Why You Should Avoid Tiered Sponsorship Levels (And What to Do Instead) 

On the blog, I have several posts mentioning my utter distaste for gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship levels aka tiered sponsorship. And my readers know I talk about this topic enough when given the chance.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve dedicated an entire blog post to the risks of tired sponsorship levels, I figure now is as good a time as any to refresh sponsorship seekers. 

If this post can help even one sponsorship seeker not present a package with tiered sponsorship levels, then I’ll have done my job. Of course, I hope to help more than just one of you, and I assume I will.

Without any further ado then, let’s get right into the meat of today’s post.

Here’s Why Sponsors HATE Tiered Sponsorship Levels

If there’s one point I hope I’ve made clear when talking about tiered sponsorship levels, it’s that sponsors hate them. 

And I mean hate, loathe, detest, abhor. Whatever you want to call it, that’s how a sponsor feels. 

There is no neutral middle ground when it comes to tiered sponsorship levels on the part of your sponsor. 

These levels are going to elicit strong feelings for the following reasons. 

Sponsors Know You’re Only Guessing at What They Want

When you present a prospect with tiered sponsorship levels, it’s in a package that is typically a part of a sponsorship proposal that you send very early. 

Maybe you find a sponsor’s email address through some research, or you even fill out an online sponsorship form. 

Either way, you’ve skipped an integral part of the sponsorship process, and that’s the discovery meeting or discovery session.

The discovery session is when you have an open chat with your prospect about what they’re looking for, where their current shortcomings stem from, and how you can help them achieve more of their goals.

Barring a discovery meeting, you literally are guessing at everything the sponsor wants because you simply have no idea. 

Is a sponsor going to want to work with a company, organization, or individual who assumes they know what the sponsor wants? No!

You know what happens when you assume. You end up looking foolish.

The Assets Are Usually Misguided

In my experience, when a sponsorship seeker assumes they know what a sponsor wants, it’s usually not because they think they know better. It’s because they only have X, Y, Z assets, so that’s what they’re going to offer.

It doesn’t matter if Sponsor A is a bakery brand and Sponsor B is a hair care company. They get logo placement, five social media posts, and maybe three e-blasts. 

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but the needs of a bakery are very different from that of a hair care company. Treating them the same is one of the worst mistakes you can make in your sponsorship program.

I would say that treating any two of your sponsors the same is the worst mistake you can make. 

Even if you do have two sponsors you work with who are in the same industry or niche, it’s unfair to assume their needs are identical (there’s that word again, assume). 

That’s why the discovery session is so integral to your success as a sponsorship seeker. It’s your chance to get to know what your prospect needs. 

Sends the Impression That You’re Not Willing to Customize 

Here’s another huge reason why sponsors hate tiered sponsorship levels. When they take one look at your tiered package, you’re telling them loud and clear that you’re inflexible about customization.

“But Chris,” I can hear you saying. “I added a statement saying that if the sponsor doesn’t like any of the tiers, we can put together a custom package. I’m covered, right?”

Oh, not at all. Most sponsorship seekers who add a line like that are doing it to cover their butts because they realize that their sponsorship package is highly uncompromising. 

I always liken this to going to a burger restaurant that serves its burgers one way. On the menu board, there’s a little disclaimer with an asterisk that reads, “we’ll customize your burger if you ask.”

Most people don’t even see the disclaimer. For those who do, its inclusion is inconvenient and kind of annoying. 

If you’re able to customize the burger, then why can you only order the one type of burger?

You’d wonder why the restaurant wouldn’t rework its menu for you to customize your meal right off the bat.

That is exactly what your sponsors are thinking, except about your tiered sponsorship levels, not burgers. 

They see that disclaimer of yours and think that if you were serious about customizing your sponsorship package, you would have done it. 

Why YOU Should Hate Tiered Sponsorship Levels

It’s not only your sponsors who have a revulsion for tiered sponsorship levels. You–yes, you, reading this right now–should hate them as well. Here’s why.

Huge Waste of Time 

Sponsorship is not an overnight process. Even if you do everything mostly right and get your ducks in a row well in advance, it’s still something you have to plan for ideally as soon as your event, program, or opportunity ends. 

Imagine doing something that would only add more time (that you really don’t even have) to your already tight sponsorship schedule. 

You wouldn’t want to do that, right? Yet you are if you’re using tiered sponsorship levels.

You’re not spending your time productively preparing questions for the discovery session or using your insights into your sponsorship prospect to come up with solutions that will work for them.

You’re assuming you know everything the sponsor wants, either because you know a little about the prospect or you think these assets work for every sponsor. 

When you find out that the prospect you’re talking to isn’t interested in those assets, you’re back at square one.

You have two choices now. You can either try your tiered sponsorship levels with another prospect and hope they bite, or you can go about your sponsorship program correctly and schedule a discovery session.

Either way, you’re now weeks to months behind schedule, which will put you in a vice-grip for the rest of your sponsorship program and right up until event day. 

It’s simply not worth it.

You’re Leaving Significant Money on the Table

If there’s one part of this article so far that will get your ears pricked, I’m sure it’s this one. 

When you present your prospects with tiered sponsorship levels, the only one who’s really getting shot in the foot is you. 

Here’s why. You’re thinking that if you make a tiered sponsorship package that the prospect will see a tier with assets that perfectly fulfill their goals. They send you a check and it’s easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but in almost no world does that work. 

I’m not saying that you can’t land a sponsor using tiered sponsorship levels. Some sponsor companies will still fall for this bait, but these companies are extremely few and far between anymore. 

So here’s what happens instead. You price your assets at X value, and that value is okay, but you could fetch more money.

If you had really good audience data, for example, that could drive up the value of your package.

 Most sponsors who agree to work with you want to work more with your audience than anything else. 

Your audience is your greatest asset. The more fully fleshed out your audience data is, the more valuable that asset becomes.

Sponsors are also usually willing to pay more for assets that really solve their problems, but you don’t have any of those. 

I can’t tell you much money you’re missing out on, whether it’s thousands of dollars or tens of thousands or even more than that, but either way, it’s a lot of money! 

If you’re okay with missing out on cold hard cash, that’s fine by me. Most people who are reading this though I’m guessing are not good with leaving money on the table. 

So What Should You Offer Your Prospects Instead of Tiered Sponsorship Packages?

The next time your company or organization needs sponsorship, I want you to refrain from using the same tiered sponsorship packages you always have. Instead, try offering the following.

Audience Data

This goes back to my point from the last section about how much money you’re leaving on the table when you use tiered sponsorship levels. A big part of the reason is the lack of audience data, as you’ll recall I mentioned.

Let me just reiterate this again. If your assets are a crown, your audience data is the crown jewel. It’s the centerpiece of your assets. 

You need to know who your audience is, and more so than that, you need to be able to provide highly segmented niches, as sponsors gobble up that kind of data like candy.

How do you find this kind of audience data? You don’t find it so much as it’s presented to you. 

You would issue a survey to your audience where you ask them specific questions about their age, location, occupation, income, family life, and what kind of brands and media they use and consume.

Then you take that data and you use it to segment your audience. To create hyper-segmented niches means breaking down your audience groups into smaller and smaller chunks until the groups just won’t get any smaller.

As you research your sponsorship prospects, you’ll learn that they’re interested in O audience group or perhaps P group instead. If not from your research, then you’ll glean this data from the discovery session for sure.

You can then present the prospect with your highly targeted audience segments.

Activation Ideas

No sponsorship program is complete without activation ideas

Sponsorship activation is your means of fulfilling your audience’s needs or goals and your sponsor’s needs or goals concurrently. 

The experiential marketing opportunities you dream up don’t have to be expensive or flashy. They just have to keep your audience and your sponsor in mind. 

I’ve used the example recently of a coffee company sponsoring a business conference. Most attendees are flying in from around the country and they have a busy itinerary, so they’ll appreciate any chance to fuel up on caffeine.

A coffee bar is the perfect activation. And yes, it’s obvious, but sometimes the obvious idea works. 

I have plenty of resources on the blog full of activation ideas for all sorts of sponsorship programs, including events, conferences, festivals, and more. 

Case Studies

Case studies are also hugely critical in your sponsorship program as you move away from tiered sponsorship levels.

A case study vouches for the trustworthiness and efficiency of your company. You’re describing another client or partner you worked with and how you helped them grow or achieve another goal. 

Present the other party’s struggles clearly, then mention how when you stepped in, the client or partner saved $40,000 or gained 700 new customers, or saw a spike in website traffic by 40 percent. 

Conclusion 

It doesn’t matter whether you call them gold, silver, and bronze or something else entirely, tiered sponsorship levels are widely abhorred by sponsor companies and shouldn’t be your favorite either. You’re missing out on a lot of money by locking yourself into tiered sponsorship levels.

A lot of the time, sponsorship seekers who exclusively offer tiered levels often don’t know any better or feel stuck in their respective sponsorship programs. They don’t have audience data or they don’t know how to come up with activations, so they do what seems to work.

It would be nice if sponsorship was a quick, simple process, but it isn’t. You do need to take the time to research your prospects, segment your audience, sit down to a discovery session with your prospects, and come up with activations that work.

If you find yourself stuck in any of the areas I’ve talked about, I highly recommend signing up for my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. It will be a huge difference-maker! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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