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How to Protect Yourself Against Sponsorship Scrutiny

by Emily Taylor
26 07 2010

I was recently interviewed by Nicole Wallace with the Chronicle of Philanthropy, specifically regarding my opinion of the partnership between BP and the Nature Conservancy – you do have to subscribe to the publication to read the article, but they’re a reputable publication and can keep you educated so you might consider it.  As you can imagine, both parties have undergone some serious scrutiny over the wisdom in that partnership – and it’s the charity receiving the funds who is receiving the most heat.  I found the topic to be quite interesting and it sparked some thoughts I thought I’d share on the topic with the purpose of advising on how to protect your sponsorship partnerships from the same scrutiny. 

Just for quick background, The Nature Conservancy and BP established a partnership quite some time ago; one article from the Washington Post says it well: “the giant oil company and the world’s largest environmental organization long ago forged a relationship that has lent BP an Earth-friendly image and helped the Conservancy pursue causes it holds dear.”  I think that makes it clear as to the purpose of the partnership.  Personally I have pretty mixed feelings about the relationship – I realize that charities and other cause related organizations have tremendous interest in being about to pursue the efforts that will do the most good for the cause, but you can’t sell your soul in exchange.  I maintain the perspective that long term loyalty and respect ultimately come out of consumers who respect corporations with integrity, and I think the average consumer would look at this partnership and scratch their heads.  Clearly it’s to BP’s interest to be perceived as an environmentally friendly organization, but some VERY careful boundaries really should be placed on activation of such a partnership in order for it not to receive backlash in the face of the crisis they’re in.  I like partnerships with diverse missions who act as a complement to one another’s efforts, but I just don’t see it with these two.  To draw from another relationship based parallel, when you consider a marriage of two people with opposite high priority values, you wonder how they make it work.  When you have different values that are minor focuses, that’s one thing, it can keep things interesting and exciting; but when your core values are opposing one another, you can’t honestly support the efforts that go into keeping that value alive.  I see no difference in the situation with BP and the Conservancy.  When an action clearly hurts the other partner or goes against their values, it is perceived as betrayal, and in the business world, accepting a check doesn’t “make it all better” when one organization’s values and image are bruised by a partner’s actions. 

Lesson#1:  Before entering a partnership, consider worst case scenerios.  Would you be able to stand by the vision/mission of your partner in the face of crisis without injuring your own organization?  Clearly there are some events you cannot predict – look at Tiger Woods; but withdrawing from a partnership can be pretty clearly explained without cancelling out the validity of previous efforts.  The partnership made sense and now it does not; if your visions and assets never aligned, your consumer’s eyebrows start raising.  You need to be able to verbally endorse one another’s efforts without fear of affiliating with them at any given time.  All it takes is one bad move to ruin the reputation of an organization which could have taken years to build; and it can take years to rebuild that trust.

Lesson #2: Respond with transparency and grace in the midst of crisis.  I also maintain the position that the average consumer is quick to forgive upon a gracious and honest response.  It’s wise to be loyal to your friends, so your response to a mistake made by your partner needs to validate the reason why you partnered with them in the first place.  This underscores both your intentions for the partnership, and it honors your partner.  However, you definitely should not excuse bad behavior – if something goes wrong, leaders need to own it, and be transparent about their response.  No one likes a leader that hides under their desk in the face of a crisis. 

Lesson #3: Ask yourself whether or not the action taken or the crisis at hand changes or disintegrates a mutually beneficial relationship.  If that’s the case and there’s no means to repair it, conversations and PR work needs to be done to redefine the relationship.  If it hurts your organization to maintain the partnership, you need to leave.  One thing to consider is timing – if you exit the scene without the proper explanation, or without perceived attempts to salvage what’s there, you validate any consumer suspicion that your partnership lacked integrity or was used for the wrong reasons.  People like loyalty, and brands / organizations are not favored when it is perceived that they are serving themselves.  Do what you can to make it work, but don’t kill your reputation.

I heard Jessica Jackley, the founder of Kiva.org, speak once; and she mentioned a tough decision she once had to make.  A company wanted to make a MAJOR donation to Kiva with some strings attached that would require Kiva to use the funds in a manner that did not align with their mission to have personalized micro loans.  In light of this requirement they refused the donation, unwilling to compromise their mission/vision; and thus maintain integrity in the way they do business.  Doing what you say you’re going to do despite dollar signs makes your consumer smile!  A great example of good business ethics in my opinion.

Any other tips?  How have you protected yourself or your partnerships or responded in crisis?


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Rose Colored Glasses and Pitching for Partners

by Emily Taylor
20 07 2010

My husband loves to brag about our dog, Chloe.  She really is pretty stinking adorable, and brilliant I might add – OK, I like to brag about our dog too.  To us, who have fed, trained, lived with and fallen in love with her, rarely could she do any wrong – except the time she tore up the carpet on our stairs… but that’s another story. 

Lots of property owners have the same perspective when it comes to their organization.  And it’s not surprising!  If you have invested your time, money, blood, sweat and tears into building this phenomenal organization, it’s easy to become a bragging parent about how incredible it is.  You are passionate about your efforts because you’re efforts mean something.  There’s something about it that gets your heart beating faster, your work is marked with purpose, and you are invigorated by the results you see. 

I just spoke with a gentleman a couple of weeks ago that gave me an overview of his organization and the sponsorship opportunity he had available, and within half an hour I probably heard him say 15 times how sponsoring his organization was a “no – brainer,” how it was the best, most clear choice for a partnership and he can’t understand why sponsors weren’t crawling all over him.  The rose colored glasses he had on were so thick, it was practically offensive.  I hate to be a Debbie dower, but the reality is that there are hundreds of fantastic opportunities out there – trust me, we have spoken to some properties that shock me that they’re having trouble at all finding sponsors.  The market is tough, it’s competitive, and budgets are slim and trim, so it’s truly best to take off the rose colored glasses, get proactive, aggressive, and be seen and heard with the best interest of your partner in mind. 

Another common and similar mistake that many properties make when they’re pitching a partner, is that they focus on the saintly efforts of their organization, filling that partner in on the ins and outs of their successes and the way they touch lives, etc, etc.  Then, after painting this spectacular self portrait, they ask the sponsor if they want to invest in a sponsorship.  The clear problem is that while it’s always nice to hear the story behind a property, a sponsor is more interested in you casting a vision for what your partnership could do for them, what kind of reach you have, audience loyalty, why your efforts and their affiliation with you “makes sense” and why it would do them good.  It sounds a little self serving, but it’s wise to keep in mind that this is a partnership, a marketing deal; it’s not a donation, and they have every right to expect to know the answers to these questions.  Do you really want to get their heart pumping and their adrenaline racing about the idea of being your partner?  Do your best to include them in the picture of what could happen if they were involved, why you think they’re a good fit, and speak to the value you have to offer as a partner going into a deal.  When you listen to a really good salesperson, they paint a fantastic picture which includes the buyer in the story – they aren’t just giving a monologue about the features and benefits of the product – they apply it to the individual they’re selling to. 

So the next time you pitch a potential sponsor, make sure to take off your rose colored glasses, speak to the value of the partnership, and do such a superb job of casting a vision that they might just pick up a pair of glasses that enables them to see your opportunity from your perspective. 


Categories:   sponsorship sales
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Spotlight on Sponsorship! RacingIn.com, For Fans of Fast!

by Stephanie Lochmiller
14 07 2010

As a way to draw increased awareness and attention to some of the standup sponsorship opportunities on our site, we have decided to set apart one blog per month to put the “Spotlight on Sponsorship”! If you have a premium level listing on SponsorPark, and would like to have your event featured, please contact [email protected] to submit your event.  This month our spotlight shines on RacingIn.com.

What is RacingIn.com all about?

RacingIn.com is the first socially themed motorsports website exclusively devoted to connecting race fans to any racer, anywhere as well as 1,600 race tracks throughout the US. Every week fans view the profiles of more than 1,000 races tracks and nearly 1,000 racers who make RacingIn.com their online home with personal Racing Pages.

What makes this property unique?

In just 8 short months RacingIn.com has developed widely successful social media followings on Facebook and Twitter.  Their networks extend farther than many major motorsports venues, teams and entities.  RacingIn.com keeps their fans and followers engaged by regularly updating their social media outlets with the latest racer and race track updates and gives fans a chance to interact with both the content and current advertisers.

Surviving Sponsorship in a Heated Economy

According to RacingIn.com Founder, Scott Kosak, the “Primary Partnership” model of RacingIn.com was developed to combat several major challenges facing motorsports sponsors.

According to Kosak, “There is a current perception of motorsports sponsorship as being a highly cluttered arena from the perspective of the sheer number of sponsors involved.  The ‘Primary Partnership’ model of RacingIn.com addresses this challenge by offering the ability of a single sponsor/brand and their associated key vendors to be integrated into virtually every engagement between RacingIn.com and it’s visitors.”
In addition, as major motorsports have seen decreases in attendance and TV ratings, sponsors have also been challenged to find a new way to connect with as many race fans as possible in highly efficient and cost effective ways.  RacingIn.com solves this problem by building a model that ensures that their Primary Partner will ultimately be guaranteed a minimum of 8 and up to 16 combined message and brand impressions with every visitor to RacingIn.com.  RacingIn.com also adds the concept of geographic targetability to an on-line based partnership.  All content on RacingIn.com is tagged ‘by state’, and message serving on RacingIn.com can be focused in either a national way or by providing sponsors the ability to target different messages alongside content specific to different states.
Finally, while integrating B2B interaction has always been a tenet of Motorsports Sponsorship, there is an increased need for motorsports sponsors to also show a B2C impact on their business, especially in an economic downturn.  The Primary Partnership Model of RacingIn.com addresses this issue by providing a model that allows focus on both the B2B AND B2C needs of our primary partner in one, all-inclusive, marketing partnership.

Preferred Partners?

According to Kosak, their ideal partners would come from one of two categories.

1)  A national brand, or group of brands, can use the Primary Partnership model of RacingIn.com to not only promote it’s individual brands, but also it’s key on-line and off-line retailers around the nation.  A major consumer brand could choose to promote different products in different states depending on the regional messages that are important to them at any given time.  Such a partner could also highlight different key vendors in different states to help leverage additional sell-through of additional product.
2)  A national ‘service’ like an insurer or financial service provider can use the Primary Partnership with RacingIn.com to showcase it’s brand while also showcasing agents who are local to the state of the content being viewed.

More on RacingIn.com can be found at their SponsorPark.com listing. Or you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter and see for yourself some of what makes this opportunity so unique.

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