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How to do Corporate Sponsorship Badly! Part One

by | October 30, 2018

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The goal of this post is simple: learn from my mistakes! I have been doing corporate sponsorship deals for charities, private companies, and associations and not for profits for a long time and I have had some great successes but I have also had some disastrous corporate sponsorship deals gone wrong.

I just did a webinar on all things corporate sponsorship and the art of the sponsorship proposal and to my surprise, the crowd was far more interested in what I have done wrong and how to fix it than they were in my best practice tips…and so the idea for this blog post was born.

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I have five stories, spread out over two parts, each unique, about how I blew a sponsorship deal. Some have happy endings and some do not, but all of them taught me something. Have a horror story of your own to share? Leave it in the comments!

Corporate Sponsorship Case Study 1:
“Who’s the Sponsor Here?”

In this example, I closed a corporate sponsorship deal for $200,000 which included a host of sponsorship benefits for an education event for members of a particular profession. Part of the sponsorship proposal included significant brand exposure to the crowd, a call out from the stage and a selection of other “day of” sponsorship benefits. On the day of the event the host of didn’t mention the sponsor….at all. Their sign was hidden behind a door and their VIP table was at the back behind a pillar. I watched in horror as my sponsor wandered the crowd asking “Do you know who the sponsor is for this session?” To her horror, nobody did. They were unimpressed. My mistake was leaving the sponsorship activation in the hands of people who were not on my team and who were not corporate sponsorship experts. Happy ending? Yes! Because I knew that this sponsor wanted brand visibility in front of a specific group, we were able to turn their session into a webinar and deliver it to 3000 professionals instead of just 200. We gave them a speaking opportunity to intro the video and then we did a survey and asked our members, “Who was the sponsor of this session?” The result? The overwhelming majority named our sponsor.

Lesson learned: have a sponsorship activation strategy and make sure you implement it personally!

Corporate Sponsorship Case Study 2:
“I would Never Buy this Sponsor’s Product”

 This was another incredibly uncomfortable moment for the corporate sponsorship team and my sponsor. In a similar type of sponsorship, this time with a room of 500 my title sponsor proudly sat at the front of the room at their VIP table, with their CEO and several major clients. Check! Got them in the right place with the right visibility!

The speaker was a highly respected professional and academic. The crowd hung on his every word…and then it happened. The speaker spent 10 minutes telling the crowd how much he disliked the main product of the title sponsor.

I would like to pause here for a moment to really drive this home. 500 customers, CEO, major clients, key opinion leader…and that key opinion leader tore our sponsor apart.

Why did he do this you ask? Well, I asked the same thing after the event. The answer? The speaker didn’t realize the title sponsor owned that particular brand! The crowed reacted when he made the first joke and so he decided to do some improv.

I pulled out all the stops to fix this with the title sponsor, to no avail. They told me that they were expecting cancelled orders as a result of this debacle, and they were right.

Happy ending? Not this time. They pulled the plug on their multi-year sponsorship as well as a few other key investments they made with us. They didn’t come back the next year, and to this day do not support that organization.

The comments were completely innocent, no malicious intent at all. In fact, the crowd thought it was hilarious and probably didn’t make the connection either (though according to the sponsor, they definitely did.) The mistake was mine though, I should have prepped my speaker properly and been clearer about what was appropriate and what wasn’t.

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Corporate Sponsorship Case Study 3:
The Sponsorship Proposal First Method


I had been working with the pharmaceutical industry extensively and I was sure I knew exactly what every pharma company wanted: to brand physicians to use prescribe their drugs.

I did what any corporate sponsorship expert would do, I created a sponsorship proposal template and shotgun blasted as many companies as possible. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably already know where this is going!

I secured a meeting with a prospect to talk sponsorship and laid out a stellar “gold, silver, bronze” opportunity at the six figure level. They looked a the proposal and looked at me and said “we’ll pass…but thanks for flying in.”

That was it! I was done! Dejected! Embarrassed! And wiser.

Before I was escorted out the door I asked, “I would love to work with you guys in the future. What is a good time to sit down with you and build something that gives you exactly, and only, what you need?”

Fast forward exactly ten months, in the same seat, with the same people…this time, with nothing in hand. I asked them questions and they told me that they didn’t care in the least about branding. What they really cared about was physicians diagnosing a rare disorder early enough to be treated effectively. Their problem wasn’t branding, their problem was that the illness for which they were the only treatment, was missed 90% of the time.

Happy ending? Yes! Together we built an awareness campaign and they paid double what I asked for the year before for the privilege to align with our brand.

My mistake was that I went in sponsorship proposal first and hoped that they would self select their own package. The reality is, when you do that you leave money on the table.