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How to do Corporate Sponsorship Badly! Part Two

by | October 30, 2018

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

In part one of my corporate sponsorship gone wrong post I covered three examples of what NOT to do with your sponsors. If you liked those three examples, you are going to love these last two examples.

Have a horror story of your own to share? Leave it in the comments!

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Corporate Sponsorship Case Study 4:
Cause Related Marketing Gone Wrong

First, let’s talk elephant in the room: cause related marketing is not corporate sponsorship. I know, BUT this is a good story and the principles still apply here so please let it slide.

The campaign was simple, the charity I worked with would go out and convince the public to take a selfie (though the word “selfie” hadn’t been invented yet…suddenly feeling very old) engaged in a winter activity. They upload the photo to a website and a donation of $5 would come our way. Classic cause related marketing.

We did everything right! Speaking tours, media blitzes, launch parties, magazine, radio and TV ads. Everything! The result? Nothing. Why? Because it required too many steps to trigger the gift. The worst part is that we knew it, after all we did far more corporate sponsorship than the company who dreamt up the campaign. We didn’t want to make waves and push back so we said nothing and hoped it would work. It didn’t.

A failed cause related marketing campaign isn’t a good thing, but it happens. The problem here was that we did such a good job with the launch that this was going to be a hugely public failing.

Happy ending? Well…sort of. We had four galas happening across the country and so each gala had a “winter station” photo booth setup (this is also before those cool photo booth packages with all the props was invented). We had every single guest take a cool winter photo and we uploaded the pictures manually.

We still missed our target, by a lot. But at least it wasn’t by an embarrassing margin. The other thing we did was tracked all of the media hits, branding, web traffic, social media mentions (at the time it was only Facebook…so it was REALLY easy) and product sales. We also did some market research to prove that the campaign increased brand awareness among their target demographic. The company was thrilled!

The next year, they came back again but this time they let us design the cause related marketing campaign…and it was a huge success.

Corporate Sponsorship Case Study 5:
Sponsorship Naming Rights

This corporate sponsorship horror story  goes down in history as the absolute worst experience in my professional life to date. When I bump into colleagues from the org I worked for at the time, this is the FIRST thing they mention. We can laugh about it now but it still stings. This is the epitome of corporate sponsorship gone wrong.

Let me set the stage: a major national company flew in their execs from all over the country to meet me in the lobby of one of the biggest hospitals in Canada to be recognized for their corporate sponsorship. This company had sponsored a piece of medical equipment. Medical equipment isn’t cheap and branding it for the life of the machine is not a cheap corporate sponsorship benefit. This was a big deal.

As I worked the crowd with my carefully rehearsed small talk and pre-selected jokes to keep the conversation going my stress levels began to rise. I was waiting for a call from my colleague to tell me that they were ready to start the dedication. Oh yeah, the media was there too. As this group of busy execs grew impatient, and I ran out of material, I made the decision to go up to the room where I knew the event would be held.

As we arrived, I felt a sense of relief! The machine was there! It had a big red bow and ribbon and there was a giant novelty pair of scissors for the CEO to cut the ribbon. And then I heard the words that still haunt me to this day “that’s not our logo…that’s our competitor’s logo!” said the CEO.

The hold up was because the hospital brought the wrong machine to the room and, being a massive hospital, they had hundreds of these machines and they simply couldn’t find the one we were looking for. Then my phone rang. It was my boss who just got a call from one of the executives in the crowd. Angry boss on the phone, angry CEO in person and a rogue executive who just called my boss. Oh yeah, one of the people in the crowd was also a board member.

So what did I do? We cut the ribbon, dedicated the machine and kept the wrong logo out of the shots from the media.

Happy ending? YES! How? I don’t know!

My boss even kept me on the file! Here’s what we did: we took complete responsibility for the mess-up, we then went to the hospital and asked them to help us make things right. We ended up getting a ward of child patients, where the machine ended up, to take some photos and write a cool thank you note. I then did a one on one tour with the CEO, presented him with this custom thank you and showed him the impact of his investment. Not just the social impact, but how many patients would see his machine, some media clippings and a few other unexpected positive stories from the community. We also gave them the title sponsorship for a major event and honoured them for their investment again in front of the crowd.

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Corporate Sponsorship Horror Stories: Lessons Learned

As I said in the intro, I have been part of a number of absolutely stellar campaigns but sometimes things go wrong with corporate sponsorship. Here is what I learned from these five (painful) examples:

  1. No matter how much you plan, something will eventually go wrong, and that’s OK.
  2. When things go wrong, do everything you can to make it right.
  3. Have an activation strategy! Never, ever, move forward without an activation strategy.
  4. Always deliver a fulfillment report! This simple report has saved me more times than I can count.
  5. When delivering a corporate sponsorship deal, handle it personally or delegate to someone on your team. Never leave details to chance (this is really just another way to say…have an activation strategy!)

Most importantly, remember that even the largest companies are run by people! Real human beings, all of whom have made mistakes in their lives. This isn’t an excuse to be lax in your activation strategy but what it does mean is that you should always focus on building strong relationships because when the time comes to ask for forgiveness, it makes it so much easier when your sponsor trusts you and likes you.

Don’t let these case studies scare you! Corporate sponsorship is exciting, challenging and rewarding. These examples represent a tiny percentage of the deals I have worked on, but I will never forget them.