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7 More Horrible Mistakes You’re Making with Your Sponsorship Program

by | September 13, 2021

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If you’ve been a long-time reader of the blog, then you should remember this post about the ways to (unknowingly) destroy your sponsorship program, or maybe this one. Well, I’m back today with another post in that same vein about what not to do when starting your sponsorship program. What are some missteps to avoid?

Here are 7 more of the most horrible mistakes you could be making with your sponsorship program:

  • Try for any sponsorship prospect
  • Skip the audience research
  • Don’t niche down
  • Stall your sponsorship program by lingering on the same activities 
  • Choose activations for their “cool” factor only
  • Give your new sponsors preferential treatment but not your old sponsors
  • Build too much of a rapport with sponsors

Are you not sure if your team is making the above sponsorship mistakes? Then I recommend you keep reading. Ahead, I’ll elaborate on each faux pas and provide some ways to quickly rectify your errors.

7 More Costly Sponsorship Program Mistakes to Avoid

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Try for Any Sponsorship Prospect

Do you reach out to sponsorship prospect after sponsorship prospect but hear nothing but crickets? Do you e-blast prospects to save yourself time but still get no responses?

It can be frustrating when it feels like the gates are being shut on you when all you’re trying to do is take one step into the realm of sponsorship sales. What’s really happening is that you’re approaching the wrong types of sponsors.

This is something I discussed in a recent post of mine that you should check out if you missed it. 

Whenever I ask new clients about how they prospect for sponsors, I tend to get the same types of answers. Either they have no approach so it’s all completely random, or they start with big-name companies because they want the best sponsorship opportunities.

Then I sit down with these sponsors and have them do an exercise that I talked about in the blog post above. 

You see, finding the right sponsorship prospects is anything but random. You need to use the concentric circle theory, which is the basis of my prospecting exercise. 

The concentric circle theory is a way of organizing ideas–or in your case, sponsorship prospects–by their value. The most high-value prospects go in the center of the circle. Then, as you work your way out to the circle’s farthest edges, you have your least valuable prospects.

Your hottest sponsorship prospects are the brands that your audience buys from, engages with, consumes, and likes. Although not piping hot, the brands that advertise and market to your audience are still very warm prospects. 

The brands that should be interested in your audience are the third circle. Then the fourth circle of your sponsorship prospecting concentric circle model includes the competitors of all the brands to this point.

By reading that post, watching the accompanying video, and taking a few hours to research brands, you can create your own prospects list using my exercise. 

Warmer prospects are far more receptive to your sponsorship efforts. Try for yourself and see! I think you’ll be impressed. 

Skip the Audience Research

Of course, none of what I just talked about works if you haven’t done your audience research. I’m even going to go as far as to say that your sponsorship program doesn’t work without audience research.

If sponsorship was a human body, then your audience research would be the heart. It keeps the whole operation going. 

After all, if you don’t know who your audience is, then how can you possibly sell them as an attractive asset to your target sponsor? You can’t, or at least not effectively. As I proved in the last section, you can’t even find good sponsorship prospects without having researched your audience. 

Your sponsorship program will be dead in the water.

Of course, I don’t want that for you, so allow me to explain how surveying your audience works. 

First, I would look at the information you already have on your audience. What don’t you know about them? This will help you determine which questions to put on your audience survey. 

The survey should focus on filling in informational gaps in such areas as demographics, geographics, opinions and motivations, and brand loyalty.

Here are some questions I recommend you ask in your audience survey:

  • What programs or events of ours have you attended in the last year? Why?
  • What was the best part of the event experience? What can use improvement?
  • How long have you worked in your industry?
  • What are five brands you recently bought from? Why did you choose them?

Your survey can’t be too long, nor can it contain too many open-ended questions. You need to balance those out with easy-to-answer questions to keep the survey response time short. After all, if it takes 45 minutes to do your survey, how many responses do you think you’d get?

That’s right, barely any. You wouldn’t want to be sidelined for 45 minutes like that, and neither does your audience. 

Once your survey is put together, you need to let your audience know about it. I recommend starting with your email list. Post about the upcoming survey on your social media network as well. Maybe write a short blurb about the survey on your blog. 

Inspire people to finish the survey besides amending its length. Give your audience discounts, freebies, or something of that nature they’d like. 

Test your email subject lines until you find one that will get a higher open rate. Then click the send button. 

Once your audience survey is out in the world, you have to give your respondents at least a few weeks to finish it. In between now and then, send a reminder email (or two) so anyone who forgets about the first email with the survey can now take it.   

To keep your audience data current, you need to send out a survey every six months or so. 

Don’t Niche Down

Imagine this scenario. You’ve gotten quite far in your sponsorship program and you’re to the point where you’re sitting down for a meeting with a sponsor. Your audience inevitably comes up. The target sponsor says “tell me about your audience.”

You smile. “Sure! They’re mostly 40-somethings from Philadelphia making $85k a year.”

Then the target sponsor says something that catches you off-guard. “Give me more details about that segment.”

“Uh…” you stammer, not sure what to tell them. That’s all the information you have on that segment.

Ouch, right? Lots of sponsorship seekers assume that if they do basic audience segmenting based on the responses to their audience survey that they’re in the clear. Yet that mindset leads to the types of situations I described above.

Scenarios like these are completely preventable, but you will have to put more time and research into your sponsorship program. 

Let’s rewind a moment, shall we? Your audience surveys have come in, first as a trickle, then as a deluge. It’s been a month, so you assume that you have all the audience data you’re going to get. 

You’ll have your basic segments, such as gender, location, occupation, or income. What you have to do from there is treat each audience segment like a Russian nesting doll. Keep making that segment narrower and narrower by niching down.

Sponsors are not interested in broad audiences. No company is. If you were to release a new product tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what that product is, you know it’s geared towards a certain audience. 

By trying to appeal to the masses, companies usually fail. It’s by identifying their audience segments and then appealing to those segments that success and cash will follow.

Let me show you how to niche down. Using the example from earlier in this section, you have a group of 40-somethings in Philadelphia who make $85k a year. That’s a good start, but you can niche down so much more.

First, are we talking about men or women? Are they younger 40s, mid-40s, or later 40s? Where in Philadelphia are they? West? Lower North? Southwest? 

You know how much money they make, but what industries do they work in? What are their job titles?

By asking these questions, that’s how you get ultra-specific niches. Now, instead of 40-somethings in Philly who make $85k a year, you have men in their younger-to-mid-40s from Lower North Philly who work as real estate agents.

After niching down all your segments, comb over your data. Which niches are the most appealing to your sponsor? Those are the ones you want to talk about when you sit down to a meeting. 

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Stall Your Sponsorship Program by Lingering on the Same Activities

A sponsorship program has many components to it, including audience research, asset valuation, coming up with activation ideas, putting together your sponsorship proposal, asking discovery questions, and having subsequent meetings. 

Many sponsorship seekers that I work with as clients think that their company needs to have X number of contacts or have done an event for Y number of years before they can pursue sponsorship. Others are so afraid of failing that they don’t even want to begin.

As I’ve talked about before, sitting on your sponsorship program waiting for that one perfect day or opportunity is a poor idea. There’s never going to be a perfect time, so you have to start now, even when you don’t feel ready. If you don’t, then countless sponsorship opportunities will pass you by.

What other sponsorship seekers do is think that they’re embarking on their sponsorship program only to get stuck on some activities in the early going. I don’t necessarily mean that they don’t know what to do next, but rather that the activities they’re dedicating their time to aren’t getting them anywhere.

You might recall my post on motion versus action where I talk about this exact topic. Motion activities are those that seem to be moving your sponsorship program forward but aren’t. For example, you spend months on your sponsorship prospect research when it should take your hours, maybe an afternoon tops.

Perhaps you spend too much time testing email headlines for your audience survey but you never actually get around to sending out the survey. Or maybe you work way too long on a sponsorship letter, like for weeks instead of hours. 

I’m not saying these things don’t have to be done, because they do. Yet when you’re expending too much time or effort on them, it’s just as bad as waiting to start your sponsorship program until that perfect opportunity comes along. In both cases, you’re missing out.

You need to start prioritizing action. In other words, yes, you tested your audience survey email headlines, but then you went ahead and sent the survey. You even reached out to the sponsor for a discovery session. These are the types of activities that keep your sponsorship program moving forward. 

If you’re not sure if your activities could be classified more as motion or action, I recommend asking yourself a few questions.

When did you first put together your sponsorship program? If it’s been more than a year and you still haven’t talked to a sponsor, then you need to start focusing on action instead of motion right away. 

Choose Activations for Their “Cool” Factor Only

As your sponsorship program begins to progress, the time will eventually come for you to discuss activation opportunities with the sponsor. Activations are experiential marketing moments at your event or conference.

You want your sponsor to be wowed by your activations, which can cause you to try to come up with the most outlandish or extraordinary ideas possible. The more extravagant your plans, the more expensive they usually are. 

Imagine hemorrhaging money for an activation opportunity only to find out post-event that your activation didn’t hit the mark. Like, not even close. 

Now, besides being flat broke, you’re also confused. Why didn’t your activation leave your sponsor’s jaw on the floor? You put so much planning into it that you thought it would really make an impact.

The reason the activation didn’t work is that you focused on the wrong benchmark.

Rather than come up with activation ideas that are ultra-cool, they need to be ultra-effective, as I wrote about here

Sponsors want activations that achieve two goals. First, the activation meets at least one need of the sponsor. Second, the activation meets a need of your audience.

Understanding what your audience wants goes back once again to audience research. I hope you can see now how integral audience data truly is to a successful sponsorship program.

How do you know what the sponsor wants? That’s easier; you ask them. Yes, just ask. 

The hard part of planning activation ideas shouldn’t be figuring out the logistics to ship a live snake from another country, but rather, finding out ways to pair the needs of your audience with those of your sponsor.

Fortunately, this isn’t something you have to do alone! You can work with others in your company or organization to brainstorm activation ideas, but above all else, I recommend you speak to the sponsor.

They know what they need and how you can make it happen. Listen to their ideas and incorporate them. These activations will leave your sponsor’s jaw on the floor if you execute them properly! 

Give Your New Sponsors Preferential Treatment but Not Your Old Sponsors

Sponsorship programs, even once you learn what works, are an ever-changing thing. The tactics that netted you one sponsor might not do much for another, so that requires you to keep evolving. 

This can create an interesting quandary. You have long-term sponsors, and you’ve been doing things with them a certain way for X number of seasons or years. Then you have newer sponsors that you attract using your upgraded sponsorship tactics. 

Although you might not think of it this way, to your long-term sponsors, it looks like the new guys are getting preferential treatment. After all, now they get to customize their sponsorship package from the ground up, whereas, with the older sponsor, you’re still giving them the gold, silver, and bronze tiered sponsorship package.

It’s not like all your sponsors sit in a room and talk about you behind your back, but people know each other. Word gets around. If one of your long-term sponsors feels like they’re getting the short end of the stick, what do you think will happen?

That’s right, they’ll walk. In the meantime, you have newer sponsors, but that doesn’t solve all your problems. After all, you don’t know these new sponsors very well. This could be your first event or arrangement together, after which, you might decide not to work together again.

Then you’re down even more sponsors. In the meantime, your ROI goals are getting further and further away. It’s a mess. 

So what do I recommend you do in a situation like this? As always, you want to give the sponsor a choice. Call up your long-term sponsor, even if you’re not working with them right now, and ask them what they want.

Most of your sponsors will probably be happy to jump onboard and start customizing their sponsorship package and other elements of the sponsorship program. A few sponsors, especially the old-school ones, might prefer sticking with the way you two are currently doing things, even if you are using outdated methods like tiered sponsorship packages. 

Hey, it’s their choice. If you make it clear that the new ways of doing things are better and the sponsor still refuses, then you continue doing it their way. At least they know what the other sponsors are getting so no hurt feelings can occur. 

Build Too Much of a Rapport with Sponsors 

In my other posts on what not to do in sponsorship, I’ve mentioned that one of the fastest ways to sabotage your sponsorship program is to treat your sponsors like ATM machines rather than real people with lives, families, pets, kids, hobbies, and problems.

A little bit of compassion can go a long, long way. Developing a rapport between you and the sponsor makes it easier to talk to them, and that in turn can make working together a more fruitful endeavor. 

Yet some sponsorship seekers take this advice and run with it, and they go way too far in my opinion. You can be cordial and friendly with the reps at the sponsor company. You can be warm, inviting, and even funny if you can pull that off without offending someone.

You don’t have to be the sponsor’s friend though, and you certainly don’t have to be their BFF. They know as you do that this is a business arrangement, not an informal friend search. You’re not going to hurt their feelings if you’re nice when you have to be, but you don’t spend more time with the sponsor than what’s warranted.

After all, you’re trying to run an event or a conference here. The sponsor is aware of that too. The fewer interruptions and distractions at this crucial time, the better.

You’ll know you’ve palled around with a sponsor too much if you’re taking one too many business lunches. When you two talk, be in it person or on the phone, the conversation veers towards the kids or the family dog rather than sponsorship matters.

Your event has a deadline and wasting time like this can cause you to miss that deadline or just barely squeak by. Be nice but stay business-minded and your sponsor will do the same. 

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That’s now seven more sponsorship program mistakes you can add to your list on top of the other posts I’ve written on this topic. 

Did you see yourself in any of the mistakes I covered today? That’s okay. 

I want to emphasize above all else that putting together a winning sponsorship program is a process. It takes trial and error. You will make mistakes and you will fail. By learning from those mistakes and not repeating them, you’re already on the right track with your sponsorship program!