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Is this the end of true sponsorship?

14 October 2014 at 9:18 am
Xavier Smerdon
Sponsorship should be so much more than advertising space and logo overload and it’s not too late for fresh approaches, writes sponsorship expert Abby Clemence.

Xavier Smerdon | 14 October 2014 at 9:18 am


Is this the end of true sponsorship?
14 October 2014 at 9:18 am

Sponsorship should be so much more than advertising space and logo overload and it’s not too late for fresh approaches, writes sponsorship expert Abby Clemence.

As a sponsorship broker with Not for Profit organisations, events and charities takes me far and wide as I seek to build strong partnerships with companies who are seeking to connect with target markets they are not yet doing business with.

For a while now, I have been advocating for the end of sponsorship levels that offer a company the opportunity to become a gold, silver or bronze sponsor of an event, program or organisation. They were a creative, innovative concept about a decade ago, but these precious metals have been done to death, and there has to be a better way to engage sponsors.

Build a relationship first, I say. Get to know a potential sponsor and invite their input into the process. This approach will yield the best results.

But, I have to admit…. I may have been wrong. Or am I?

My confusion stems from two very distinct camps that continue to emerge in the corporate sector. On the one hand, companies thank me for the calibre of proposal I have sent them. They are happy to see Not for Profits seeking a true partnership, wanting to build a relationship and be asked what their goals are from sponsorship investment so the decision-making process becomes a collaborative one.

On the other hand, some companies seem almost anxious when they receive my proposal outlining the opportunity, asking questions about their marketing mix preference, what they seek to achieve out of a sponsorship opportunity so that we can make sure we are enhancing every opportunity to leverage the relationship. Disappointingly, I am often asked, 'can you just tell me how much you want, and outline what I will get for it?'

How can I be advising Not for Profits to cease their generic sponsorship approaches, when I'm faced with companies asking me to provide them with the very thing I'm trying to get them to abandon?

If we back away from my conundrum for a moment and look at what the true essence, or power (if you will) of the sponsorship relationship really is, then we see that it ideally it should be a three way success story, a win-win-win.

As the sponsorship seeker, your organisation or event should win because you are getting the much needed financial investment you seek, as well as an engaged partner that is looking to enhance the experience your supporters have when they interact with both your organisation and their brand.

Your sponsor should win, because they are getting direct access to a target market they weren't working as closely with before you came along, and they should see an increase in sales and connection to their brand as a result of your partnership together.

The third winner always has to be your supporters. They need to feel that the sponsor you have engaged is a company that is aligned with your core values and mission. If you have partnered with the right sponsor, your supporters' experience of your event or organisation should always be enhanced because of their involvement.

Sponsorship should be so much more than advertising space and logo overload. Sponsorship is about the aligning of two brands in a way in which everyone involved wins. Crowds go wild. Sales are made. Connections are forged. Banks balances are brimming.

Each party respects the other and works collaboratively. Next year's event, conference, program is bigger and better than the last, and future sponsorship commands a higher level of investment.

So, what is it then that prevents a company from wanting to explore ways of getting creative with sponsorship opportunities? Is it simply a matter of too little time? Are they overwhelmed by the sheer volume of proposals they receive that they aren't able to adequately review all of them properly? Are they jaded by the calibre of non-profit proposals that have come before yours? Could it be a simple matter of laziness?

My particular 'issue' with sponsorship levels are that to begin with, they are rarely created with the idea that these benefits have a 'value' to a sponsor, and should be priced accordingly.

More often, the investment amounts are constructed on a cost covering basis. Time and time again I observe Not for Profits and charities offer these levels to potential sponsors, and time and again, sponsors cherry pick the best of the benefits, and then offer the lowest possible amount for them. This is what I call a lose-lose situation.

The sponsorship seeker starts off by undervaluing their sponsorship opportunity, and that belief is further affirmed as the sponsor asks for more than was offered, for less than was asked. The sponsor loses out in this scenario as well because there could have been so much more that they could have done with the event or organisation, but they were never given a chance, or thought to, explore other options.

This pattern of interaction seems to have created a dance of sorts, whereby non-profit sponsorship seekers ask companies to dance and they start to flow from step to step without asking whether they should be waltzing or doing the tango, or whether they even want to dance at all?

My dealings with many companies shows me that the essence of true sponsorship is at risk of being lost, and it is companies that are just as much to blame as sponsorship seekers for wanting to take the easy route. I say that because, throughout my interactions, even though companies may be considering 'sponsorship', it is often no more than philanthropy to them.

A 'throw away' amount that shows they support community engagement or are being seen to be involved, but they are not really interested in how their interactions could yield a return.

It is clear too that many companies believe that it's up to the sponsorship-seeking organisation or event to lay out the red carpet and have the ducks lined up to ensure that ROI and ROO for the sponsor are guaranteed. But in truth, getting a return on investment only happens when a company is prepared to leverage the opportunity. If a company invests or purchases a sponsorship opportunity, just like any other marketing initiative, they need to work to turn that investment into the outcome they are looking for.

No-one can deny the effects the global economy had on sponsorship. Often for a company, one of the first things to be cut is the marketing budget. If anything, this is an opportunity for sponsorship seekers to be more creative with their offerings, to break free from the standard packages that do not inspire creative thinking.

If you know that sponsorship comes out of a company's marketing budget, and they use this budget to promote their brand, products and services, then your approach needs to directly address the question they will inevitably ask of why they should divert their funds from traditional forms of marketing to your sponsorship opportunity? How will sponsorship with you promote a connection to their brand amongst your supporters? And how might you do that creatively together?

In general, there exists a wide ravine between the  Not for Profit and commercial sectors, with neither side really understanding how to work with the other to achieve stupendous sponsorship outcomes. Some get it right, but most do not.

Wrong or not, I still hold strong to the belief that brands are always looking for fresh approaches. Look at how many brands advertise their products. Competing products especially certainly don't all follow the same formula, they look to stand out, be unique.

If you are a sponsorship seeker like me, then you have an increasing role to help educate companies that there is more to sponsorship than what they may have become used to – advertising opportunities and logo overload.

If you are a company that gets approached for sponsorship, perhaps it's time to be more discerning in your questions and ask how your brand can really make an impact among a Not for Profit's supporters in a fun, creative and not-seen-before way?

About the Author: Abby Clemence is the Managing Director of Infinity Sponsorship, a Queensland-based national consultancy. She has just published a free e-book for Not for Profits called ‘8 easy steps to turn cold calls into hot prospects.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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