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Sponsors Are Customers

When you think of your sponsors, what do you call them?

If the answer is, “well, Chris, I call my sponsors…sponsors, duh,” then this article is for you.

I know what you think I’m going to say. You should refer to your sponsors as partners instead, right?

You can, but today I want to showcase a different word that I think is even better to use when referring to your sponsors.

I’ll tell you what it is ahead, so let’s get started!

What Are Sponsors If Not Sponsors?

I’m sure you know the classic Shakespeare line from Romeo & Juliet, right? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I like that line because I think it applies to sponsorship as well, even if Shakespeare absolutely wasn’t thinking that way when he wrote it.

Sponsorship by any other name would be pretty sweet as well.

Now, it’s better to think of your sponsors as partners than as sponsors, but, as I said in the intro, there’s a better word still. I want to introduce it to you now.

That word is customer.

Strange word choice, you might be thinking. Aren’t my audience members or attendees my customers? 

Yes, but why not your sponsors too?

Now, there’s no need to call or email your sponsor immediately to tell them about this decision. Referring to your sponsors as customers can be an entirely internal matter within your business or organization.

Why Does It Matter If I Call My Sponsors Customers?

At the end of the day, does it truly matter whether you refer to your sponsors as sponsors or as a partner or customer?

Yes, it does, and here’s why.

Why Does It Matter If I Call My Sponsors Customers

Sponsors Don’t Really Like the Word Sponsorship

If you haven’t had the chance to check out my sponsorship proposal template, you should.

In that template, I mention that you should go out of your way to avoid using the words “sponsor” and “sponsorship” whenever you can.

I know that I drop the S-word all the time. My company is even known as the Sponsorship Collective. Yet when I was dealing with prospective and current sponsors myself, I rarely used the word.

Why is “sponsorship” such a bad word when it’s exactly what you’re pursuing?

Well, because the consensus on what sponsorship is varies.

Many companies assume that a sponsorship deal means they’re getting nothing but logos or other uninspired signage or speaking opportunities that they don’t really want and won’t benefit their company.

In other words, they’re giving you a lot of money but receiving very little benefit in return.

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No wonder companies go out of their way to avoid sponsorship like the plague!

That’s why I suggest that when you into a deal, even if it’s technically a sponsorship deal, you don’t use that word unless you have to.

You can end up reshaping the company’s definition of what sponsorship is if you two forge a positive working relationship. 

It’s a lot easier to do that than it is to try and convince the company that your definition of sponsorship is right when this company owes you nothing.

Causes You to Treat Sponsors More Like Customers

The main reason that I advocate for you to begin calling your sponsors customers–and remember, this only has to happen internally–is that it makes you perceive your sponsorship relationships differently.

More specifically, it makes you prioritize the other party’s needs more.

That was the same line of thinking I had when I recommended referring to your sponsors as partners.

The trouble with that word though–partners–is that it’s vague. From romantic partners to business partners, there are different definitions of the word partner.

Its meaning can become just as ambiguous as the word sponsor.

That’s not the case with the word customer, though. You know who a customer is and what they are.

They purchase from your business, hopefully doing so more than once. They support your business and are interested in your current products and services as well as what’s coming down the pike.

Your customers are the backbone of your business, assuming you’re a for-profit, of course. Thus, you go out of your way to treat your customers like gold.

If they have a problem, you do whatever you can to solve it. You prioritize their happiness and satisfaction. You come up with tailored opportunities that seem personalized just for them.

You continually find ways to engage with them and retain them for the long haul.

Now what if you took some of the above traits and practices and applied them towards your sponsor?

You’d genuinely care about the sponsor company’s problems. When they talk, you’d listen. Rather than force sales mumbo-jumbo down their throats, you’d think hard and create a solution that genuinely works for their needs.

Puts Sponsorship Dollars on the Backburner

Remember how I said that companies often don’t have a clear definition for what sponsorship is?

They’re not the only ones!

I’ve had too many clients assume that sponsorship is a deal where money changes hands…going into the client’s hands, of course.

This kind of money, money, money approach is hugely detrimental to your sponsorship prospects. They’re not going to give you money without something in exchange such as valuable assets and activations.

That’s where a lot of sponsorship seekers get stuck.

Imagine going up to a customer shopping at your store (and imagine, if you don’t, that you have a bricks-and-mortar store) and asking them for money right out of the gate.

You would never do that because it’s insane, right? The customer would walk right out of the store and never come back.

When you switch your thinking and treat your sponsors more like your customers, you’re going to be more tactful when it comes to talking about money.

You know that money will come your way eventually, but you’ll focus more on customer satisfaction until then. 

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Makes You Prioritize What You’re Selling

Now let’s envision another scenario.

A brand-new customer walks into your store for the first time and asks, “what do you sell?”

You’d be ready to jump right in with a vivid description of all your products and services, right? Of course, you would!

Picture now that instead of a customer, it’s a sponsor who asks what you sell. How would you answer that question?

A lot of sponsorship seekers aren’t sure. If you’re caught up in the sponsors-as-ATM mindset, then you’ve put too little thought into what you need to offer to the other side.

Expanding your definition of what a sponsor can be and perceiving them as your customer will allow for more thoughtful decision-making about the quality of assets and activations you can provide.

You’ll want to solve the sponsor’s problems, and you’ll work hard to come up with solutions that can do it.


Sponsors aren’t sponsors. They’re not even partners.

Instead, they’re customers.

Next week, when you meet up with the other stakeholders who are internally putting together your sponsorship program, propose that for the next seven days, you call your sponsors and prospects customers instead.

I bet the simple name change will cause some big mindset and attitude shifts that could be what you need to get out of your sponsorship rut!


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.