Sponsorship Tango Part 3: Dance Steps
Before you dive in to this third and final installment of the Sponsorship Tango, be sure to check out Sponsorship Tango Part 1 (Top 10 things that frustrate me as seller) & Sponsorship Tango Part 2 (Top 10 things that frustrate me as buyer) for context. Here are the five dance steps that will help you maximize your sponsorship discussions.
- Preparation (the mark of a professional)
- Look for a partner
- The Dance
- Practice makes perfect
Step 1: Back to Basics
Let’s talk about the basics and what you should be thinking about before looking for a partner:
a. Become an expert in sponsorship marketing
- There really are no excuses for either side if you don’t fully understand the industry that you work/specialize in. If you haven’t mastered the true art of sponsorship marketing or it’s not your full-time job, hire a sponsorship pro or sponsorship agency
b. Develop a sponsorship criteria / strategy
- What do you want to get out of a sponsorship strategy? Invest a little time up front defining your criteria and expectations, and you’ll save a lot of time and headaches down the road.
c. Relationship building
- This is fundamentally important in all industries, but it definitely rings true here. Sponsorship, more than any other marketing platform is about a partnership. It requires creative input, resources and real commitment from all parties.
Step 2: Preparation is the Mark of a Pro
I’m not sure where I first heard this saying, but it’s great advice for developing your presentation and public speaking skills – especially for properties seeking sponsors and preparing for a pitch.
Properties: ask yourself the following questions:
a. What’s best about your property?
- Do you have incredible community engagement? Do you have strong fan affinity or unique hosting opportunities? Are you a shiny new property (e.g. UFC) or a historic property with credibility and amazing examples of sponsorship success (e.g. NASCAR)?
- What sets you apart from other properties that you focus on when selling? If you stop making comparisons with other properties and focus on what’s best about you, you’ll be surprised how this will fundamentally change your sales efforts i.e. stop trying to compare yourself to the NFL in the US or the NHL here in Canada. Those properties are truly amazing, but trust me – your property has a lot of things going for it that they may not.
b. What does your property (brand) stand for?
- What are the key attributes that will help tell your story and attract brands? Think about what the Olympics stand for and how they position themselves with partners (see one of P&G’s incredible activations here) or how about the X-Games? At the CFL, one of the key differentiators they promote is “community”
c. What is your market position, comparative value?
- How are you positioned in comparison to other properties? Are you pricing your property appropriately to attract the right partners? When marketers are making sponsorship decisions you’re naïve to think you’re the only one they are speaking with. I often laugh when I speak with my industry friends about the revolving door at a certain brand’s office when they are in “acquisition mode”.
d. Are you regional, national or international?
- It may not be the obvious answer that comes to mind. Look at the recent expansion by a number of top football (soccer) clubs in Europe who are raking in sponsorships around the world (e.g. Manchester United in China). Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, just created a new “Global Partnerships” group being led by Dave Hopkinson. If you’re a local fair or festival you may be better off spending your time looking for local partners vs. national brands and vice versa.
e. Are you looking for a marketing partner or a cash investor?
- Not everyone is willing to spend aggressively on cash sponsorships, but you may have a need for a certain product or service that could legitimately offset a bottom line cost. If this is the case, it’s no different than cash and could open up a whole new world of prospects. Value-in-kind (a.k.a. contra) could also include promotional value and other marketing muscle that help your property grow in more ways than just cash.
f. Do you have the proper research to support your position?
- If you have research, be prepared to back it up.
g. Be transparent
- This goes without saying. You can decide to use old school sales tactics to try and push a product or you can be more solutions/relationship-orientated. If your initial dialogue doesn’t result in a partnership because the timing and/or fit wasn’t there, leave yourself a chance to come back next year or in a different situation
a. Know your brand – what does your brand stand for?
- You should know what your brand values are among other things –this is important in sponsorship since you’re going to be aligning your brand with another in more ways than one.
b. What is your Sponsorship Strategy?
- If you don’t have a sponsorship strategy, then you should think about getting one.
c. Develop criteria to support the Sponsorship Strategy
- If you know what your key objectives are and what you truly want, it will be much easier to evaluate a proposal, handle a cold call or decline the opportunity upfront because it doesn’t align with your strategy.
d. What are you thinking about or potentially looking for?
- If you want national opportunities that could be leveraged through national retail, then consider a league (e.g. NFL, MLB); if you want a regional program with strong community and grassroots extensions it may be worthwhile exploring a team or looking at a fair or festival. Don’t waste your time meeting with everyone or you’ll never get anything accomplished; the sellers will also thank you for providing them with quick and candid feedback
e. Know the sponsorship landscape?
- What do comparative properties look like? Do they deliver equivalent value? How are other brands leveraging the property in question? Can you find out how much they spend on rights fees and activation? The more knowledge you have, the better prepared you’ll be to evaluate and negotiate a sponsorship. This is where sponsorship marketing agencies can add tremendous value i.e. they have a lot of institutional knowledge and understand the marketplace
f. Be transparent – this sums up most of the points.
- The better prepared you are, the better off for everyone involved. If you know what you want and have a solid understanding of your brand and/or know what your key objectives are, you can have an intelligent first conversation
Step 3: Look for a Partner
Match.com and eHarmony have revolutionized dating and the way people meet. The more you know about yourself and the other person, the chances of finding the right fit go way up. Same can be said for properties and brands looking for the right match
a. Who are you targeting?
- Do you have a shotgun approach and call everyone or do you focus on a specific group of companies that share similar values and have the capacity to spend against a partnership?
b. Why are you targeting them?
- If you don’t know why then don’t pick up the phone –it’s that simple
c. What are you going to talk about?
- What happens when they pick up the phone? What are you going to talk about? Do your homework and have something relevant to say vs. just asking for a meeting for the sake of a meeting. Find a way to make your call and request for a meeting unique and worthwhile
d. Who are you going to talk to?
- President, CMO, VP, Director, Brand Manager, Shareholder… we could spend all day on this because there is no simple answer. It’s all situational and has too many variables. Relationships are still king, but knowing who to start with based on the industry and vertical will definitely increase your chances for success.
e. How are you going to connect with them?
- Are you going to start with a cold call or send an email? Maybe a text or LinkedIn invitation? How about a warm introduction from a mutual contact?
f. Sell the “discovery session” not the sponsorship in your initial conversation.
- Sure, this has happened to me once or twice, but 99% of the time you are not going to convince someone to buy a sponsorship over the phone. There are too many intangibles and unknowns associated with most sponsorships – hence the collaborative and solutions-oriented approach to building partnerships. How can you sell something over the phone if half the product has yet to be developed? Sell the initial thought-starter and idea of building something unique together and ultimately the discovery session to flush out the opportunity on both sides of the table.
a. Marketers have to ask themselves the same questions
- If you’re proactively reaching out to properties. What properties are you targeting and why? Are you just going to call the properties blind or prepare a brief on what you’re looking for? Trust me when I say any property seller will thank you a million times over for providing a clear and concise brief of your key objectives, target audience and the stakeholders you want to engage through a partnership. And, you’re going to get amazing proposals that are on-strategy and consistent with your goals and objectives.
b. Where are the gaps?
- What are you trying to achieve? Do you already have a robust sponsorship portfolio, but still missing a couple of key elements like a community or cause marketing extension? Knowing what you already have and what you’re potentially missing, will help you narrow the gap in building a holistic sponsorship marketing program
c. Do you know what it takes to sell a concept internally?
- I hear this all the time “I believed in the program and it was the absolute best decision for our company to make, but my VP, President or the Board just didn’t see it that way”. Sponsorships are a lot more difficult to sell through in large organizations filled with multiple decision makers (with different tastes and preferences). Figure out how you are going to make this work and sell it through. Don’t be afraid to ask the property for help in providing the right tools or other resources (e.g. commissioner, players, and board members) that can help you make it happen.
d. Are you prepared to take this on?
- Simply put: don’t invest in a huge rights fee and leave no money to activate.
Step 4: The Dance
Now that everyone is prepared to dance, here’s a few thought-starters to get the most out of your meeting
- listen and ask prepared questions to uncover valuable information
- Identify key objectives and talk about specific outcomes and stakeholder engagement
- Brainstorm on potential concepts (not assets) that will bring the partnership to life
- Brands: provide a clear and transparent brief including budgeting parameters
Step 5: Practice makes Perfect
Partnerships evolve over time and they need constant attention – here’s a few industry tips on how to keep the partnership strong and healthy for years to come
- Communication is everything
- Execute flawlessly – service is everything
- Adapt to your changing needs
- Measure and manage
- Stay innovative
- Keep the passion alive
- Relationships matter
That concludes the Sponsorship Tango – thanks again for reading. We are looking forward to hearing your comments and feedback. You can get our blog posts sent directly to your inbox by signing up on the right hand side of this page.