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Finding Your Special Sauce in Sponsorship 

by | June 24, 2021

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  • 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
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For any target sponsor you’re pursuing, there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of other companies and organizations trying to do the same. You have to prove to a sponsor that you have something all those other sponsorship seekers don’t. 

That something is what I like to refer to as special sauce. 

What is your special sauce and how do you identify it? More so, how do you maximize the potential of your special sauce to attract more sponsorship opportunities? In today’s article, I’ll answer those questions, so let’s get started. 

The Elusive Special Sauce in Your Sponsorship Program: Where Is It? 

As I said in the intro, your special sauce is something that you uniquely bring to the table. Although by that definition, it sounds like it’d be easy to determine what your special sauce is, that’s not always the case.

The reason for that is that some sponsorship seekers kind of stumble upon success in sponsorship by accident. They think they know what a sponsor likes and they just so happen to get it right that time. Then maybe it happens again. 

This can create the illusion that you’re doing things correctly when in reality, it’s just that: an illusion. 

Finding your special sauce doesn’t start with you at all. Rather, it starts with one question that seems simple but is quite tough to answer. 

What do your sponsors want? 

Maybe it’s customers, or email addresses, or a willing audience who will accept samples. Perhaps they want to sell products or get signups for a free trial for software or a membership. Likely, it’s a combination of all these things. 

Then you have to ask yourself another question. What does your audience want?

This is easier to answer since you should know your audience. If you don’t, then please send an audience survey and dig deep into the results to create audience segments based on your customer’s psychographic, geographic, and demographic data. 

Okay, so what does your audience want, hm? They want a positive experience with your business or organization. They might want to enjoy themselves or receive freebies. Perhaps they wish to network or connect. Most audiences want not just one or two of these things, but everything, which is much the same as your target sponsors. 

If this were a Venn diagram and your sponsor’s needs were on one side and your audience’s needs were on the other, the overlapping section of the circles would contain your activations. 

You sell activation opportunities to your sponsor that will engage your audience. These opportunities should be so good that your audience naturally gravitates to the sponsor rather than the interaction feeling forced. Then your sponsor can begin converting your audience. 

It’s these activation opportunities that are your special sauce.

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How to Create Activations That Net Sponsorship Sales

Activation opportunities are one of the most valuable assets you can sell to a sponsor by far. Some first-time sponsorship seekers assume then that any activation ideas will pique their target sponsor’s interest. That’s not true.

Another trap you can fall into is thinking that your activation ideas have to be very over-the-top to grab the attention of your target sponsor. Fortunately, that’s not true either. 

The best activation opportunities are attuned to the needs of your target sponsor and your audience. That’s it. 

How do you come up with activations that meet those criteria? Here are some tips!

Match the Wants of Your Sponsor with Your Audience 

I suggest using three things the target sponsor wants as the basis of your activation ideas. By the way, you aren’t guessing at these wants. You know what the target sponsor needs because you asked them. 

So let’s say, for example’s sake, that the three things you know your sponsor wants for certain are email addresses, samples, and more sales. 

In the same way that you used your sponsor’s wants to come up with activation ideas, you have to do that with your audience as well. To reiterate, you should be crystal clear on the needs and wants of your audience thanks to your survey. 

Pick three things your audience most wants. I’ll say, again for this example, that those three things are a positive experience, freebies, and more fun than they were expecting. 

Then you ask yourself how you can combine your target sponsor’s needs and those of your audience into one activation opportunity. 

For instance, how can you give your audience free stuff while still satisfying your sponsor’s goals? Well, you know your sponsor wants to give away samples, and those are usually free. Your audience wants free stuff, so it’s a match! 

Now, this gets a bit more difficult at some points. Let’s say your sponsor wants more email addresses. What kind of activation ideas can you come up with to meet that goal? 

Well, with an activation experience your audience enjoys enough, they won’t mind sharing their email addresses with the target sponsor. Using your audience research, it’s your job to come up with that engaging experience. 

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Brainstorm as a Group

Don’t leave one person in your company or organization to think up activation ideas all on their lonesome. That’s a great way to hit a creativity wall fast. Instead, sit down as a group and see what you can come up with when you brainstorm.

I suggest limiting your ideas to three to five activations per category. For instance, using the idea of free samples, if your target sponsor is a pizzeria, then the most obvious giveaway is free pizza. But you need more ideas than that. 

So maybe another giveaway is a free t-shirt, a gift card, or even a grand prize where the winner gets free pizza for a year. Your target sponsor gets to give out samples as they wanted, your audience gets free stuff as they wanted, and both parties are happy. 

Don’t Be Tempted by What’s Hot in the Market Right Now

Whenever I talk about activation opportunities with my clients, I always get the same questions. What’s hot right now? What’s dominating the market? In answering these questions, I’d be giving my clients a direction to take their activation opportunities.

The problem is that’s often the wrong direction! That’s why I don’t pay attention to what’s hot and I suggest that you don’t either. 

I know that’s easier said than done. If t-shirt guns are selling like hotcakes right now, then you’d feel inclined to use t-shirt guns as an activation opportunity too. After all, it worked out fabulously for other companies, so why not yours? Here’s why.

You can’t copy and paste in sponsorship. Each sponsor is unique and each audience is unique, so your activations have to be unique as well. If a t-shirt gun doesn’t fulfill the needs of your target sponsor and your audience, then it’s pointless. You wasted your money on something flashy with nothing to show for it. 

I’m not saying you can’t look to the marketplace for ideas and inspiration. You absolutely can. Yet before you take whatever’s hot and decide that it will be your activation opportunity as well, you have to ask yourself two questions. 1.) Does this achieve my sponsor’s goals? 2.) Does this fulfill my audience?

If the answer is no to both questions, then that activation opportunity is not for you. If you replied no to only one question, then guess what? The activation idea is still not for you. 

Maybe you can tweak the activation so it better suits your audience. That’s perfectly fine. I always say when coming up with activation ideas that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Spinning off of someone else’s idea is perfectly plausible so long as your sponsor and audience’s respective needs are being met. 

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Your secret sauce in sponsorship lies in your activation opportunities. Your activations have to accomplish your sponsor’s goals while meeting the needs of your audience.  

If you’re struggling to think of activation opportunities that can become your special sauce, I recommend you try my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. I think you’ll get a lot of use out of it!