your nonprofit wants to host a gala. No matter the formality of the event, a good way to make your gathering look more legit is with sponsored branding.

Branding is sort of like Christmas lights. The more you put on, the more dazzling the effect, right? Well, to some people, anyway. Others see that much glitz as a little bit tacky. You run the same risk if it’s boom, branding, boom, branding, boom, branding everywhere you turn.

That’s not to say strategic branding is not a trick to have up your sleeve. You need to brand in such a way that grabs people’s attention or else your branding just becomes white noise. I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but branding is advertising.

According to a 2017 Forbes article, we see up to 10,000 ads every day. Since those numbers are a few years old, I can say with confidence that the average person is exposed to even more than 10,000 ads every day. Most of them just blend into the background to be forgotten.

That’s why a branded smartphone charging station or a branded water cooler works so well. By over-branding though, you’re inundating your audience with so much advertising that even the well-placed branding becomes ineffective.

Oh, and if you think branding your event to the point of overkill will cause people to have a better time, it won’t. Trust me when I say that you care a lot more about branding than your audience ever will. A good event should be one with plenty of activities, be that booths, interactive experiences, workshops, and more. Branding alone won’t get you far.

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Small Companies or Organizations Can’t Get Sponsors

We live in a society where small businesses reach out to influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers, hoping and begging that influencer to shed a bit of their light on the company. Thus, if your organization is just as tiny, you might think there’s no chance that a sponsor is going to want to take you on.

I’m going to talk about this a few times, but only because it’s an important point to make. Why a sponsor chooses a company or organization isn’t entirely about the organization. Sometimes it is, such as what the organization’s cause is, but more so, it’s about what the organization–or you–can offer the sponsor.

So yes, if your organization is so teeny-tiny that you hardly have an audience, I would say maybe it’s worth growing a bit more before you pursue sponsorship. You must have something to give the sponsor that’s enticing and useful to them. That may be your audience, or perhaps it’s the potential media exposure the partnership could garner.

I wrote a whole post about why companies sponsor. The reasons include to increase their sales, extend their reach, try on a new role, boost their lead gen, and to get a leg up on the competition. If you can help the sponsor meet those goals, then you can get sponsorship, end of story.   

I recommend checking out this post as well about eight industries to reach out to for sponsorship.

Tiered Sponsorship Levels Are a Good Idea

If you’ve ever poked around on this blog before, then you probably had an idea this one was coming. At least, you should have.

I’ll help you look more masterful at sponsorship right now with this one tip, even if this is your first time working with a sponsor. Don’t ever consider the tiered sponsorship package approach.

I’ve written about why you shouldn’t sell gold, silver, and bronze tiered packages to your sponsor before, but it’s worth the refresher now.

Stuffing your assets into tiers like this forces the sponsor to buy things they don’t want just to get to the good stuff. It’s sort of like those old TV infomercials where they’d throw in some semi-related items because you bought the main product. You just want the main product, but you’ll pay a little extra for the whole deal because that’s the only way to get the main product.

Also, if you’re following such outdated tactics as gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship package tiers, then I can almost guarantee you’re probably focusing on the wrong assets too. You know, like logos, which I’ll talk about very shortly.

Offering tiered sponsorship packages is also sort of like bending the sponsor’s arm. It shows you have an “all or nothing” attitude with no room for flexibility or customization. This doesn’t bode well for your future with the sponsor.

A rose is still a rose by a different name, so don’t try getting cutesy on the sponsor and calling your tiered package something different. They’ll see right through it.

Customizing your sponsorship package will drive the results you’re looking for. Of course, you can’t even begin to create a package the sponsor will care about without doing your research first. You need to know more about your audience as well as glean the true value of your assets (keep reading!).

Then you can work with the sponsor to determine the assets that most appeal to them. Once you have a sponsorship package that’s agreeable on both sides, the sponsor should have no problem ponying up the money you ask for.

Logo Placement Is One of the Best Things You Can Offer a Sponsor

Let’s take a few steps back here since I’m assuming you’re new to sponsorship. Your assets are valuables–both tangible and intangible–that you sell to the sponsor. One of the most popular assets by far is the humble logo, especially logo placement.

So, let’s say you were making two mistakes in one here. First, you use tired tiers for your sponsorship package. Then, in the gold tier, you sell premium logo placement. The silver tier might include logos too, but the positioning wouldn’t be as good.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but where you put your logos is not that big a deal. Why? For a few reasons, really. On its own, a logo is not a valuable asset. Sure, it’s not completely worthless, but so many other assets have a higher value. Some of these include physical space naming rights, exhibiting or speaking opportunities, pass-through benefits, and paid or traditional media.

The reason assets don’t score high in value is because they don’t drive ROI for the sponsor company. Will a logo increase lead gen? Sure, if an event attendee saw the logo, became curious enough to dig into the company, had two seconds to look the company up, and then decided to sign up for the company’s newsletter. How likely is all that to happen? Not incredibly.

A logo also can’t encourage sales, since it’s just a logo. The logo won’t even separate your sponsor from another company, as whether one logo is more appealing than another is subjective anyway.

Plus, logos are so, so stale. A sponsor won’t be impressed with logo placement as part of your sponsorship package, even if it’s the best spot in the building.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to discourage you from using logos altogether. Just don’t give them more importance than they deserve, as doing so is a rookie mistake.

You Need as Many Sponsors as You Can Find

Your organization wants to host an event with a $12,000 budget. Of that, you could contribute maybe $2k or $3k. That leaves you with a gap of about $10,000 to make up for. You look at that figure and think that seems like an awful lot of money to ask one company for.

Then you have an idea. What if, instead of leaving all the financial onus on just one company, you split the money between five or even 10 sponsors instead? This way, they all give you small chunks of money. You still have the funds needed for your event, but from multiple sources.

This sounds like a good idea until it doesn’t.

Let’s say you’re a baker. If I asked you to bake one large cake or 10 small cakes, which would you rather do? The one big cake, right? Otherwise, you’re spending more time and more money on the smaller cakes, as you need more supplies.

It’s the same thing here. Having 10 sponsors means 10 times the sponsorship proposals, 10 times the sponsorship packages, 10 times the phone calls, and 10 times the meetings. You’d also need to get very, very creative about your assets. For example, when your booth space is all taken up and even your logo placement isn’t available, then what can you offer a sponsor to get them to say yes?

Sure, in some industries like sports, having 10 sponsors isn’t so rare. For an event like a gala or a conference though, you shouldn’t need any more than three or four sponsors. Working with more than that will burn you out fast.

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Your Sponsorship Package Will Sell the Sponsorship for You

You’ve gotten a lot of useful tidbits so far about what your sponsorship package should and shouldn’t be. That’s helped you redirect your focus so you’re putting more attention on the package. You want it to be as good as gold but better, and without any mention of a gold tier anywhere on the pages.

After all, if your sponsorship package is as awesome as humanly possible, it will be your ticket to the sponsor’s approval. Well, not exactly. Allow me to quote myself from this post on sponsorship mistakes: “The sponsorship package doesn’t sell sponsorship. People sell sponsorship!”

While it would be great if a well-produced document would magically earn you a deal with a sponsor, I would be out of a job if that was the case. The content of your sponsorship package is important, but not necessarily the be-all, end-all. It doesn’t matter so much if you use flowery or formal language as much as the value of your assets.

Since the sponsor is working with you, a real live person, you’re going to have to take on an active role in pursuing the sponsorship. That means having email and phone conversations with the sponsor, meeting with them, and following up as necessary. Your sponsorship package can certainly help, but you can’t rely on it like a crutch.

You Can Just Assume the Value of Your Assets Since You Have a Good Idea of Their Worth

It’s example time. You’re a clothing retailer and you just get some new stock in. How much should you sell that women’s cashmere sweater for? Hmmm, how about $80 because, I don’t know, that sounds good? That’s solid enough reasoning.

Imagine if all retailers priced their goods not based on market research, but on what seems like a good value for the item. A chef could think that their cheeseburger is worth $20 because why not?

Fortunately, that’s not how the world works. Restaurants price their food based on the cost to procure the ingredients. Clothing retailers base their prices in part on materials and the value of these.

Just like you wouldn’t want to shop at a store that chooses prices at random, no sponsor will want to work with you if they get a feel that you priced your assets based on what sounds good.

How would a sponsor know something like that? This may be your first time, but they’ve been around the block. They’ve read dozens if not hundreds of sponsorship proposals by now. They have a pretty good idea of what an asset should cost.

To determine the appropriate value of each asset, you can ask the sponsor. You should also look into local economics as well as your competition.

This does indeed mean that sometimes an asset you thought would be a big seller is a lower value. If you price your assets fairly though, a sponsor will be more receptive to your offer than if you jack up the costs for everything just because.

Here’s another reason to dissuade you from just guessing your asset’s value. You could be low-balling yourself and not even realize it. Just like some assets are priced lower than you thought, others could be more valuable than you had first assumed. Without taking the time to valuate each asset, you never would have known.

Sponsorships, Once You Get Them, Last Forever

Woohoo! Your target sponsor agreed to fund or promote your event. You feel very proud to have reached this point. Now that the partnership is a done deal, you can expect to work with the sponsor for a long time to come, correct?

Maybe, but not necessarily. A sponsorship is indeed a partnership, or a business arrangement. Like any partnership, it must be mutually beneficial for both sides. If you live up to your end of the deal and the sponsor gets what they anticipated they would, then there’s no reason they would say no to working another event with you.

Making a lot of the mistakes I’m going to cover in the next sections will cause the sponsor to look for a swift exit.

Your Sponsor Can Come up with Activation Ideas, Not You

One of those mistakes is putting the responsibility of activation ideas on the sponsor. An activation idea is a type of marketing plan applied to your event to make it memorable. Activations often encompass technology, sometimes in an immersive way, such as an interactive video or virtual reality. You can and should use activation ideas for in-person and virtual events alike.

It’s your duty, not the sponsor’s, to come up with activation ideas. You can add these ideas to your sponsorship package and sell them to a sponsor. Some well-thought, innovative activation ideas could convince a sponsor to give you a try, you never know!

Remember, it’s your event, not the sponsor’s. When they agree to work with you, that doesn’t mean they’re taking over as the new event planner. Your sponsor will have ideas and suggestions, maybe even activation ideas, but they’re there to contribute, not spearhead.

If you’re struggling to come up with some of your own activation ideas, check out this list. Remember that the best activation ideas aren’t just those that are fun and original, but appeal to your audience and meet the sponsor’s goals. Oh, and your ideas should fit neatly within your budget as well.

It’s Okay to Promise Less and Deliver More Later, As This Makes You Look Better

You know how important promises are in business, and the last thing you want to do is break any that you make. Life sometimes happens, things go haywire, and these issues can prevent you from living up to your promises.

Thus, you’ve found that sometimes the better way to go is to promise little but deliver more. This way, you do fulfill everything you promised and then some. Most of your clients or customers are typically impressed with this approach, so you see no reason you shouldn’t apply it to sponsorship as well.

I can think of a few reasons. Under-promising is a bad business practice in general. From the outset, you’re giving your customers less than they deserve or at a lower level than anticipated. Customer turnover will likely be high, as customers will realize they can get better service or more service from the competition.

Also, under-promising becomes its own curse. For instance, because you offer less, you might have a quick turnaround time for services. The novelty of your turnaround time wears off on your long-term customers and soon turns into expectation. Should you fail to meet even those standards, you can greatly upset your customers.

In sponsorship, the sponsor company likes to know what they’re getting ahead of time. Surprises aren’t as nice because the company paid for X. They don’t want Y, Z, and A, even if Y, Z, and A are pretty cool.

I would recommend that you promise the sponsor what you can realistically deliver, but don’t under-promise. Sure, issues can crop up, but these shouldn’t happen very often. If you’re having frequent problems delivering on your promises, it’s worth reviewing your supply chain or company structure to see where the logjam begins.

A Company Sponsored a Business Like Mine, So They’ll Surely Sponsor Me

You’ve done some research into the target sponsor and you like what you see. They seem to have deep pockets, and not only that, but their sponsorship resume is long. There are a lot of companies the sponsor has worked with that are in the same industry as yours.

This increases your confidence, as you seem like a shoo-in for the next sponsorship slot. That’s why you’re so shocked when the sponsor decides to turn you down. You don’t understand what happened. You’re just like the other companies they’ve sponsored, so why not you?

Well, there can be a number of reasons for that. Maybe the sponsor got tired of working in the same industry so they’ve decided to branch out. In such a situation, it’s nothing personal.

That said, in many other instances, it can be personal.

Since you assumed you’d get the sponsorship, maybe you didn’t bother putting much care into your proposal or sponsorship package. You could have cut corners, like not valuating all your assets, because why bother? The sponsor will choose you anyway.

Also, just because another company is in the same industry as yours doesn’t necessarily mean they have the same needs or audience. The sponsor might have chosen them because of better audience alignment or more shared goals than what you have with the sponsor.

It’s always a good thing when a sponsor has worked with industries like yours, but you still have to put in every bit of effort into getting that sponsorship.

Your Organization Is a Really Good Cause, so of Course You’ll Get a Sponsor

Maybe you’re more on the nonprofit side of things. Your organization does great work, something like saving abandoned animals, researching children’s cancer, or the like. These are very admirable ambitions, that’s for sure, but an organization’s cause alone is not guaranteed to secure them sponsorship.

I talked about this way early on in the article. You must have something the sponsor wants for them to agree to work with you. Maybe your cause is enough, as the sponsor sees great promotional and marketing potential in working with you. In many more cases though, you need a strong audience or great assets. 

Once You Get the Money, the Sponsorship Can Fall by the Wayside

Your event is officially funded. Now it can go on as you had always wished for. You got what you needed out of the sponsor, so it’s okay if you kick back and coast through all the rest, you’re thinking.

Allow me to repeat what I said before: sponsorship is a business arrangement or partnership. It’s not a one-sided agreement where you take and then give nothing in return. The sponsor chose to give you money with the expectation that you will deliver certain benchmarks. Failing to do that could leave you in breach of contract.

Oh yeah, you do indeed need a sponsorship contract, just as you would sign a contract before partnering with any other company. The contract covers both your butts and includes the terms of the deal, including what the parties will deliver and when.

Breaching any contract immediately lands you in legal hot water. The sponsor could sue and you would be liable in court. Not only would this whole endeavor drain you financially, but your company would be toast, as you’d have no reputation left.

That’s all the worst-case scenario, but even a better-case scenario isn’t much prettier. By doing the bare minimum, the sponsor will never want to work with you again. You may also find it hard to secure future sponsorship as your reputation precedes you.

Sponsorship Is the Answer to All Your Problems

The last misconception about sponsorship is that it will make all your business-related problems go away. If you don’t have a big audience now, a sponsor will change that. If you’re not getting any media exposure at the moment, wait until you have a huge company backing you.

These changes can occur through sponsorship, but they won’t be long-standing if you do nothing about it. What do I mean by that? The sponsor can send leads your way, but if you don’t work to convert them, then voila, they’re gone. If you don’t capitalize on the media exposure, then that too will dry up.

Sponsorship can help your company, that’s most certainly true. A sponsor is not a silver bullet though. To elevate your company to the next level, you need to work internally at it. Through sponsorship, your growth could be accelerated even further! 

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Sponsorship is rife with misconceptions, mostly from those new to sponsorship or people who had poor experiences. I hope this post has proven to you that sponsorship is as much about what you do as what the sponsor does. You should also be able to avoid some common pitfalls going forward. Best of luck!