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Getting Around the Gatekeeper

by | May 19, 2022

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The time will come in your sponsorship program where you have to pick up the phone or shoot an email to a representative at the company you’d like to sponsor you. 

So many times, sponsorship seekers tell me about getting held up at this critical point in the sponsorship process because their progress is blockaded by a gatekeeper. What do you do in a scenario like this? 

That’s exactly what I’ll talk about today, so check it out!

What Is a Gatekeeper, Anyway?

Gatekeepers exist in all capacities, and so sometimes the term is used more literally than others.

For example, if you go to a popular bar or club, the bouncers there are technically gatekeepers.

Many companies have gatekeepers as well. These are the front-desk secretaries, associates, or executive assistants whose job it is to pick up the phone when a person calls the front desk.

They work for someone higher up, which is usually the person you want to talk to. The company gatekeeper determines what information gets to their boss.

They’re not decision-makers themselves, but their boss is, so they only want certain parties to reach that decision-maker

It’s the gatekeeper’s choice whether you’ll reach the party you want, so you only get one chance when speaking to them to make the right impression.

If a gatekeeper wants to immediately shut you down, they can very well do that. They’ll recognize your number so that if you call again, they can reroute you.

That sounds exceptionally frustrating, right? It’s no wonder that I hear the complaint all the time from sponsorship seekers that they did their research, they spent time finding prospects, but then the gatekeeper held them up and they’re not sure what to do.

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How Do You Get Around the Gatekeeper?

If this guide is already resonating with you, then I’m sure you’re very eager to hear my solution for getting around the gatekeeper, right? After all, you’ve tried everything, but nothing has worked so far. 

Well, sorry to break it to you, but you can’t get around the gatekeeper.

It’s part of that executive assistant or secretary’s job to ensure his or her boss’ time isn’t needlessly wasted. You can’t ask them to forego that job responsibility just this one time for you. It doesn’t work like that. 

If every random person seeking sponsorship was allowed to talk to the decision-maker, then that decision-maker wouldn’t have time for anybody or anything else. They’d just field calls all day. 

Besides, in my experience, and in the experiences I’ve heard from many, many sponsorship seekers, even if you could get around the gatekeeper, you don’t want to.

Wait, what? Really? Indeed!

Let’s imagine for a moment that you had a surefire way to get past the gatekeeper. Maybe you’re a smooth talker and your charm won them over. Perhaps you found out the decision-maker’s phone number so you don’t even need the gatekeeper.

Either way, you’re now in touch with the company’s decision-maker.

You’re excited to talk to the decision-maker, as you should be, but the feeling is not mutual. The decision-maker has no idea who you are or why you’re calling. 

If you go into the call with your sales materials at the ready, you drop the word “sponsorship,” a bunch of times, or you ask about sponsorship dollars right out of the gate, guess what will happen?

That’s right. You’ve blown that sponsorship opportunity straight to smithereens. At that point, there is no fixing it. There’s only moving on to the next prospect. 

The Question You Should Be Asking – How Do I Turn the Gatekeeper into My Advocate?

Now that I’ve established that getting past the gatekeeper is next to impossible and that even if you could, you shouldn’t want to, it’s time to think about a new question.

That is, how do you turn the gatekeeper into your advocate? In other words, how do you get them to thoughtfully consider your request and actually pass it on to the decision-maker they work for?

Here’s what I recommend.

Do Company Research

I sincerely hope you’re not just pulling company names out of a figurative hat, randomly cold-calling them, and asking if they offer sponsorship. 

That’s a terrible waste of everybody’s time, yours more so than anyone else’s.

Instead, you want to research the companies you’re interested in. Look at their website. Comb through their LinkedIn. Read news articles, press releases, and other clippings.

Ask the Right Questions

Knowing the basics about a company will make it easier for you to have a meaningful conversation with the gatekeeper when you get them on the phone.

Then you can begin asking them questions about the company’s current challenges.

For example, if your prospect company is a dairy farmer, you might ask if the rise in food prices is affecting consumer perception and shopping behaviors. 

If you didn’t know what kind of company you were talking to, you wouldn’t be able to guide the conversation in the right direction. 

Ask also about the company’s target audience and how the decision-maker factors everything into his or her choices when they do make that all-important decision. 

In other words, you’re treating this initial phone conversation as its own mini discovery session.

If you need a refresher, a discovery session is when you sit down (virtually or physically) with your prospect and ask them questions about their current challenges, audience, pain points, sales, and goals. 

You want to learn more about the prospect in ways that your LinkedIn and website research couldn’t do. You’re trying to get information that no press release is going to divulge. 

Now, you’re not asking the gatekeeper 10 questions about the company’s goals, processes, or challenges. Remember, I said treat it as a mini discovery session.

You just want to get the gist of what the company’s challenges and goals are. 

Be Respectful 

A little bit of respect goes so far, especially these days. 

You may get some pushback from the gatekeeper as you two talk. This shouldn’t happen if you follow my tips, but you never know what kind of personality you’re going to run into until you pick up the phone.

If you get a gatekeeper on the line who’s not helpful or even nasty or just doesn’t seem to care about what you’re saying, don’t lose your cool. Remain cordial and respectful the entire time.

The company likely has more than one secretary or executive assistant. The next time you call back, you could talk to someone entirely different. Their personality may be more amenable.

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Explain Your Opportunity Clearly

One of the top gatekeeper complaints I get from sponsorship seekers is that the gatekeeper clearly didn’t understand the sponsorship seeker’s opportunity.

Now, sometimes that’s because a gatekeeper rushes you off the phone, but in other cases, it could be that you didn’t explain your opportunity well enough.

By this point in the phone call, you’ve established some rapport with the gatekeeper. You two have talked a bit about the company’s needs and challenges. 

Now is where you can slide in a mention of your opportunity. Be thorough but concise. Remember, you’re trying to be respectful of the gatekeeper, and that means being respectful of their time as well.

Talking for 30 minutes about your company or your opportunity is the opposite of respectful. 

Be sure to leave the sales talk out of this conversation, especially when you’re going over your opportunity. Sales talk has no place in a discovery session!


Gatekeepers in media and marketing are there for a reason. It’s their job to determine who gets to talk to their boss about opportunities, whether those are related to sponsorship or not.

If you find yourself constantly getting turned down by gatekeepers, it’s time to reevaluate your mindset and approach. Be kind to the gatekeeper and always keep things respectful.

Treat the phone call as a small discovery session where you can get to know the needs and challenges of the company and then present your opportunity. 

Your goal is to get the gatekeeper excited about your opportunity so that they go to the decision-maker and describe the opportunity with vigor. That’s what inspires a decision-maker to want to meet with you, not finding their phone number and calling them directly. 

Good luck!