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“Sponsorship” Is a Bad Word

by | September 9, 2022

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If I asked you to come up with a list of bad words, sponsorship would be nowhere on that list, I’m sure. After all, it’s not the B-word or the F-word. It’s just sponsorship. What’s so bad about that? 

While maybe not as bad as some profanity, sponsorship is still a bad word, and I’ll tell you exactly why in this article. 

Sponsorship Is the New S-Word: Why It’s a Bad Word

You wouldn’t dream of using profane vocabulary around your boss or your clients, right? Maybe only with your coworkers and outside of a work setting at that.

Yet you’ll use the word sponsorship all day long. 

It’s not like the word itself is profane. If it was, I would be in a risky line of business. 

Rather, it’s that the word sponsorship is loaded.

Most people think they know what sponsorship means, and to them, the meaning isn’t good. 

They assume that sponsorship means stock packages with gold, silver, and bronze tiers. 

It means a transaction where they give all their money and get to pick preselected assets in return.

None of the assets are particularly valuable. They’re logos and speaking opportunities and maybe a thank-you from the podium or a social media or email blast. 

The sponsor paid top dollar for a gold tier spot yet doesn’t get much in return. It doesn’t feel fair, so companies aren’t interested in sponsorship by that definition. 

Now, I know that sponsorship is not that, at least not if you’re doing it correctly, that is. You know that sponsorship is not that too, or at least, I would hope you do if you’ve spent enough time on the blog. 

However, good luck trying to convince a potential sponsor that your definition of sponsorship is different. It’s a losing battle.

Rather than try to get them to see it your way, you’re much better off eschewing sponsorship from your vocabulary altogether. 

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Why Omitting the Word Sponsorship from Your Vocabulary Could Be the Easiest and Best Thing Yet for Your Sponsorship Program

So why is it that I, a sponsorship guy, at a company called The Sponsorship Collective, am trying so darn hard to get you to stop using the word sponsorship?

Well, it’s simple, really. When you take yourself out of that constricting mindset that words like sponsorship or partnership define for you, magical things can happen.

Here’s what I mean by that. 

Gets You and the Prospect on the Same Page 

Going back to my point from the first section, you are never ever in a million years going to change your prospect’s mind about what sponsorship means.

They have thousands of sponsorship emails or proposals and stock sponsorship packages in their literal and digital trash bins that prove that most sponsorship seekers only approach sponsorship in one way.

And as I said before, I don’t want you to try to change their mind. That’s a fool’s errand. 

Instead, I just want you to avoid triggering the conversation at all.

It’s sort of like how when you have your extended family over for Thanksgiving dinner, everyone is very careful to avoid any mention of a topic that could be deemed even remotely political because if you do, Uncle Harry will launch into a 40-minute tirade.

You don’t use the word politics, you don’t delve into political topics, you just avoid all that. 

It keeps the peace. 

It will keep the peace between you and your prospect too. Rather than waste valuable time on the phone that could be used to set up a discovery meeting by having an argument instead, you’re keeping things on an even keel.

Forces You to Think Less About Sponsorship Sales

The primary reason that I want you to ditch the word sponsorship when you talk to prospects is that it will take you out of that sales mindset that so many sponsorship seekers find themselves stuck in.

When they send an initial email or pick up the phone to call a prospect, they’re doing so to set up a sales meeting.

Then they’re surprised when they sit down to this meeting (or log in through Zoom) that the prospect doesn’t want to offer them sponsorship. 

The more you try to sell it, the more vehement of a refusal you get. Here’s why. 

The first meeting with a prospect should never be about selling anything. 

If you’re a salesperson in any other field, how often do you pick up the phone, cold call someone, and ask if they want to buy your products or services?

It still happens, but not nearly as much anymore because people know the truth. It doesn’t really work.

Instead, a good salesperson will spend time getting to know their target audience, including their needs and pain points. 

Then they can look through their roster of products and services to determine which is the best fit for this particular customer.

That’s exactly how you have to do it when selling sponsorship too. Only it’s not enough to look up the prospect’s LinkedIn page, read a few press releases, or browse through all the pages on their website and assume you know what they want. 

You can’t glean a prospect’s pain points through that kind of research. That’s why you need to have a discovery session.

During the discovery session, you can ask questions that will grant you the information you need. You’ll learn about your prospect’s challenges, which solutions they’ve tried, and what’s worked and what hasn’t.

Then, like any good salesperson, you can choose assets and activations that patch those dams in the prospect’s success.

Failing to have the discovery session is like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t fit and no amount of finagling will make it fit. 

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Ensures You Offer Custom Solutions

Besides the poor timing of your sales meeting, sponsorship prospects also aren’t interested in being sold stock sponsorship, which I think I’ve made rather abundantly clear to this point. 

By not uttering the word “sponsorship” even once during your initial communications and the discovery session with your prospect, stock sponsorship will never even come into question.

The prospect won’t necessarily know that your assets and activations are customized since you two never discussed stock sponsorship packages, but that’s okay.

Sometimes, I feel like sponsorship seekers want the extra credit for offering customized sponsorship packages. That’s why they’ll include statements in their sponsorship proposals that say, “we offer custom sponsorship – just ask!”

Providing customized sponsorship packages is not something you get brownie points for. It’s something you should be doing by default. 

It’s like hoping you’ll be crowned employee of the month for showing up every day and doing your job. That’s not enough.

Now, what if you’re not already offering custom solutions? Once you cut the word sponsorship out of the equation, you’ll find that you naturally begin to veer towards custom sponsorship, which is hugely beneficial to you. 

Makes You Elaborate on What You Can Deliver 

When you’re over-reliant on your gold, silver, and bronze stock sponsorship levels, it’s far too simple to say, “just look at the tier” in response to a question about what kinds of assets and activations you bring to the table.

Well, you’re not doing tiered sponsorship, and you’re also not saying sponsorship, so now that shakes things up a bit.

You will have to describe your opportunities. You can’t point to page five in your sponsorship proposal anymore and let that do the work for you. 

Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so! Being clear on what you can deliver to a prospect is always beneficial.

Now, of course, assets and activations change, and once things are in writing, your deliverables might look different than what was initially discussed. 

That’s going to happen, and it’s the natural course of things. 

Even still, it’s much better for a prospect to know what you can deliver during your first or second conversation than during your fifth or sixth. 

Might Make You More Money 

You know what else is the worst part about stock sponsorship packages besides the fact that sponsors themselves hate ‘em?

They limit how much money you can make!

Sure, your goal with a stock package is ultimately to guide (read: force) the sponsor to buy the gold assets because the ones in the silver and bronze tiers are so-so at best and barely useful at worst.

The amount of money you can earn if the sponsor buys the whole tier is only X amount.

I’m not saying there’s no earnings ceiling with custom sponsorship packages, but it’s certainly higher than X amount.

How much higher? That depends on how much alignment exists between your audience segments and the sponsor’s target audience. 

It also depends just on how well you listened to the sponsor’s challenges and came up with custom assets and activations that will overcome those challenges.

My Challenge to You – Don’t Say Sponsorship Over the Next 10 Calls

Here’s a challenge that’s going to drive your head in at first but will ultimately turn out to be very worth your while.

You have some sponsor calls lined up, right? During your next 10 calls, I don’t want you to utter the words “sponsor,” “sponsors,” “sponsored,” and/or “sponsorship” at all.

“Okay, Chris,” I’m sure you’re saying right now. “Easy-peasy. I’ll just use the word ‘partner’ instead.”

Nope, you can’t do that either. You know as well as I do that sponsorship/partnership are two sides of the same coin. It’s like saying to-may-to and to-mah-to. 

You can’t use partnership either or any of its variations.

You’re probably wondering, how in the world are you going to be able to explain your opportunity in any way that makes a lick of sense if you can’t use either of those two words?

Ah, now you see why it’s a challenge, right? 

When you can’t rely on the crutch that is using the words “sponsorship” or “partnership,” you’re forced to describe and explain what your opportunity is and what you’re bringing to the table as I talked about in the last section. 

Now, as you do this, don’t be surprised if your prospect interjects and says something like, “oh, that sounds like sponsorship to me.”

Okay, so now the jig is up, right? 

Not exactly. Instead, this can be a valuable opportunity to learn what the prospect means when they use the word sponsorship by asking them exactly that.  

In most instances, you are going to get the default response. They think sponsorship is the aforementioned gold, silver, and bronze tiers. 

Now it’s your chance to explain that what you’re offering is not that. It’s anything but tiered sponsorship but about providing customized solutions that will fit your prospect’s needs. 

Your first few calls might go a little awkwardly when you try this challenge. You could slip up and use the S-word even though you’re not supposed to. 

It happens, so don’t beat yourself up too much. Just try not to do it next time. 

You might find yourself meandering as you try to explain what you can deliver to your prospects without ever using the word sponsorship.

By the third call or maybe the fifth or the sixth, you’ll find that you’ll begin to get the hang of things. Before you know it, you won’t even miss using the word sponsorship anymore. 

You’ll barely think about how you’re not consciously using it. You’ll just stop using it. 

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Sponsorship is your new bad word to refrain from using in professional settings.

Companies don’t usually perceive sponsorship too favorably, as to them, it means generic stock sponsorship. 

It also means people asking for money and offering little of value in return.

I want to reiterate my challenge to you. You’re free to leave it on the table and continue to do sponsorship the same way you have. Just expect that you’ll continue to get the same results you have.

If you accept my challenge, then schedule 10 meetings with prospects for 10 days. During each of those meetings, never use the word sponsorship once (or partnership).

It will make a difference, but it’s not from the omission of the word itself. It’s because you can’t describe stock sponsorship packages without the word sponsorship. You’re also moving away from a sales mindset. Good luck!