Do Sponsors Really Grow on Trees?
Last year I decided to plant a “sponsor tree”. It’s a great tree – one that I picked up at a local nursery. If you have kids or can remember the classic: The Giving Tree (by Shel Silverstein), this a tree that keeps on giving. You wouldn’t believe it until you saw it, but it grows new sponsors every year (like magic). Sometimes the sponsors I pick get bruised, stolen or eaten by birds, but who cares, I just pick-off another batch of sponsors the next year and I’m good to go. I can’t remember the last time I picked up the phone. Cold calls, what’s that? You’re probably scratching your head wondering where you can buy such a magical tree. Well, I’ll tell you, but I recommend you read this first:
Congratulations – you did it. You secured a new sponsor for your property (ring the bell). The dedication, creativity, hard work and persistence paid-off. Now what? Well, this is where the hard work begins. It’s now more important than ever to deliver on all those promises (those of you who over-promised to get the deal done – you better have the internal relationships and resources to deliver the goods or you’ll be pushing water uphill all year long). Like most relationships in life, there are peaks and valleys. When you go on a first date you’re on an emotional high, filled with excitement, promise, hope, positive expectations and can’t wait to get started. You tend to see the same when you sign a new sponsorship. Both parties are excited and can’t wait to get started. The opportunities are endless, the ideas are flowing and the promise for a long-term mutually beneficial relationship is right in front of you. You get the contract signed and have your first “brainstorm” session. You develop a work-back schedule, allocate roles and responsibilities and map out a boatload of great activations ideas. Now you can sit back and put the partnership on cruise control, right?
Within most professional sport and entertainment organizations, you’ll find the “Corporate Sponsorship” Group comprised of “Sponsorship Sales” and Sponsorship Service”. Typically, the sponsorship sales group will seek out and secure a new partner then the sponsorship service team will manage the day-to-day relationship including the development and execution of activations programs.
I’ve had the good fortune of working with a number of amazing sponsorship service colleagues over the years (my “partners in crime”) and can say whole-heartedly that they are one of the major contributing factors for sponsors deciding to renew or not. It takes a team to win in the game of sponsorship and the properties that instil a collaborative approach, whereby, the sponsorship service team works closely with the sales team and vice versa, typically have the best reputation for first-class sponsorship service and retention.
Here are a few suggestions based on my experience (and feedback from a few of those “partners in crime”) that will help you deliver best-in-class sponsorship service and maintain long-standing mutually beneficial relationships with your sponsors.
- Do your homework before the first meeting: if you weren’t actively involved in the sales process, sit down with your counterpart on the sales side and ask questions about the new sponsor. Find out who the key players are and what their story is e.g. find out if they’ve worked on a sponsorship program before or if this is new to them. Do they “get it” or do they need a little “coaching” in the first-year?
- Develop a work-back schedule: sponsors are pressed for time and don’t have unlimited resources. This is a great way to help manage the process and provide a clear picture on assets, deliverables, roles and responsibilities and timelines for the partnership.
- Keep in touch. Remember that last random friend request on Facebook or obscure business contact that just reached out on LinkedIn? What do they want and where have they been for the last couple of years? That’s an extreme example, but check-in with your partner more often than not. In fact, the experts suggest you schedule a call every couple of weeks to maintain a healthy ongoing dialogue. Tim Maloney, who spent a number of years running Purolator’s sponsorship business, uses the line “you don’t bring me flowers anymore” to describe properties who would disappear for months on end without checking-in. Then resurface to put out a fire (or two) or eager to discuss the renewal. Karine Zanier, Director of sponsorship at Sun Life Financial , uses the analogy of a restaurant and “the waitress asking how everything was after you finished eating”. It doesn’t always have to be directly related to the sponsorship. If you read or saw something relevant to their business, send them a quick “saw this article and thought of you; or just had a chance to check out your new retail location or just tried your new flavour of ice cream”.
- Be proactive not reactive: don’t wait for the sponsor to get bored with the partnership and the same old sponsorship promotion to run its course (e.g. win a trip to “X”). Constantly be thinking about new activations and thought-starters that could keep the relationship fresh. Could you imagine taking your significant other to the same restaurant, movie theatre or park…? Like most relationships, you need to mix things up. Change is a good thing. Ask for an opportunity to tour their factory or headquarters; make a trip to their retail location or go out of your way to visit their restaurant to try their new menu items. Sign-up online for their newsletter or enter a contest to understand first-hand what it’s like to be a customer. The more you can participate in your sponsor’s business, the more insight you’ll have for your next conversation.
- Make them feel like you’re part of the “Family”: keep your partners updated on your property in general. Create a monthly newsletter highlighting sponsor activations that not only reinforce the value of leveraging your property, but demonstrate that other partners are activating, too. Coordinate a sponsorship round-table or sponsor “summit” that brings together all your partners. It’s a great way to foster relationships and encourage cross-collaboration between sponsors. It’s also an opportunity to share best-practices and introduce other members of the team who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with your sponsors on a day-to-day basis.
- Avoid the word “No”: it sounds cliché, but try to stay away from the word “no” and think in terms of a solution or unique alternative to the problem. The best sponsorship service execs are solution providers and think in terms of the partners’ interest, first. Jumping out of the gates with a quick “no” after the question is asked won’t help the relationship or solve the problem.
You’ve probably heard the classic saying “It’s much easier to retain a customer than attract a new one”. Well, this statement couldn’t ring more true for sponsorship. In fact, it should be engraved on the walls of every property’s sponsorship department. Maintaining a good ratio of sponsors to sponsor service executives is critical i.e. don’t spread the team too thin or you’ll lose a few partners through the cracks.. The cost to add one additional team member to maintain your high-level of sponsorship service excellence will pale in comparison to the lost year-over-year revenue from a long-term partner who walked away because of poor sponsor service.
Oh, and about that Sponsor Tree I was talking about earlier… unfortunately, they are sold out, so make sure you deliver on your promises and invest in building the best sponsorship service team possible to maximize your ROI and long-term sponsorship success.