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Your Vital Role as a Sponsorship Seller

by Gail S. Bower
29 11 2011

Selling sponsorship can be tough. Like the 1978 voiceover intro on ESPN’s predecessor, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, used to say about sports, selling involves both “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”

 On particularly down days, it’s easy to feel powerless, as if you have very little control over the fates of your sales. But if you put yourself in the shoes of a buyer – through your imagination or the actual pathways of your career – you’ll quickly reconsider that notion.

 Early in my career in corporate sponsorship, mostly on the selling side, I had the opportunity to represent a major consumer product, a beverage and at the time, believe it or not, a new category – bottled water. (Yes, there was a time when we just drank the stuff right out of the tap, from a glass.)

 A company I worked with was engaged to secure outdoor event sponsorship opportunities for a major bottled water brand. To me it was a dream job. I couldn’t believe someone was going to pay me to sit at the other side of the table.

 I imagined that I’d easily identify a bunch of events that met the criteria we’d established with the brand, give ‘em a call, and hook things up.

 I was completely delusional!

 In reality it was one of the toughest, most frustrating projects I ever worked on. And one of the most educational.

 Why? At least half of my calls went unreturned. When I actually spoke with people on the phone, few:

  • could clearly articulate the value of their sponsorship programs,
  • could describe how the brand I represented might be involved, and
  • got back to me with compelling ideas and proposals.

More than once I recall hanging up the phone from another of these conversations, wondering if I were in some parallel universe. I had cash, and I was ready to spend it. Why didn’t these events have an operation and staff ready to sell to me?

 And that’s where the learning came in. As the seller and the representative to the corporate sector of your event or festival, you have an important job. You are the guide, trusted advisor, confidante, and liaison to your corporate client. Your role, from the first time you meet through the years of your partnership and collaboration, is to assist your partner in achieving success in their sponsorship of your event.

 They don’t know how things work, who your audiences are, what all the opportunities are, what would be the best fit given their goals. They need your assistance.

 Sponsors don’t exist just to write checks to your organization. They have outcomes to achieve, benchmarks to hit, brand images to uphold, bosses and stakeholders to please, etc. Similarly you don’t have time to waste. You have opportunities to be sold and, let’s face it, thrilling victories to be celebrated.

 While you cannot control the sales situation 100 percent, here are five areas you can control.

  1. Be professional. Be prepared for meetings and calls. Be responsive. Communicate proactively. Comport yourself professionally.
  2. Have an operation to support sponsorship. The culture in your organization must revolve, to a certain degree, around serving corporate clients. Saying you want corporate partners and then snickering behind closed doors at how much money you’re going to get from them (aka “The Ask”) doesn’t exactly demonstrate exemplary partner behavior. Neither does the harangue of production staff for sponsor swag. Have enough staff, good policies and procedures, and an excellent strategy for all aspects of your operation, including the relationship you aim to have with sponsors.
  3. Articulate the value of your sponsorship opportunity. It all starts here. If you don’t know the value of your sponsorship program, how can you expect your sponsor to know? If you wonder why corporations have constructed electronic fencing, in the form of online applications, it’s because countless sponsorship sellers cannot describe the value of their programs and fail to research.
  4. Ask good questions. Be curious about your sponsor’s goals, interests, strategies, and product line. Invest the time at the beginning of your relationship to learn everything you can. Don’t stop asking questions throughout your relationship so you’re current.
  5. Be trustworthy and deliver. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t lie about who comes to your event, what you know or don’t know about your audiences. Don’t cover up landmines. Sponsors will find out, and it will be uglier and more damaging to your credibility – as a professional and an organization. Do what you say you’re going to do – all the time. Have your clients’ best interests at heart. Don’t gossip. Maintain confidentiality about your sponsors’ business details.

May these 5 suggestions minimize agonizing defeats and increase your victories.

© 2011 Gail S. Bower All rights reserved.

Author of How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times,Gail Bower is President of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC, a firm helps that nonprofit organizations, destinations, and businesses dramatically improve their visibility, revenue, and impact. She’s a professional consultant, writer, and speaker, with nearly 25 years of experience managing some of the country’s most important events, festivals, and sponsorships and implementing marketing programs for clients She blogs about sponsorship at SponsorshipStrategist.com, and her web site is GailBower.com.

Categories:   sponsorship sales | tips
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Purposeful Partnerships

by Emily Taylor
23 11 2011

When discussing our brand’s quarterly results, my old boss used to always ask: what behavior did you promote that drove this result?  I was expected to be able to intelligently speak, not only to what kind of numbers we were seeing, where our successes and opportunities were, but what behavior drove such a result and how did I promote the behavior.  If any one of us managers were unable to speak to the behavior we were focusing on, she would then ask: “so, are you talented or are you lucky?”  This was one instance you never wanted to be “lucky.”  And rightly so, because luck tends to be rather inconsistent and undependable!

In the context of sponsorship partners, you HAVE to be a purposeful partner if you want to drive behaviors that get results.  A few questions I think are really important to ask are:

Is there agreement in the message you’re going to send as partners?  As a brand, what message do you want your audience to receive?  Are your creative efforts in alignment with the message your partner is willing for their audience to receive?  It can be easy to come up with a great message that casts you in a great light without considering whether or not it’s still an attractive message for your partner. And if it is attractive, is it in line with their other marketing efforts?  Both sides need to be able to leverage this strategy in a way that touches their organization as a whole, and if there are too many messages, they land on deaf ears.  It can be a little trickier to actually come up with a theme or message that complements both party’s interests – but it can be done – intentionally. 

I read a new paper posted on IEG’s website which you can download for free; and I highly recommend it. There’s a section where they are comparing a sponsorship buyer to a partnership investor, and they point out a couple of comparisons that caught my eye:

  • A sponsorship buyer treats partner like vendors, whereas partnership investors establishes link to partners’ brand values.
  • A sponsorship buyer separates sponsorships from other activity, whereas partnership investors integrate with core creative ideas.

The first of these pointers I love because it shows the importance of a smart partnership where messages match.  The mission of the two parties should be a seamless match, a complementary relationship, and coming together makes their messages explosive.  The second point excites me because it underscores the fact that sponsorship isn’t a little pet you mind from time to time; it should touch and integrate with all aspects of your business when effectively implemented.  These are two brilliant distinguishers that are clear examples of intentional partnerships.

What experiences are these audience members engaging for?  Are you tapping into the opportunity to really impact this experience and leave an impression that can’t be forgotten?  If something your audience appreciates is a casual, laid back experience with a taste of culture and sophistication, you’re not going to plaster your brand in an obnoxious way across the culture that they love; you just become annoying. Consider the issue that television advertisements are facing – now that DVR exists, people can bypass the commercials that are making them wait for the climax – they’re interruptions in the enjoyment an audience is experiencing in entertainment.  Sponsors should not be the equivalent frustration. 

Word to the wise – if a sponsor asks you about your target audience, and you can’t speak clearly about who they are, or what they want, don’t be surprised when they run the other way from your partnership request.  How are they going promote a behavior when they don’t even know who they’re marketing to? 

I know there are about a million other ways you can be an intentional partner – feel free to offer your insights to our readers!

Categories:   Marketing | sponsorship activation | sponsorship sales
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Own It

by Emily Taylor
16 11 2011

My parents are pretty wise.  Didn’t know it when I was a kid – just thought they were toughies.  For example, if we were caught in wrong behavior we were required to make an apology.  But this wasn’t an ordinary apology – we didn’t get away with the “sorry” flippantly tossed in the direction of the victim of our behavior.  We were taught that kind of “sorry,” only meant “I’m sorry I got caught.” Here’s what it might have looked like:
“I’m sorry for calling you a name.  I was wrong to do that and I’m sure it hurt your feelings.  Would you please forgive me?”
And then of course, the apology needed to be accepted, hugs given, etc. 

In the business world, nothing, I repeat, nothing will defuse a situation faster than a heartfelt apology.  Sincere and genuine ownership of a mistake coupled with a real attempt to correct the wrong in whatever way possible is a good way… no, the ONLY way to respond when you’re at fault.    People tend to get very defensive of their behaviors, right or wrong, and when you are able to offer the humility of ownership of your actions – relationships can be restored.

In sponsorship, there are times when things don’t go the way we expected them to.  Perhaps someone doesn’t activate the way they were supposed to, something got left out.  Maybe your intern was in charge of stocking the drinks (from the sponsors) offered in the VIP tent (of their most elite target audience) and it didn’t get done.  In fact, you found her sunbathing on the deck of the VIP yacht instead… completely unaware of the misunderstanding… interesting story I heard at a meeting once.  Those sponsors were paying for a partnership that didn’t get leveraged the way all parties had agreed upon.  Truth is, we can all work pretty hard to cover our bases, set up overlapping accountability, check points, double check points, but in all reality, if you’re in sponsorship activation for any real length of time, you have to allow for a little human error.  This side of Heaven, we’re not perfect yet. 

So what do you do when that time comes and you miss the mark?

Own it; but as with anything, respond intentionally.

  1. Acknowledge the error without making excuses or pointing fingers.  People don’t like to play games; they like direct and they like honest.  And it’s going to be accepted better when it comes from you vs. someone else. 
  2. Offer a solution – being direct and honest is appreciated, but a solution oriented response is respected.  What steps have you put into place to ensure it won’t happen again?  It’s really wise to capitalize on this (carefully).  If the issue comes up in a renewal conversation, you can really paint a picture for how things went well in the previous effort and how it’s going to be even better in the next effort.  What were the opportunities you’re going to take and run with in the next activation effort?  Showing how things can go from good to great will offer incentive to stick around.
  3. Do something extra.  Whenever you can do something above and beyond for a sponsor, it’s always a good idea.  When you miss the mark in some way, this is a great way to show them you’re willing to do whatever you can to make it right, since going back in time is out. 
  4. Don’t overdramatize it.  It’s dangerous to ignore a mistake, but it’s just as bad to blow it out of the water.  You want to maintain your respectability as a partner, so your reaction should match the result of the mistake.  When you do this, you risk losing your sponsor’s confidence in you (hard to have confidence in someone unsure of themselves); which ultimately risks their loyalty.  Appropriate remorse and solution oriented responses are the way to go.

Any interesting stories on impressively handled “situations?”  Or perhaps the opposite?  What have you learned in your sponsorship activation efforts?

Categories:   sponsorship activation | sponsorship sales
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