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The Seven Deadly Sins of Sponsorship

When working with clients on their sponsorship sales goals and strategies, I see common themes come up again and again.

Unfortunately, when I am working on the brand side and helping them assess their sponsorship marketing goals…I see the same trends from those seeking sponsorship dollars.

I recognize that I’m in a unique position of being able to see things from both sides of the sponsorship coin, if you will. 

And what’s so interesting to me is that even though sponsorship seekers and the companies that give sponsorship operate from two different places is that they still run into the same issues.

There are enough of these issues, and they’re so prevalent in my varied experiences working with those on both sides of the sponsorship equation that I’ve dubbed them appropriately.

These are the Seven Deadly Sins of Sponsorship. 

You know, like the cardinal sins you’re supposed to avoid at all costs according to the Christian religion. 

Well, these are also cardinal sins that you should begin avoiding at all costs whether you’re seeking sponsorship or offering it. 

This guide with an infographic will illustrate the most common sponsorship mistakes and how to avoid making them yourself!

The Seven Deadly Sins of Sponsorship

Deadly Sin #1: Lack of Sponsorship Valuation

Sponsorship seekers, listen up. If you don’t know your value, then your sponsorship deals are not nearly as lucrative as they can be.

Guessing at what to charge is also called the “shoulder shrug method” of sponsorship valuation. It’s hugely risky and damaging.

How can you possibly know how much money you’re leaving on the table if you never bother to determine the value of your sponsorship program?

A lot of sponsorship seekers tell me, “well, my sponsor will just let me know.”

No, they won’t!

Your sponsor expects you to know your value. It’s not their job or their responsibility to figure it out for you. 

They certainly won’t correct you if you say that your value is $10,000. 

They might ask how you arrived at that number, but if it makes sense, they won’t think twice that you could be worth $20,000 if you had only valued your sponsorship opportunity. 

It’s essential for you to understand the market value of what you’re offering by applying a value to all your assets.

Sometimes, especially in the case of first-time sponsorship seekers, they have no idea what valuation even means. 

That’s the crux of it, taking the market value of your assets based on what the pros charge for a similar or identical asset. Then you’d adjust your asset value based on your research. 

Other times, I’ve found that sponsorship seekers assume that asset valuation is a one-time deal. They will apply a value to a sponsorship level just because it’s what they did last year or because it’s what their competitors are doing.

You can’t do this either! 

Every sponsorship property is different. The value of your assets change based on a wide range of factors.

Your assets could be worth more this year than they were last year. In some cases, they could be worth less, but either way, you’ve got to know.

Look at the price of anything over the years. Unless it’s Snapple, then the prices fluctuate. Your asset value will as well, and so you must value your assets anew every year

Deadly Sin #2: The Sponsorship Proposal-First Method

Oh boy, here’s one that sponsorship seekers always seem to come back to even though I wish they wouldn’t.

Emailing somebody your sponsorship proposal without explicit permission to do so is a great way to get yourself on spam lists. It’s also a terrible way to sell sponsorship.

People buy from people. Asking a prospect who you’ve never met to look through your sponsorship package to determine for themselves what they want to spend money on is at best useless and at worst is damaging your reputation!

Have you ever walked into a store and had a pushy salesperson try to force a product or service on you? I think we can all say yes. 

It’s such a huge turnoff that you walk out of the store without buying anything and vow to never return. 

That store lost your business because they assumed you were ready to spend money and figured they knew exactly what you wanted.

I know that many sponsorship seekers believe that if they don’t push their proposal right then and there during the first meeting that they’ll never get another chance.

Yet if you’re failing to land second or third meetings with a sponsorship prospect, it could very well be that your forcing the proposal on your prospects is what’s doing it.

The next time you have a meeting with a sponsorship prospect lined up, here’s what I want you to do.

Leave the proposal at the office. Don’t talk about your proposal or sponsorship package during the first meeting. That means you don’t ask about it at the end of the meeting either.

Instead, let the meeting play out. Let another meeting play out too. I bet you’ll get further along in the process than you had before.

So when is the right time to unveil the sponsorship proposal? That’s easy! When the prospect asks for it. 

Deadly Sin #3: Misusing In-Kind Sponsorship

Contra or in-kind sponsorship does have its place, which is something I talked about in another recent post on the blog. 

That said, in a world where cash is king, I can see where and why many sponsorship seekers would shrug off in-kind sponsorship. 

I think that contra sponsorship can supplement cash sponsorship as well as media sponsors but should not be the sole means of sponsorship you rely on.

I am also not a fan of the philosophy that you should use sponsorship to cover your expenses or other areas of spending.

Getting “free” wine, AV, lunch, dinner, photobooths, etc. is actually costing you thousands of dollars. 

Why? Well, because the value of the wine (or dinner or photobooth) is unrelated to its hard costs.

Apply your valuation calculator to your wine and other in-kind sponsorships and you’ll see it’s not worth that much. 

Now, I don’t want to make it seem like contra sponsorship is wholly useless. It isn’t. 

If you’re a startup, nonprofit, or small business without a lot of funds to go around, in-kind sponsorship can plug some gaps.

For most sponsorship seekers though, I would not recommend in-kind sponsorship as the primary means of sponsorship for your event, program, or opportunity. 

Deadly Sin #4: Thinking That Sponsorship Is Corporate Philanthropy 

This is a point that I’ve also talked about a lot on the blog recently. 

Years ago, I ran into the issue where sponsorship seekers assumed that all they needed was a top-notch cause and that sponsorship was a cinch.

In other words, they assumed that pulling on the heartstrings was simultaneously pulling on the purse strings.

Here we are several years later, and this philosophy still prevails, which is quite the head-scratcher for me.

I like to think that a lot of sponsorship seekers know better than they used to, but just that some could use the reminder.

If you ask 100 fundraisers if sponsorship is philosophy, they will tell you no. But if you look at their sponsorship packages, prospecting emails, and sales material, they are PACKED with information about their mission, vision, program, users, and social impact.

Therein lies the problem.

A sponsor does not want to hear about any of that stuff except your users, and even then, that’s only if your users constitute your audience. 

Sponsors do not care about your mission. They don’t care about your vision and your social impact.

You could have made the social impact of Godzilla stomping through Tokyo (but, you know, in a good way), and it doesn’t matter.

A sponsor is in business to make money. That’s true of any company. 

Your impact doesn’t make a sponsor money. Neither does your mission statement. 

Is your impact important? Of course! But when you are talking sponsorship, you are talking about ways to grow your prospect’s brand, find more customers, and bring in more profit.

If you can’t show a direct link between your program outcomes and your prospect’s goals, then you’re focusing on the wrong things. 

Blurring the line between sponsorship and corporate philanthropy never ends well. Your sponsors aren’t going to bite for it, even if you find a way to cure world hunger.

If you want a sponsor, then you have to speak the language of sponsorship, as I said. That’s assets, activations, and audience data. 

If you want a donor, then look outside of sponsorship. 

Deadly Sin #5: Having No Sponsorship Activation Strategy (or Budget)

This is a sin shared by brands and properties equally. I have heard brands tell me that their sponsorship investment just isn’t paying off only for them to also say that they planned to spend exactly $0 on sponsorship activation.

To me, that’s a no-brainer. If you’re not funneling money into something, then how can it ever be given the wings to fly?

The same is true on the property side. They get the money and expect the sponsor to remember everything they paid for and to provide it on time. 

As a property, it is your responsibility to make sure that your sponsor gets every single item they paid for in your sponsorship package.

What is the best way to do that? Create an activation plan complete with dates and internal leads/staff support to make sure you are checking in with your sponsors regularly.

As a brand investing in sponsorship, my question is this. What good is buying the right to tell a story/feature a logo/speak at a crowd if you don’t do it?

When investing in sponsorship, plan to spend at least 10 percent of the total value of the sponsorship on activation.

If you want to give away coupons, products, host a party or attend a conference with your national sales team, budget significantly more than 10 percent. 

Don’t be afraid to accommodate activation costs but if you aren’t activating your sponsorship investment, you are wasting your money.

Activations, as I said in the section prior, are one of the key components of any winning sponsorship program. Without an actionable plan for your assets, you’re hindering your sponsorship aspirations.

That said, creating activations becomes this competitive game among sponsorship seekers and…themselves. Yes, themselves. 

They feel like they have to come up with the biggest, baddest, and most unique activations ever or no prospect could ever be interested. 

What biggest, baddest, and most unique often means is costliest, priciest, and most expensive activations.

If you had the budget for activations so grandiose, then I’m not sure you’d be seeking sponsorship in the first place. You wouldn’t need financial backing for your event. 

I’ve seen sponsorship seekers craft amazing activations for $10,000 and I’ve seen them do it for $100. I’ve even seen some activations that are free, and they were fantastic too. 

What matters most when coming up with activations is that the activation solves a challenge or need of your sponsor while also addressing a need of your audience.

Does it usually cost money to achieve those objectives? Sure, you betcha. Does it always? No!

Deadly Sin #6: The Missing Sponsorship Fulfillment Report

For every single sponsor you have, for every single sponsorship property you have, you must produce a fulfillment report. It’s as simple as that.

Listen, I get it. You’re tired after an event, and the thought of having to produce five separate reports for five separate sponsors is simply exhausting.

Even one report for one sponsor can be too much at times. 

I’m not saying you have to do it the same day of your event or that the fulfillment report has to be complicated, but you definitely have to provide one.

You’ve spent all that time negotiating the sponsorship and then activating that sponsorship. 

You put a whole heck of a lot of work into your sponsorship program, and I don’t want to see that all go to naught for you because you forgot to do a fulfillment report or just didn’t feel like it.

Within ideally 24 to 48 hours after your event and certainly within a week after your event, you need to put together your report. 

Fulfillment is your chance to prove to your sponsor that you delivered on everything you said you would. It also gives you the chance to meet with your sponsors, while they’re still excited, and ask them back next year.

Imagine how good it will feel knowing that you cinched your sponsorship deal for next year already, especially if you can do it with multiple sponsors. 

For the brands, if you aren’t getting a fulfillment report from your properties…ask for one! You are investing your money, spending money on activation, and committing time to this relationship. 

The fulfillment report is your proof that you got everything you paid for and it also gives you the chance to show your boss how well you are investing your marketing dollars.

Deadly Sin #7: Not Understanding the Sponsorship Sales Cycle

If I had a dollar for every time I heard from a property three months away from their end-of-fiscal program launch date or major event, I would be a rich man. 

If I had a dollar for every time I was laughed at for selling sponsorship for an event months (or even years) before an event launched, I would be a rich man! The laughing stopped when I made budget…but it still hurt.

Most companies go into planning mode in the fall between September and November. Not all, but many do. 

They then decide on their marketing expenses for the following year based on that agreed-upon budget.

If you miss that timetable, then guess what? You’re out of luck until next year. This is why I’m such a fan of planning a sponsorship deal well, well in advance.

If you have an event in the fall of 2023, you are too late to launch your sales strategy in the spring of 2023. 

Is that to say that you won’t sell ANY sponsorship if you start late?

Well, you may, but then again, you may not.

Even if you can strike a sponsorship deal in such short order, I guarantee that you are leaving money on the table while you fight for the unassigned marketing dollars left over from the previous planning cycle.

This doesn’t mean that you should shift all of your sales into the fall and ignore all other times. 

Building relationships happens all year AND not every company follows this approach. 

Not sure when the best time to talk to your prospects is? Ask them!

Conclusion 

The Seven Deadly Sins of Sponsorship seem to transcend time, as I made the accompanying video for this post quite a couple of years ago now! 

However, I will acknowledge that these are very common pitfalls and thus, it’s no surprise that they keep coming up among sponsorship seekers and companies offering sponsorship. 

If you see yourself in any of these cardinal sins, or–goodness forbid–even more than one, that’s okay. 

Own it, as it’s hard to rectify a mistake if you don’t own it.

Now it’s time to rectify your mistakes. 

I have a lot of great resources on the blog that can help you do just that, and you can also call me if you need valuation help or just aren’t sure where to start when fixing your sponsorship program!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.