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Goldilocks and the Three Sponsorship Packages

by | December 7, 2016

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The practice of sponsorship sales isn’t complicated, when you focus on the right activities. Unfortunately, the sector has become obsessed with the sponsorship package as the primary sales tool, which is definitely not the right activity! While the sector spends more and more time perfecting their standardized sponsorship packages, brands (ie sponsors) care less and less about sponsorship packages. In fact, most brands throw sponsorship packages in the garbage without ever reading them. There is definitely a disconnect between sponsorship properties (ie sponsorship seekers) and those looking to invest in sponsorship.

This story was inspired by some work I was doing on behalf of a client, in this case a brand looking to invest in sponsorship. They told me that they were overwhelmed with sponsorship proposals, none of which offered them anything beyond an arbitrary list of benefits filed under “Gold, Silver, Bronze.” For them to make the impact they wanted, they needed something very specific.

So off I went, former sponsorship seeker turned sponsor (albeit with someone else’s money) looking for the perfect sponsorship property to help my client achieve a very specific outcome.

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This Sponsorship Package is Too Prescriptive

My first stop was with a well-known membership organization with a large membership, stellar reputation and a huge social media presence. “This is going to be easy!” I thought. Surely I would be able to find something of value for my client and collect an early win in the process.

I downloaded the sponsorship package from their website and was instantly disappointed. The typical “Gold, Silver, Bronze” package forcing me, on behalf of my client, to buy a bunch of “benefits” that we didn’t want. Tickets, logo placement, speaking opportunities and an exhibit space – nothing that interested me.

My client was after something very specific and brand awareness wasn’t it – which is what this package focused on. Then I saw what I was looking for, on page 17:

“Don’t see something you like? Let us know and we can customize something for you.”

I called the number listed and left a message. I sent an e-mail outlining exactly what I wanted…and waited. Then I did it again and again and again. Finally I heard back from someone and I told them I only wanted certain benefits and didn’t need the rest. They told me that they could offer me more benefits but that it would cost me (cost was never an issue for my client but this property assumed it was). They told me I had to take all of the benefits I didn’t want plus the ones I did want and reiterated that “it would cost me.”

The message was clear: this property had no interest in building something custom and had no idea what the real value of their sponsorship package was. I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but this approach to sponsorship is rampant in our sector.

Obviously, I moved on to the next potential opportunity.

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This Sponsorship Package is Too Philanthropic

The second sponsorship property was equally well known in the industry. I downloaded the sponsorship package and this time found pages and pages of information about how many people this property helps every year. Mission, vision, financials, pictures of their beneficiaries and a list of how my sponsorship dollars will help them reach more people. It was entirely focused on them and their needs.

A noble cause, no question, but my client wasn’t looking to make a donation, they were looking to accomplish one very specific marketing goal. If I couldn’t articulate the connection between this investment and their marketing goals, then it was a non-starter. So, I reached out.

This time I got someone to reply to my e-mail in only five days and after only three follow-ups. We scheduled a call the following Monday and when we finally spoke, I had all kinds of questions about their database, their audience, their membership and what their donors think of the work they do.

The individual on the phone couldn’t answer my questions, none of them.

They did say a few times that “all Canadians” should care about the work they do, therefore their audience was “the general public.”  My client wanted access to a very specific professional and they wanted them to take a very specific action, they had no interest at all in “the general public.”

Rather than ask me about my goals they spent the entire call telling me about their philanthropic goals and how vital their programming was.

Sponsorship is never philanthropy. In fact, sponsorship is a marketing technique and success is measured through marketing ROI. While it was a great cause, I simply couldn’t be sure that my client would achieve their goals by working with this client.

This Sponsorship Package is Just Right

These two scenarios played out again and again for over a month and I was getting nervous. I had very little to present to my client beyond a handful of “Gold, Silver, Bronze” sponsorship packages, none of which offered what we were looking for.

I reached out to a fairly small, unknown organization who I knew had access to my target audience. I really wanted to work with a large organization who could handle a sponsor like my client, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen and so I started to look at smaller prospects.

I went to the website of the first property and in their sponsorship section I found statistics about their audience, event attendees, members and donors – exactly our target market! I then saw a line that said they do everything custom and want to connect with all of their prospective sponsors. I’ve heard this before but I was cautiously optimistic.

I called the number listed and…someone answered! I asked them about their sponsorship package and the answer I heard back nearly knocked me out of my seat:

“We don’t have one. Everything we do is custom based on your needs. If we don’t have a fit, then there’s no need to waste your time with a package.”

She then started asking me questions about my goals and my client’s needs. Things like:

  • Who is your target market?
  • What action do you want them to take?
  • If we work together, what is the one thing that you have to have to consider this a success?
  • How can we help you look good in front of your client?
  • Are there people your client wants to meet? Can we help make an introduction?
  • What do you hate about sponsorship packages?
  • What was the coolest thing you saw at a recent event that you wish we could do together?

I told her everything! Then she invited me to ask questions, and I did. I asked all about their audience, what they like/hate around sponsorship, I asked about their approach and philosophy with sponsors and she told me everything.

At the end of the call she asked me something that I never hear from sponsorship seekers:

“Does it sounds like we have a fit? Can I put something together and send if over for your feedback before it goes to the client?”

I got the package by the end of the day.

The Best Sponsorship Package Was No Package At All

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After that experience, I threw out every sponsorship package I had on file. This was the sponsorship property I would be presenting to my client. They were small, but they blew their competition out of the water with their approach. They didn’t force me to buy assets that I didn’t want and they took the time to get to know my client’s needs. I knew that they could deliver and I trusted that they would. This was a real partnership and not transactional at all.

When you send a sponsor a “Gold, Silver, Bronze” sponsorship package, two things happen:

First, you guess at what is important to them and you are almost always wrong (which is why you never hear back from them).

Second, you tell them how you do business. Not between people, but in a purely transactional way. You expect them to read your unsolicited proposal, pick something off the shelf and mail you a cheque. It just doesn’t work that way.

The next time you reach out to a sponsor, try the Goldilocks approach and get to know your sponsors. I guarantee you will surprise them and the results will surprise (and impress) you.

This post originally appeared on Charity Village