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Ways to Completely Sabotage Your Sponsorship Program

by | October 30, 2020

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Here at the Sponsorship Collective, I’m a big fan of telling you the right way to run your sponsorship campaigns. Sometimes though, it helps to see how you’re not supposed to do things to reinforce just why the consequences can be so disastrous. Bearing that in mind, what are some ways to ensure your sponsorship program doesn’t succeed one iota?

You can sabotage your sponsorship prospects in the following ways:

  • Send your sponsorship proposal with your initial email (or during the first meeting)
  • Tier your sponsorship package in gold, silver, and bronze 
  • Ask for way more money than what your assets are worth
  • Make assumptions about the sponsor’s audience 
  • Approve major event changes without informing the sponsor 
  • Pair with another sponsor who’s controversial 
  • Trash-talk the sponsor, especially on social media 
  • Don’t deliver the promises laid out in your sponsorship documentation

I’m sure you’re reading the above list asking, “how can anyone make those mistakes?” Trust me, it has happened. I don’t want it to happen to you, which is why in this post, I’ll elaborate on how some of these pitfalls are a little less than obvious and how to avoid them. You won’t want to miss it! 

8 Surefire Ways to Trash Any Ongoing Sponsorship Program

Send the Sponsorship Proposal Too Soon

You read one of my many, many posts on crafting sponsorship proposals, such as this one or maybe this one, and you came up with a proposal your organization is really proud of. That’s great, as your sponsorship proposal is one of your most powerful documents in the process of securing sponsorship.

Almost as important as the contents of the document itself is your timing on when that document reaches the inbox or even the hands of your target sponsor.

Unless you’re striving to work with a brand-new company or a very small, little-known one, then I can almost guarantee the company has been approached for sponsorship before. The bigger the company and the more publicized their record of sponsorship, the more organizations and businesses like yours that reach out, eager to work together.

The sponsor company gets dozens, maybe even hundreds of sponsorship proposals regularly. Most of them probably end up in the spam filter or the trash (perhaps even the literal trash can). Why?

Because leading in with sending your sponsorship proposal is about the worst thing you can do. Well, unless you want to kill your chances at sponsorship, then it’s effective.

For a moment, imagine being in the shoes of an employee at your target sponsor company. You’re going about your day, quite busy, and you get a big manilla envelope from some organization you don’t know. You curiously open the envelope and see the organization is asking for money to fund a big event.

They’ve made little effort to introduce themselves or show that they know your audience. They’ve barely touched on why working together would benefit you as well. It’s mostly just a request for money.

Of course you would want to throw something like that away. I know I would. 

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When you ready the document that is your sponsorship proposal, save it for the ideal time. How long should you hold onto it? For quite a while, actually. You don’t want to send it when you’re making that initial contact with the target sponsor. You don’t want to bring it with you when you have your first meeting or even your second meeting.

With time, if the meetings are progressing the right way, the sponsor will ask to see your proposal. If they don’t ask and you’ve met up several times, it’s appropriate for you to request if they want to check it out. Until then, leave the proposal in the office. 

I know that’s hard and can sometimes seem counter-intuitive to your goals, but trust me. It’s much better for the target sponsor to ask to see your proposal than you shove it in their face too soon. 

Use the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Sponsorship Package Tier

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. The gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship tiers are the worst way to categorize the assets in your sponsorship package. It’s easy to make this mistake if this is the first time you’re seeking sponsorship, but once you’ve been around the block a time or two, you want to abandon this pricing model ASAP.

We all know what’s associated with gold versus silver and bronze. Gold is the best, silver is second best, and bronze is third best. It might seem slick to put all your most valuable assets in the gold package. You know your target sponsor will gravitate towards the package with the most value, which naturally means choosing the most expensive option.

This tickles you because hey, you get the most money, but have you ever thought what it does from the perspective of your sponsor?

The thing with gold packages is that while they do tend to include high-value assets, not every asset on the list is an absolute winner. You save a few decent ones for your silver package in case the sponsor doesn’t bite on the gold. Maybe there’s one good asset in the bronze package so that’s not totally unappealing.

If a sponsor only wants one or two assets in the gold package, since your tiering is so rigid, there’s no room to make requests. They either skip those assets–which they really don’t want to do–or they bite the bullet and buy the most expensive package, but begrudgingly.

The sponsor knows you took them for a ride, and they won’t forget it. You could foster the seeds of resentment this way without even knowing it. You’ve gotten the best of the deal while the sponsor got whatever you forced upon them. They will be sour about it. 

At the end of the year when you go to renegotiate with the sponsor, they could very well pass on working with you.

What I always advise you to do instead is create a custom sponsorship package. This way, if the sponsor does like a few “gold tier” offerings but not all, they can pick and choose like a buffet. You still get to sell your high-value assets, the sponsor gets the assets they want, and everyone goes home happy. v

Overestimate the Value of Your Assets

While I’m on the topic of assets, trapping them behind a gold tier isn’t the only way you can sabotage your sponsorship program. So too is charging an arm and a leg for an asset that’s not worth either.

Remember, before you put together your sponsorship package, you’re supposed to create a list of assets. At the beginning, it’s okay for you to throw everything at the wall that will stick and even that which only might stick. Get your whole organization or business involved so you can share ideas collaboratively.

Once you have those assets, go through the list more objectively, crossing off the assets you think will appeal less to your sponsor. You’re left with some quality assets to add to your hopefully customized sponsorship package, but how do you price them?

Well, about the worst thing you can do in this case is take a random, unqualified approach to pricing. The “cause I said so” pricing model will lead to you way overinflating the price of your assets. No sponsor will want to pay that much money, leaving you going from one target sponsor to another without success.

To determine the pricing of your assets, aka the valuation process, I always suggest looking at the type of asset you’re trying to sell, your own geography (which is likely in proximity with that of your sponsor), and the competition. 

Those factors will affect the pricing of each asset, sometimes only by a little and in other cases, by quite a lot. It might not make much sense to you to take what seems like a valuable asset and slash its price because that’s what your research determined. I get it, but sometimes it’s what you have to do. If you’re sure your research is correct, then follow the data. Remember, no “cause I said so” pricing! 

Don’t Do Research and Rely on Assumptions about the Target Sponsor and Their Audience

Sponsorship can be quite research-intensive. For instance, you can’t fairly price your sponsorship package until you learn about your audience. Very broad audience segments, like people on the east coast or young men between 18 and 30 tell a sponsor one thing: you know jack about your audience.

If you’re not willing to take the time to research and understand your own audience, then why should the sponsor help you? They’ll wonder how successful you can be in business at all if you’re marketing and selling to just about anybody.

You must do your audience research. It’s simply a part of the process. If you have yet to issue a sponsorship survey to your audience, then that’s where you want to start. The point of the survey is to learn things about your audience such as their gender, age, location, education level, marital status, children or no children, their occupation, and their income. 

In my post about sponsorship valuation (link in the last section), I laid out a good list of sponsorship survey questions to get you started. Tweak and tailor those questions to your audience. 

When you know your audience, this in turn helps you get to know your sponsor’s audience. You can do a bit of market research and quickly drawl parallels between the two audience groups. Once you have a connection, even several connections between your audience and the sponsor’s, this makes it clearer to the sponsor why a partnership with you would be worthwhile.

If you’re only shooting from the hip because you didn’t bother with your own audience research, then the wild assumptions you make about the sponsor’s audience can be damning. At the very least, they’re flat wrong, and at worst, you’ve offended the sponsor and killed any chances of working with them. 

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Make Major Changes to Your Event and Leave the Sponsor in the Dark

When you first approached your target sponsor about the possibility of working together, you had requested their funding for a gala. The theme of the gala was supposed to be “under the sea,” so a soiree with an oceanic and mermaid style. 

About midway through the planning of your event, you decided the “under the sea” theme was a little too high school prom, so you decided to switch it. Now the theme would be “moonlit garden” for a more upscale outdoor affair with formalwear. 

You had to scrap a lot of your plans and start from scratch with little time to go, which really put you under the gun. With how busy you were, you either forgot or disregarded to tell your sponsor about the event change. 

When they show up on the day of the gala, they’re expecting “under the sea,” not “moonlit garden.” Their signage and interactive booth may have been themed for mermaids, not a garden party. They look stupid because you didn’t bother to keep them in the loop.

There are so many other ways that failing to tell your sponsor about an event change can backfire. If you switch venues or dates, now the sponsor is going to the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even with the rather benign change that is the “moonlight garden” theme, at the end of the day, that’s not what the sponsor signed up for. You told them the theme was going to be “under the sea,” they agreed to pay for that, and they prepared for that. They might not necessarily want to be associated with the new change, which puts them in a tough spot and could leave you without a sponsor at the eleventh hour. 

Listen, changes will happen as your event planning continues. You might even end up in a situation like the example above where you decide to do a 180 and try a new theme. If you can reasonably explore such an avenue with enough time (and funding), then more power to you. Just make sure you always, always let the sponsor know what’s going on. It’s unfair and disrespectful to them otherwise. 

Work with a Controversial Partner

Maybe your organization decided to choose several sponsors to fund your event. That’s certainly an option, but if you go that route, your sponsors should gel, so to speak. They don’t all need to be from the same industry or niche, but you don’t want a rotten apple in a group of otherwise good apples.

Pairing with a sponsor that has a controversial background is always a bad idea. Whether it’s the industry the sponsor works in that’s controversial, a company branch that’s bad news, or a history of scandal, you want to distance yourself from a sponsor like this. 

You will get publicity for the partnership, but not good publicity. Let me tell you now that having your name smeared through the mud is not better than having no one talk about you. 

Outside of the damage such a sponsorship could cause to your organization, the effects go deeper. Your other sponsors might decide to pull out because they don’t want to be part of an event that’s associated with the troublesome sponsor. Your audience might ditch you too if they don’t agree with the sponsorship decision. 

You always want to vet a sponsor, learning as much about them as you can. Go beyond the company’s about page on their website and read news articles, social media posts, press releases, and anything else you can find. Then choose your sponsor responsibly. 

Disrespect the Sponsor in a Public Way 

I hope I don’t have to say this, but the way you treat your sponsor should always be respectful from start to finish. You might not always agree with their decisions, and you don’t have to be a shrinking violet in those cases. However, there’s a difference between respectfully disagreeing and slinging mud at one another.

By making off-handed comments about the sponsor to others, the word will get back to the sponsor someday. What’s even worse is trash-talking them on social media where anyone and everyone can see. 

This kind of barb-throwing makes everyone look bad. Your sponsor looks terrible for choosing to work with such an irresponsible organization. You look awful for being so unprofessional. 

These kinds of incidents don’t die quickly. Other companies will hear about it, and if you go to them for sponsorship, they’ll likely turn you down lest you decide to say the same means things about them someday.

Look, not every sponsor partnership is necessarily going to be a great one. Maybe it was a lack of research or a lack of experience, but you two just didn’t mesh. That’s okay. It happens. Decline working together again in the future and learn from the experience so you can someday find a better sponsor.

Always stay professional through and through. Don’t bad-mouth the sponsor during or even after you two are done working together. If you do, you’re torching a bridge that you may again have to cross someday.

Fail to Deliver the Goals Promised to the Sponsor 

Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest way you can wreck any chances of working with a sponsor again is by failing to deliver what you promised. Throughout your sponsorship package and proposal, you laid out goals you would achieve. Maybe it was a specific attendance number, access to your audience for the sponsor, a certain amount of signage, or the like.

When the day comes for your event and you have a measly sign at the entrance for the sponsor, they’re going to be quite upset. The same would be true if you said 2,000 people would show and it’s more like 200.

If you made promises you couldn’t keep just to get a sponsorship deal, that was the wrong move. The sponsor was going to find out sooner than later that you couldn’t deliver, so you should have just been honest up-front. 

Now the sponsor has poured their time, effort, and money into an event that turned out to be a dud. In some cases, event failure it out of your hands, but most of the time, you have a pretty good hold on the outcome. Make sure that outcome is realistic when you’re setting goals. It’s better to work with a smaller sponsor who appreciates your smaller goals than it is to lie to a bigger sponsor just to hook them then burn them by not delivering. 

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You can sabotage your sponsorship program in a lot of ways, some of which you might not even realize you’re doing. Now that you see the many glaring mistakes you can make on the road to securing sponsorship, you know how to better manage your own sponsorship program. Best of luck!