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What NOT to Do with Your Sponsorship Program

by | November 19, 2020

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Recently, I published a post on how to sabotage a sponsorship program. I did that in the hopes that you’ll see it’s sometimes easier to make mistakes with your sponsorships than you might have thought. Today, I want to discuss more no-nos of sponsorship that I didn’t cover in that first post. What else shouldn’t you do with your sponsorship program?

The following are all things you DON’T want to do when pursuing sponsorship:

  • Make it all about you
  • Request sponsorship for an event with a week or two to go
  • Pester the sponsor when you haven’t heard back
  • Contact the sponsor at all hours 
  • Not have what they need when they need it
  • Be unyielding in your vision and unwilling to listen to outside input
  • Only go after the big fish
  • Not bother to pursue a multi-year agreement

Just like last time, ahead, I’ll go over each of these 8 sponsorship killers in more detail. You’ll learn why doing these things is so bad and what you can begin doing instead to get more yesses from your target sponsors! 

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8 More Things NOT to Do with Your Sponsorship Program

Make It All about You

I know, I know. You’re the one asking for the sponsorship, you’re the one hosting the event, and you’re the one who needs the money. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that this sponsorship program is all about you.

This is a fatal mistake, as your attitude will be reflected in everything you do going forward. You’ll write your sponsorship proposal in such a way that it’s me-centric. Rather than dedicate a few sentences, or–at most, paragraphs–of your sponsorship proposal to your organization, your cause, and your event, you’ll write page after page. Before you know it, your proposal will be a recapitulation of what your organization has done.

That’s cool in that it makes you feel good, but think about it from the sponsor’s perspective. They don’t know you, and while they may like to get to know you, not like this. They won’t care about what your organization did two years ago or five years back or whatever. Your sponsorship proposal will end up trashed and the deal over.

Your organization can hurt your sponsorship chances in several other ways by thinking only of yourself. As I talked about in my article about sabotaging your sponsorships, you might overprice your assets. Further, you might fail to put in any research into the sponsor and their audience. 

I’ll say now what I did then: failing to do your research before pursuing sponsorship makes you look tone-deaf. Also, overpricing your assets could get you laughed out of the room by the sponsor if you’re not greeted with stone-cold silence.

A sponsorship is a partnership, which means the needs of both parties must be taken into account. Going into business just for yourself will make any target sponsor hard-pressed to want to work with you again, let alone a first time. 

Request Sponsorship Too Late

You have an event coming up on the calendar soon, like really soon. Maybe it’s a motorsports show, a gala, or a festival. You’re about two weeks to go, and while you have your vendors list, your venue secured, and most of the details hammered out, you still need a sponsor to promote and/or pay for the whole thing. 

Surely, two weeks to go isn’t too late to ask for a sponsor, right? Even if the event is a little more than seven days away, that’s not such a big deal, you’re sure. Then you begin pursuing a sponsorship program and it’s all flat-out refusals from every potential sponsor you talk to.

What the heck is going on? Is it that they don’t want to help with your type of event? Are you asking for too much money? You can’t understand why none of your target sponsors have agreed to work with you.

I think I have a pretty good idea why. You waited way too long to pursue sponsorship

There is no one timetable for the sponsorship process to play out, but from all my experience (and trust me, that is a lot), one week or two weeks is far too little time for a sponsorship program to come together.

On your end, you need to do audience research, which can sometimes involve you mailing out audience surveys. Even if you stick to email for the surveys rather than physical mail, you still have to give your audience time to reply. Then when you have the info you need, you have to study it in detail. This alone can take a week if not longer. 

You also have to put together your sponsorship proposal and package. The sponsorship package is another time-consuming venture, as you have to create an exhaustive list of assets that you then valuate one by one. You also need activation ideas to hook your sponsor in. 

Once you have all your assets priced, you have to organize them into tiers. This works best when done with the guidance of the sponsor so you don’t use the super-tired gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship package tiers.

You can see how your work alone would take several weeks, maybe even a month to complete. This all has to happen before you even reach out to the sponsor. Once you do that, the ball is squarely in their court. You could hear back within a day, a week, a month, or never. I can’t say.

Okay, so when should you contact a target sponsor about a deal? I’d recommend that as soon as you realize your event needs sponsorship, you start the process that same day. This doesn’t mean you’re reaching out to the sponsor on day one, but you are putting together your materials so you’ll be ready to connect with the target sponsor sooner. 

Pester the Sponsor

Let’s get back to talking about the timeframe of sponsor replies. In my detailed guide on how to plan your first meeting with a sponsor, I discussed how the first time you speak with the sponsor, you’re not emailing your proposal or sponsorship package. I also wrote about how during your first meeting, you don’t want to bring your proposal and slide it across the target sponsor’s desk. As a matter of fact, you don’t want to bring your proposal at all.

If you make one of those rookie mistakes, then you can expect the likelihood of hearing from the sponsor to be quite low. Even if you do everything right, such as ask discovery questions on the first meeting, save your documents for when the sponsor asks for them, and schedule subsequent successful meetings, you still might not hear back right away.

Your sponsor has a full-time job, and that’s probably not exclusively about offering sponsorship. Also, if the target sponsor does indeed agree to work with you, you’re likely not the only company or organization they’re partnered with in such a way. 

What I’m trying to say is that any sponsor company has lots of daily duties that may supersede getting back to you. It’s nothing personal. 

Also, let’s be real, your sponsors are people too. Sometimes they see your email, mean to respond, and get sidetracked. Other times, they forget.

That’s why I always encourage you to follow up. How long should you wait to get in touch again? I’d recommend at least a week. That’s more than ample time for the target sponsor to have looked over your sponsorship proposal and package and figured out what the next steps are. 

Waiting any longer than a week threatens to put your timeline in jeopardy. You have an event you need to host on such and such a date, so waiting for two weeks or three weeks isn’t advisable.

One follow-up is fine. How you choose to reach out is your choice. You might send an email or give the target sponsor a call. I don’t recommend you visit them in person, as that’s going to come across as way too pushy. 

What if another week passes and you still don’t hear back? You might send a second follow-up, but at this point, you have to assume it’s probably a lost cause. The sponsor could get back to you, but your chances aren’t looking very good.

You have to play it cool when following up, be that the first or second time. Calling or emailing the sponsor every day you don’t hear from them will get you blocked and perhaps even threatened with a restraining order or some other legal action. Follow up about once a week and no more than that.

If the sponsor does respond and says no, don’t keep pestering them. You could change their mind at a later time, but by bugging them now, you’re torching that bridge to the ground. 

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Contact the Sponsor at All Hours

What if the sponsor agreed to promote or pay for your event? Then congrats! You two will be working closely together over the next few weeks as your organization gears up for its event. That said, you have to know when to put a lid on it.

Just like you shouldn’t follow up six times a week, you also want to limit how often you contact your target sponsor. It’s okay to speak with them several times a day if you need their input or have a question, but watch when you’re calling them. If it’s 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, that’s not very appropriate. The same is true with contacting your sponsor at 2 p.m. on a Saturday if your sponsor company is a Monday-Friday type of business.

Exceptions certainly do exist. If your event is on a weekend, then your sponsor should expect to work that weekend to help you prepare for the event. You might have to get in touch with them early in the morning or even late at night leading up to the event. That’s okay, but calling them in the middle of the night or on a weekend any other time is not alright. 

Your sponsors are people too, just to reiterate. They have lives and families and personal hobbies and interests. If you chew into their personal time unnecessarily or too often, the sponsor might reconsider working with you again. 

Fail to Provide What the Sponsor Needs When They Need It

Once the sponsorship process begins, that ball can get rolling fast. You’ll have your first meeting, and although you shouldn’t bring your sponsorship proposal, the sponsor might want to see an outline or other documentation after the meeting. 

You must be ready to provide what the sponsor needs as they ask for it. If you’re going into sponsorship meetings without having taken the time to make your sponsorship proposal or package, that’s no good. Your sponsorship program has gaping holes that will be revealed sooner than later. You don’t want that, I don’t want that, so make sure you don’t put the cart before the horse, even if you are excited to pursue sponsorship.

If the sponsor asks for documentation that you have yet to create, then you might have to spend some overtime hours putting together data, sometimes with less than 24 hours until your next meeting. Is this a little inconvenient? Sure, but it’s part of the process. Having your assets valuated and your sponsorship proposal should make any further documentation you gather far less research-intensive.

Turn Down All Input Besides Your Own

Remember when I said that sponsorship is a partnership? You really need to keep that in mind from beginning to end, as you’ll bounce ideas off your target sponsor a lot and vice-versa. 

The first instance in which this might happen is when putting together your sponsorship package, which I talked about earlier. The best sponsorship packages are customized to the sponsor’s needs. You can use market research to determine what you think the sponsor needs, but I find that going straight to the source is always smartest.

I know it’s hard to let some assets go or to change your pricing structure to better fit with what your sponsor wants, but you can’t be too unyielding here. Sticking with your asset pricing only gives your sponsor two choices: yes or no. There’s no wiggle room to collaborate, and so the sponsor will more than likely turn you down and call it a day.

As your sponsor gets more involved in promoting or funding your event, they’ll also offer inputs and suggestions. You don’t have to like everything they say, and you’re allowed to respectfully disagree. However, you can’t turn down every recommendation or idea the sponsor has. They’ll realize very quickly that this is a one-sided affair and that you just wanted their name on the event or their money, not their help.

I can assure you that this close-minded attitude will not yield another arrangement with this sponsor. I’m sure that’s not what you want, so be willing to at least listen. 

Skip the Smaller Sponsors

You want to put your organization on the map. That’s why you’re hosting this event in the first place. To skyrocket your organization to the lofty heights you’re envisioning, you need a big sponsorship with name recognition and value that your audience will appreciate. These sponsors also likely have deeper pockets, which is perfect for you, as you need some significant funding.

There’s a problem with pursuing sponsorship like this. When you only go after the big fish in the pond, so to speak, you have to understand the competition is much fiercer. 

You’re far from the only organization asking for sponsorship from this company. That means you have to work much harder to wow the sponsor. On top of that, if there’s even a slight misalignment between your ideals and that of the sponsor, they can easily discard you. After all, there are 50 or 100 or more organizations in line that they can sponsor instead. 

I’m not saying you should never go after a bigger sponsor, but maybe not right away and especially not if you’re under a time crunch.

Smaller sponsors are not at all bad. They may be a little less picky because they don’t get as many sponsorship requests. Since you’re a small business or organization as well, you two are more likely to align on lots of matters.

Admittedly, small sponsors don’t have the star power or the finances you might seek, so you could need several small sponsors for your event. 

Let Your Sponsor Go After One Event Without Discussing a Longer-Term Deal

If you and your sponsor hit it off, the worst thing you can do is let the event end, share metrics and analytics about the event, and then go on each of your merry ways. You probably want to work with this sponsor again, and they may even wish to pair up with you a second time someday. 

Broach the subject at the very least. Perhaps you don’t have an event on the horizon yet, but when you do, you can ask if you can get in touch with the sponsor regarding prolonging your arrangement. 

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It’s easy to trip yourself up when chasing sponsorship, sometimes in unintended ways. I hope this post made you realize what the importance of communication, open-mindedness, and preparation truly is when trying to secure a sponsorship arrangement. Best of luck!