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

I have some bad news. Sponsors HATE sponsorship packages with levels. Having worked with brands on sponsorship deals big and small across North America, a few things stand out, specifically related to sponsorship levels and tiered sponsorship packages.

The Scourge of Sponsorship Levels

Focusing on sponsorship levels is a distraction and it takes you away from the power of sponsorship marketing. Why? Because it causes you to focus on the wrong things. It also means that you are building a sponsorship program without talking to your sponsors.

Here are some of the problems created by prepackaged sponsorship levels and benefits:

  • It forces you to guess at what sponsors want
  • You focus on the wrong things (like logos)
  • Sponsors despise tiered packages
  • It tells sponsors you are unwilling to customize
  • It is a huge time waste
  • It converts one of the most powerful marketing disciplines (sponsorship) into the least powerful marketing discipline (direct mail)
  • You leave money on the table and undervalue your opportunities

Here is an example of sponsorship benefits and levels that most sponsorship seekers include in their packages.

DO NOT DO THIS!

Sponsorship Chart Template

Want to know what to do instead? Keep reading! Not only do I explain what to do and why, I am going to show you some real world examples that we used in our annual conference.

The Psychology Behind Sponsorship Levels

The basic idea is that you create a sponsorship package, design it, have it written professionally (or not) and then at the end include a list of sponsorship options, usually three or four titles like the one shown above. A sponsor reads your sponsorship package from start to finish, lands on the back page, picks the level that matches their needs exactly. They then fill out the form, include a credit card number and send it in.

Bam! Sponsorship sales made easy!

If only it worked that way.

Here is what actually happens:

Scenario one (95% of the time):

Sponsor receives your unsolicited sponsorship package and immediately throws it in the garbage.

Scenario Two:

Sponsor receives your sponsorship package and thinks there may be a fit based on your brand and your audience. Sponsor opens your sponsorship package and sees that it is packed with information they don’t care about and then sees a Gold, Silver, Bronze chart.

Sponsor throws sponsorship package in the garbage.

What Sponsorship Levels Tell Your Prospect

The belief is that you are communicating to your sponsors exactly what you have to sell. The reality is that sponsorship levels mean you:

  • Guess at the goals of your prospect
  • Make assumptions about budget
  • Leave money on the table
  • Force prospects into a “this or nothing” decision
  • Look outdated and out of touch with current practice
  • Think logo placement and “push marketing” assets are the most important aspect of sponsorship

Why Setting Your Sponsorship Levels is Costing You

Every hour you spend on building a sponsorship package with a grid or tiered levels is an hour not spent talking to your prospects. Worse yet, setting sponsorship levels feels productive, it feels like you are progressing…but you aren’t. Building an inventory of assets to sell is a smart practice, knowing what you have to offer is very important, the problem is when you list it all on a page hoping that a brand will want the exact mixture of benefits you are offering.

Naming Your Sponsorship Levels is a Time Suck

If you work in a non-profit or large, complex organization, you spend weeks, or even months, debating over which “level” gets a logo with a hyperlink or two Tweets instead of one. Coming up with creative names is unnecessary. You aren’t selling levels; you are selling access to your audience in ways that your sponsors find valuable. This, and nothing more.

The “sponsorship levels” approach is distracting you from your work, which is to reach out and talk to sponsors every single day.

Creating Sponsorship Levels is Costing You Money

A major problem with sponsorship levels is that you have no choice but to offer “vanity benefits” like logos on stuff, tweets, eblasts etc. A standardized package forces you to create something easy to sell, easy to activate and easy to deliver.

The problem with this is that the money is not in the easy benefits. It is found in the custom activations built just for your prospect based on their unique needs and desires. Once you know what they are trying to do and how they will measure success, you can build something tailored to those needs. This is where the money is!

Rather than having to sell 10 “Bronze packages”, five Silvers and three golds to make $100,000, why not create four custom and highly engaging opportunities for the same amount of money?

The Key to Providing Benefits to Sponsors

The most important benefits to your sponsors are exactly the benefits that they tell you they want. Even if some of those benefits match up with the “silver level” in your pitch deck it doesn’t mean that your sponsor wants the other benefits listed there. In fact, most sponsors will have very strong opinions about the value of logo placement, exhibit spaces, free passes, speaking opportunities etc.

Forcing a sponsor to take, and pay for, an exhibit space when they prefer to be in session or networking is a great way to send them packing or to force them into a lower tier of sponsorship.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

Here are some of the comments that I heard from a recent sponsor summit regarding sponsorship packages with levels:

  • “No more sponsorship packages…I don’t even read them anymore”
  • “Every day I throw out a huge pile of sponsorship packages- unread”
  • “Properties come to me asking for money without any sense of our goals or their audience. I just can’t invest in something so risky”
  • “I wish people would just pick up the phone and call me. I could save them hours and tell them in 2 minutes whether or not we have a fit”

How to Create Sponsorship Levels is NOT Your Biggest Problem

Your biggest problem in sponsorship is offering value to your partners. Finding out exactly what they want to achieve, how they will measure success and which sponsorship benefits give them exactly what they are after.

Setting three (or four, with the advent of “platinum sponsorship”) levels of sponsorship feel easier to sell because you move away from being a custom service provider and into a product that a company can buy off the shelf.

This forces brands into a “take it or leave it” mentality and most brands will leave it.

You are not a product, you are not selling a product. You are offering access to your prospect’s target market in unique and engaging ways.

What Do You Do Instead of Sponsorship Recognition Levels?

Offer your benefits a la carte! Ask your prospects what they are trying to achieve and put together a custom package just for them. Here is how you should structure your sponsorship packages instead of levels and benefits:

Activation Ideas!

Rather than listing a random collection of assets, share examples of activations that you have offered sponsors in the past. Have pictures of the activation itself. Don’t have any examples? Think of  few that you would love to offer your audience and feature them in your pitch deck.

Here are two examples of activations that we delivered at our conference and then included in our sponsorship pitch deck:

 

Sponsorship Levels and Benefits

Deloitte Graffiti Wall

 

Sponsorship Levels and Benefits

Keurig Unlimited Coffee Station

 

Sponsorship Levels and Benefits

Funnel Cake and Networking

Case Studies!

Include case studies of how you worked with a sponsor to build something just for them. Include what you did and why, along with the outcomes they experienced.

Use a Common Sponsorship Benefits Pool

One of the worst parts of using set sponsorship levels in a sponsorship package is that it looks awful! A grid with a bunch of assets and an x or a check mark to indicate whether or not that particular level gets access to the benefit looks terrible.

If everyone receives 80% of the same benefits, then why not just list a common benefits pool?

In other words, if everyone is going to get logos, recognition from the mic, eblasts, social media posts, logos on shirts etc. then instead of making a monstrous grid, simply let them know which benefits all sponsors receive.

Here is an example we used at The Corporate Partnership Conference:

Sponsorship Level and Benefits Example

How to List Sponsors Without Tiers or Levels

If logo placement is part of what you are offering your sponsors, just list them! No need to break them into levels. Believe me, the word “gold” above a block of 10 logos offers no value to your sponsors.

I’m not saying that logo placement is dead, I don’t believe that at all. What I am saying is that logo placement is such a small part of the process and smaller still is whether that logo is at the “gold level” or “platinum”.

Here is an example of how it looks in real life:

Every Package Requires Customization, Not Levels and Benefits

Before submitting a sponsorship package, book a discovery meeting with your prospects to determine whether or not there is any reason to submit a proposal. In that meeting, ask them the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • How do you typically connect with them?
  • What are some of the most valuable tactics you’ve found help you engage your target market?
  • What kind of sales activities do you find produce the best results?
  • What are the least valuable assets in your opinion?
  • How do you normally engage in sponsorship?
  • What does your target market value?
  • What can you tell me about your sales goals for the coming year?
  • What would you consider to be the most important elements of a sponsorship package?

Focus on Sponsorship Customization and Not Creative Names for Levels

Don’t lose sight of why sponsorship marketing is so valuable. It allows you to connect your sponsors to their target market in highly engaging ways. When you create a sponsorship package with defined levels and benefits, it removes much of the value that sponsorship offers.

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.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn