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    How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times
    by Gail S. Bower
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Your Vital Role as a Sponsorship Seller

By Gail S. Bower

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 naive! 

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 organization, event or festival, program, or initiative, 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.

Be professional.

Be prepared for meetings and calls. Be responsive. Communicate proactively. Comport yourself professionally.

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 (a.k.a. “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.

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.

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.

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.

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