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Evolution of Sponsorship

by | April 20, 2023

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Isn’t evolution fascinating?

All you have to do is look at plant or insect species that have existed since the time of the dinosaurs to appreciate how adaptable living things are. We change as the conditions around us change to ensure our survival.

When it comes to your sponsorship program, evolution is integral as well. There are certain habits you might have started with–such as offering gold, silver, and bronze tiers–that no longer suit your sponsors. 

It’s okay to be nervous about changing your sponsorship program; evolution can be scary! Yet the result is always worth it. 

In today’s post, I’ll talk about how sponsorship has evolved and what changes you need to make to your sponsorship program to stay current with all your sponsors, including the long-term ones. 

Sponsorship Evolution – The Dissolution of Gold, Silver, and Bronze Tiers

When compiling your assets into a sponsorship package, it used to be that the default means of putting together your menu was always gold, silver, and bronze, aka tiered sponsorship levels

This is straightforward enough but let me take a moment to explain it to you just so we’re clear. 

The bronze level is the worst tier, so it would contain very forgettable assets such as logos. The silver tier is the mid-tier. This level has a couple of decent assets, including some that the target sponsor might want to buy, but is altogether nothing amazing.

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That brings us to the gold tier. This contains all the great assets shoehorned into one category. These are the assets the sponsor wants, and most sponsorship seekers know that. That’s why the gold-tier assets are high-dollar. 

Some sponsorship seekers take it a step beyond with a platinum tier, but this is just more of the same. The assets are better than the gold tier to incentivize the sponsor to spend more money on your assets. 

I hate tiered sponsorship levels, but the only ones who hate it more are the sponsors themselves. They’ve seen sponsorship menus like this a million times before and they’re beyond sick of it. 

In my experience with clients, I’ve heard of sponsors who won’t look at a sponsorship menu if it’s got gold, silver, and bronze tiers.

By the way, it doesn’t matter if you theme the tiers differently such as dinner, lunch, breakfast, and brunch tiers. It’s still the same thing just with a different name. Sponsors still hate it. 

Like the insects of the Jurassic Period that have lived on to today’s times, sponsorship seekers have two options. They can fail to adapt and die (well, their sponsorship program will die) or they can adapt and change. 

Growing Pains – A Customized Sponsorship Menu for All Sponsors or Just the New Ones?

Animals and insects don’t think like we do. Once they begin initiating evolutionary change, they don’t second-guess it. They just let it happen.

But we’re human, and so we can’t help but overthink. That’s why many of my clients come to me with concerns and doubts about using custom sponsorship levels. 

Won’t it alienate the sponsors you acquired using gold, silver, and bronze tiers to switch to a custom menu? Isn’t it too much of a curveball for them, especially if you’ve been doing things the same way for several years?

This has led to some of my clients taking an interesting approach. They’ve decided that instead of getting all their sponsors on board with customized sponsorship packages, they’d only do that with the new ones. 

The old ones would keep getting the gold, silver, and bronze package.

There are several issues with this. For one, you’re now doing double the work, as you’re trying to create a sponsorship package using two separate methodologies.  

More so, your sponsorship program is not evolving. If anything, it’s devolving.

The biggest issue though is this. Sponsors do not exist in a vacuum separate from one another. What if your old sponsors found out about this highly tailored, customized approach you’re taking with your new sponsors?

That’d be like discovering that every time you go over to a friend’s house, they only serve you cheese and crackers, but when a new friend comes over, they get a four-course home-cooked meal with all the fixings.

It doesn’t feel good. 

Your old sponsors have been around longer, so why aren’t they getting preferential treatment? What are you going to tell them, that you were afraid they wouldn’t like a customized package that meets more of their goals? 

Saying it out loud makes it sound kind of ridiculous, right?

This is the wrong route to take, so you have to do something else instead. 

How to Evolve Your Sponsorship Package with Established Sponsors

Making assumptions about what a sponsor wants is one of the worst things you can do in sponsorship. 

Then you focus on audience segments the sponsor doesn’t really care about. You give them assets that don’t meet their goals. You come up with activations that you thought sounded cool but don’t do anything for the sponsor.

In life, we’re told not to assume things about other people, because we’re very often wrong. You should take that mentality and extend it to your sponsors as well.

Don’t assume that just because your sponsor has always done a stocked gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship package that they necessarily want to continue that way. Instead, have a frank conversation with them.

Ask them what more you can be doing to meet their goals. Ask them if they’re interested in more segmented audience data. And yes, ask if they want a customized sponsorship package that they play a role in creating.

Many of them will say yes. Maybe not all, but that’s okay. By asking, at least you know.

Everyone deserves the right to choose how they engage with you as sponsors. If you have long-term sponsors, it’s not a bad idea to check in with them every year to see how their needs might have changed and what you can do to accommodate them. 

So what if your sponsor says no, they still want to use gold, silver, and bronze tiers? Well, now you can carry on with a tiered sponsorship package without worrying about causing hurt feelings on their side. 

You’ve told them what you’re offering other sponsors and they’ve chosen to stick with what they’re familiar and comfortable with. In doing so, they lose the right to complain later if other sponsorship opportunities drive a higher ROI than theirs.

When you offer only new customers the customized treatment, you’re saying to your old sponsors that they don’t matter. Yet your old sponsors are the ones who have been with you for years. 

New sponsors can jump ship at any time. Granted, so can older ones, but they have a track record of loyalty that new sponsors simply do not. You don’t want to snub your old sponsors for the new ones!

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As I said before, change isn’t easy, but it has to happen. You avoid asking existing partners for feedback at your peril. 

When your old sponsors are unhappy with your level of service, especially if you’re not accounting for their continually changing goals, then you risk losing that sponsor. 

Sponsorship is an evolution. It’s not strictly gold, silver, bronze packages nor is it exclusively customized packages either. It’s doing whatever works for the sponsor as their needs change. You might have to evolve your sponsorship program on a quarterly basis, but it’s more likely to be annual. 

If you’re struggling to put together compelling sponsorship packages that make your sponsors happy or if you need help with other areas of your sponsorship program, my free training will come in handy.

In the program, you’ll learn how to transition from transactional deals with sponsors and evolve into newer, more efficient means of gaining sponsors. You’ll also understand what it takes to make lasting partnerships with your sponsors both new and old!