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Resilience in Sponsorship: Adapting to Uncertainties and Disruptions 

by | February 29, 2024

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The only certainties in this life are death and taxes. As for everything else? Well, at any point, it could shift. 

Listen, I’ve been there myself. I used to sell sponsorship before I started consulting as part of the Sponsorship Collective. I understand more than most how to pivot and what’s required. 

That’s exactly what I want to teach you today. After all, sometimes your sponsorship aspirations will be headed on the right track, only to veer wildly off. It happens, and you must know what to do to right yourself again.

So, let’s get right into it.

The Top Sponsorship Curveballs to Catch

Some sponsorship opportunities are smooth sailing from start to finish. Those are my favorites, as the people at the sponsor company are agreeable and nice to work with, and everybody gels.

However, you can’t expect that every time. Any professional arrangement is a melting pot of personalities and work styles, which is bound to cause some clashes. 

Here are some issues that I’ve seen come up the most often in my own personal sponsorship experience and from the hundreds of clients I’ve assisted. 

Conflicts of Interest

Although not the most common, you might sometimes have to disengage from a sponsor after learning about a conflict of interest. 

This kind of info is not readily apparent out of the gate, so you will probably at least get to the discovery session with the prospect before you discover the conflict of interest. If not, then you’ll get close.

It can feel like you wasted a lot of time, but there’s nothing you can do to get it back. If anything, be glad you learned about the conflict of interest while still in the research and discovery phases rather than after you already penned a deal. 

Scandalous Reputation

It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search to reveal company scandals aplenty. They happen all the time, and some cause deeper shockwaves than others. 

I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever work with a company that’s had a scandal, but it should be far enough removed that your reputation isn’t at risk of being dragged down with the other company.

Again, you’ll only learn about scandals once you reach the research phase. However, at least you can nip the professional relationship in the bud early. 


Ah, ghosting. It’s not only for dating anymore!

More people today would rather say nothing than have a hard conversation. I can understand it professionally, as people might worry about offending you or hurting your feelings by saying they don’t want to work with you in a sponsorship capacity. 

It’s better to say nothing at all and let you get the idea. You see this all the time with job applications. It stings less than being rejected. 

You could get ghosted very early on in the sponsorship process or later before you two sign a contract. That’s when it’s the most inconvenient. 

Happy Ears

Green sponsorship seekers often fall into the trap of happy ears. 

What are happy ears, you ask?

As the name implies, it’s hearing what you want to hear. We do this all the time in our personal and professional lives, sometimes unknowingly, because it’s easier to put blinders on than face the truth at times. 

If a sponsor says, “send me a proposal!” and you do it, you have happy ears. If a sponsor tells you, “we’ll call you” and you sit by your phone anxiously for days, you have happy ears. 

So, does that mean you can’t believe anything your sponsor says? You can but take it with a grain of salt in those early days.

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This goes back to the same reason sponsors ghost you. They don’t want to face conflict, so rather than saying anything negative (or nothing at all), they tell you what they think you want to hear with no intention of following up.

Lack of Availability/Funding 

This is the worst! You might have assumed a sponsor was a shoo-in for this year’s event because they worked with you last year, so you didn’t bother to put anything in writing. 

When you reach out to your sponsor, you discover they already spent their sponsorship budget for the quarter, or they’re booked up for the rest of the year. 

Well, now what? Isn’t that the big question? Starting over is difficult, but you have no other choice in this scenario. 

Contract Breaches 

Hopefully, a contract breach will be few and far between in your time seeking sponsorship arrangements. However, they can happen, so I thought I should discuss them. 

A contract breach constitutes any violation of the terms in your sponsorship contract. Perhaps the sponsor accepts another arrangement simultaneously while working with you, or they otherwise go against the terms you both signed to.

Not only is a breach of contract inconvenient because it throws off your sponsorship plans, but it could mean a lawsuit. 

Dealing with Disruptions, Changes of Plans, and Uncertainties in Sponsorship 

You know what they say. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. 

Here’s how to turn any of the above sponsorship lemons into tasty, sweet lemonade, keeping your sponsorship goals chugging along. 

Make Sponsorship Plans Early

The earlier you can lock in sponsors, the better, especially as an event sponsor.

You only have so much time to pull off next year’s event, that ultimately, you should begin planning it the day after your current event wraps. I know, that sounds like crazy advice, but then, when you begin mapping out the timeline, you realize it’s a good idea. 

Sponsors will drop out, or that sponsor you were really hoping would say yes will surprise you and tell you no (if they tell you anything). 

The earlier you start planning your sponsorship endeavors, the easier it is to recover from these delays and disruptions without threatening the integrity of your event. 

When everything topples down like a house of cards a week or two before the event, you have so little time to recover it’s unreal. Your stress levels will also be sky-high, affecting your decision-making and your ability to put on an event of the caliber you seek. 

Communicate Clearly

Okay, so maybe this tip is more for preventing disruptions rather than becoming resilient, but it’s still a good one. 

Sponsors aren’t mind readers. They don’t have X-ray vision. If you say X but mean Y, they’re not going to know it. No one will. 

Rather than hope your sponsor gets your gist and infers precisely what you mean them to, be straightforward with what you want. 

Besides, this sets the basis for a much better business relationship, as your sponsor won’t feel like you’re giving them the round-around or otherwise being slippery linguistically. 

Never Assume 

Assumptions can kill sponsorship deals dead. Since you aren’t in the sponsor’s shoes, you can’t guess what they might think or feel or need. You can ask, and you can use information from the discovery session to put together assets and activations you think will work, but you can’t assume. 

Avoiding assumptions goes deeper into sponsorship than during the discovery and ideation stages. You might have a plan in mind but assume the sponsor won’t have any interest in sharing their input, or maybe you changed a part of your event and assumed the sponsor won’t mind. 

It takes a minute to draft an email or pick up the phone. In the meantime, you’re avoiding assumptions, which poison the well. 

Expect the Unexpected

It helps to understand that anything that could go wrong may go wrong. When you think of it like that, it removes the panic about disruptions and uncertainties. Okay, so maybe you’ll still feel a bit anxious, but less so.

You should still have your ducks in a row, planning as much of the sponsored event as intended. However, if someone is late or cancels at the last minute, you won’t be as surprised, and that’s half the battle. 

Have a Plan B

Resilience is about adaptability. You must always have a backup plan in case the original plan doesn’t happen as intended.

Does the sponsor you wanted to work with not have any availability? You should have a prospect list with other great partners to consider.  

For everything you’ve planned for your sponsorship event, program, or opportunity, ask yourself what you would do if it went wrong or didn’t happen. Then get those wheels in motion. 

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The less you’re caught off-guard, the better, as your event can transpire without a hitch. 

Of course, make sure you respect your contractual arrangements. For example, once you sign contracts with sponsors and vendors, you shouldn’t have backups. Since they signed the contract, you should reasonably expect them to honor their obligations. 

Learn from Experience 

Listen, sometimes even if you do everything right, you can still end up burned and disappointed. That’s true in sponsorship as it is in anything. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong, and if you did, you should use this as a valuable learning opportunity. 

Learning from your mistakes keeps you from making them again, so whether you chose a flaky sponsor or put too much stock into a sponsor who ultimately dropped out, you can be sure you make smarter choices next time. 

Wrapping Up 

While I wish every sponsorship opportunity was easy and effortless, some can be lined with disappointment. Whether it’s a sponsor ghosting you or relying on a sponsor who you later learn is unavailable, issues happen. 

The best way to go about it is to expect the unexpected and have a backup plan!