In my position here as the head of the Sponsorship Collective, I have the advantage of having worked with hundreds of clients over the years.
This has given me a unique perspective into sponsorship through the eyes of sponsorship seekers, a role that I myself haven’t occupied in more than 10 years now.
You yourself are only one sponsorship seeker, but what if I told you that you can learn the lessons of hundreds more just by reading today’s post? That sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?
After all, for every surefooted step forward you make, that’s one less mistake that has to hinder you and delay your progress.
Well, buckle up and strap in, as this article will save you a lot of time in your sponsorship programs moving forward.
The Most Valuable Sponsorship Lessons and Insights from My Clients Over the Years
Don’t worry, I won’t leave you in suspense. Without further ado, let’s dive right into the lessons that I’ve learned and found the most valuable after working with the huge roster of clients I’ve had the good fortune of assisting.
If you’re not familiar with BAMFAM, it’s an acronym that I’ve begun talking about on the blog lately and in a couple of videos.
In its non-acronym form, I’ve discussed BAMFAM far, far more, so I hope it’s not completely new advice when you hear it.
Okay, so what in the world is BAMFAM? It stands for book a meeting from a meeting.
I don’t care what kind of meeting it is, whether it’s a discovery session, a follow-up meeting, a negotiation meeting, a fulfillment report meeting, whatever.
If you want to keep the sponsorship ball rolling forward, then you need to book a meeting with the sponsor while you’re still in that current meeting.
As you two are shaking hands, that’s your time to strike. Mention that you’d like to set up a time to meet again.
The reason why BAMFAM is such an integral part of your sponsorship program is this.
You’re a busy person. Your sponsor is a busy person.
When two busy people get back to their busy lives, they don’t always get time to meet up again, especially in a timely manner.
You don’t want to spend weeks playing email ping-pong or phone tag with your sponsor, especially if you have important deadlines approaching. You might not be able to reach them in time, and then what?
That’s a hard question to answer. Do you start calling and emailing more? Give up and move on entirely when your event is approaching and you still don’t have a sponsor?
You don’t even have to put yourself in such a stressful situation if you follow BAMFAM rules.
Audience Data for the Win
I almost never write a post on this blog without mentioning audience data at least once somewhere, even passingly.
The reason is that audience data is so important to your sponsorship program. I’d argue that it’s the most important thing, period.
More so than assets, more so than activations, more so than your cause, more so than anything.
Your audience is an asset, and they’re your most valuable asset.
On top of that, your audience determines your worth, at least in part. If you have an audience that gets sponsors salivating, then voila, your value shoots up like a rocket.
Your audience determines your prospects list. You should use the information from your audience survey to determine which brands are marketing to your audience and which ones should be.
Then you go after those brands, adding them to a prospect list.
Your audience is what makes your event a success, not your sponsors.
They’re the ones who pay to attend your event, who show up, who engage with your sponsors, who take free samples, give out their email addresses, participate in games and contests, take photos at a branded photo wall, the whole nine.
That’s why your activations have to be catered to your audience as much as to your sponsor. If your audience doesn’t care, then the activation will flop, end of story.
Now, audience data is not simply looking at attendance numbers and saying, “10 percent of my audience is under 20 years old, 40 percent is aged 20 to 30, 30 percent is aged 30 to 40, 10 percent is aged 40 to 50, and 10 percent is 50 and up.”
That data is too broad.
Who are those people in each group? How much education do they have? What is their job situation, including their job title and industry? Where do they live, right down to the suburb or neighborhood?
Are they married? Do they have kids? Are they short-term customers or long-term customers of yours?
That’s the kind of richly detailed audience data that will take your sponsorship program to the next level, not broad groups.
No “We’re Different” Thinking
I get this a lot from sponsorship seekers. They think that the basic rules of sponsorship can’t possibly apply to them because their property is different.
They have a very unique cause or a special niche or something else that separates them from everyone else.
I’m not saying that unique causes and niches don’t exist, because yes, of course they do.
However, whatever it is you specialize in, it isn’t so special or unique that you get to bypass the rules of sponsorship.
When I hear a client tell me, “but we’re different,” those three words are a code.
They’re code for, “I don’t want to go about sponsorship properly” or “I have no idea how to go about sponsorship properly.”
It’s these clients who think that they can rely on their cause and use it in lieu of audience data, or that their niche is special enough so that their assets and activations don’t have to be.
These clients will usually come to me in desperate straits because they’ve tried and failed to secure sponsorship and they don’t want to miss budget yet again.
You can say you’re different until the cows come home. If you’re using it as a crutch to avoid doing the work that a sponsorship program requires, then you can keep being different, but you’ll do so without a sponsor.
Sponsorship, Partnership, It’s all the Same
I’ve seen some clients from time to time who try to tell me that they’re not seeking sponsors but partners.
That’s like saying you don’t want oranges; you want citrus fruit. It’s the same thing, just two different ways of saying it.
A partner is no different than a sponsor just as a sponsor is no different than a partner.
Treating them as different can be quite a mistake though!
After all, a partner is someone you hold in the same esteem as yourself. You treat them as an equal.
Thinking of a sponsor as different than a partner or even as less than a partner means they’re less than an equal too.
You won’t give them the same degree of consideration as you would a partner.
Sure, you might secure a sponsorship deal, but when the time goes to renegotiate, don’t be surprised if your sponsor isn’t willing.
Never Send the Proposal Before the Meeting
If you read my post called The Sponsorship Proposal Is Dead, then you should know full and clear how I feel about the way that most sponsorship seekers handle the proposal.
They use the proposal as if they had two broken legs and the proposal was their crutches getting them around. They’re way too reliant on the proposal.
Your sponsorship proposal is merely six pieces of paper stapled together. It has important information, or it does if you did it right, but it’s not some sponsorship savior.
That’s why I can guarantee that your prospects don’t want to see the proposal too soon.
If you two have never met, now is not the time to send the proposal.
What information could you possibly have in there that’s relevant to the prospect? You haven’t had a discovery session yet, so you don’t know the prospect’s challenges and pain points.
Anything in the proposal right now is mere conjecture or guesswork. It’s what you want your sponsor to like, not what they actually like.
So then when is the best time to send the sponsorship proposal? That’s simple: when your prospect asks for it.
Be aware that some sponsors don’t need a proposal at all. I’ve closed many deals without a single proposal changing hands. The sponsor never asked for one, so I never wrote one.
I wasn’t being lazy or trying to get out of a responsibility in my sponsorship program. The sponsor didn’t want a proposal, so I respected their wishes. That’s all.
Don’t Scale Mediocrity
There’s a quote I like by Keith Cunningham, who’s regarded as an author of business mastery, that I want to share with you now.
It goes, “Scaling mediocrity only leads to bigger piles of mediocrity.”
Or you can always use the classic definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over even though you know it doesn’t work.
Let’s say you were trying to make a grilled cheese. If you kept burning the grilled cheese, and you burnt about 10 sandwiches in a row, I would hope you wouldn’t keep going.
You’d stop and try to figure out what’s wrong. Is the stove temperature too hot? Is there too much butter on the bread?
I don’t know why in every other situation but sponsorship, my clients can stop applying failed principles, but they stick by those same failed principles when seeking sponsors.
If mass emailing doesn’t work once, fine. If it doesn’t work after five times, it’s not a fluke. It’s a bad strategy. Don’t do it 100 more times.
You have to abandon the failed strategies and embrace the working ones to progress your sponsorship program.
Don’t Get Stuck on Hypotheticals
I think we all get bogged down in hypotheticals sometimes.
The problem with a hypothetical is that you can easily take it way too far. It goes from, “what if my boss doesn’t like my project proposal,” to “what if I get fired?”
Before you know it, you’re spiraling down the anxiety rabbit hole.
Listen, I’m not going to tell you that you can prepare for every possible outcome in your sponsorship program, because you can’t.
What I can promise you is that if you’re caught off-guard in some area, it’s usually not the end of the world like you think it will be.
Sponsors are human beings. They get stuck too.
They’re usually flexible and are willing to give you an extra couple of days with something if you need it. Perhaps your sponsor even offers you help in some areas.
If they do, then great. If they don’t, then you figure it out yourself, and you will figure it out. I believe in you!
Worrying about the what-ifs is not a good practice in sponsorship or in life. You’re too busy focusing on what may never be that you miss what’s actually happening.
The next time you find yourself getting carried away with hypothetical thoughts about your sponsorship program, I want you to tell yourself that you’ll cross that bridge when and if you get to it.
And that’s it. Stop letting the issue take up real estate in your head, as I guarantee you there are hundreds of other things that need your focus and attention more, and most of them aren’t even related to your sponsorship program.
Be Okay with Failing
Fear of failure is a natural thing to have. Failure is embarrassing, it’s a setback, and it’s not supposed to happen.
Ah, but it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.
You can fail at things you’re good at and especially at things you’re not good at.
If all you take from your failures is the shame, then yes, failure is terrible.
Should you begin looking at failure as a learning opportunity, as a chance to grow and do better next time, then suddenly, failure isn’t so bad.
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” That’s a Thomas Watson Jr. quote that really applies in sponsorship scenarios, wouldn’t you say?
You don’t know what works until you try it. Once you see how something plays out, then you can repeat it again or not.
Rather than think of it as a failure, try perceiving it more as trial and error. That makes it feel a lot less personal, doesn’t it?
Embrace those trial-and-error opportunities. Don’t fear them. Expect them, learn from them, and grow from them and no failure is enough to keep you down.
Accept That There Is No Silver Bullet
If sponsorship was easy, everyone would be doing it.
I’d also be out of a job!
But I’m still here, and not everyone is doing it, and that means sponsorship isn’t easy.
There are no shortcuts in sponsorship. There is no cheat sheet, no skips to the top. There is no silver bullet.
You have to be willing to put in the work to succeed. If you aren’t willing to do that, or if you’re only willing to do certain steps that seem easy, then it’s not going to be a surprise to anyone when your sponsorship program fails.
As you first get started in sponsorship, it’s natural to look for shortcuts. I think every sponsorship seeker has done it. The best ones accept that nothing replaces hard work.
Then they knuckle down and get it done!
Put Less Focus on Your Cause
Sponsorship is not philanthropy and never will be.
A sponsor is a business. They’re in it to make money. Donating to a worthy cause and enjoying the heartwarming feelings doesn’t really cut it for them.
If your approach is caused-based sponsorship, you’re not going to get very far. That’s as true for businesses and organizations as it is nonprofits.
You have to put yourself in the shoes of a sponsor and think like they do. How does a cause make them money?
Even if it’s a really good cause, it’s not going to rake in the dough. That’s why it’s not worth investing in.
The clients of mine who put the most focus on their cause don’t necessarily have the noblest cause. They just hope that a good cause can distract from gaps in their sponsorship approach, such as a lack of audience data or bad assets.
If you do end up writing a sponsorship proposal, you will get to touch on your cause, but only very briefly.
That’s going to have to be okay, because the rest of the document should focus on what matters to a sponsor, which is audience data, activations, and assets.
Treat Sponsorship Like Your Job
Do you know the saying that to find a full-time job, you have to treat the hunt like a full-time job?
Sponsorship isn’t all that different. Well, you don’t have to dedicate yourself to it full-time, but you do have to treat it like a job.
I know, I know, that’s difficult considering you already juggle full-time work and a family and other personal obligations. I get it, but it’s what has to be done.
If you only chip away at your sponsorship program little bits at a time, the only way that’s even a remotely feasible plan is if your event is happening in 2030.
Should you have an event planned anytime sooner, you cannot afford to only work on sponsorship so seldomly.
It’s tough juggling sponsorship with everything else, but the best sponsorship seekers find a way. They work late nights and lose out on sleep sometimes, and they sacrifice their weekends other times, but they get it done.
I’ve learned countless lessons from the sponsorship-seeking clients I’ve worked with over the years, but the lessons above have stuck out the most to me.
I hope that upon reading this post that you get some ideas for how you can begin approaching sponsorship better. Good luck!
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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