Fifteen years ago, we had a gig vetting inbound sponsorship proposals for a major corporate brand. We looked at about 15 to 20 per week.
That particular gig came and went, and we returned to serving our normal rightsholder clients. But for us, it represented a penny-dropping, business-changing moment.
We haven’t sent out a sponsorship proposal since then. Not one.
Why? Because it showed us how sponsorship is a problem-solving tool for brands, and you can’t solve a problem until you learn what it is. To learn you must listen, and a sponsorship proposal is a talking tool, not a listening tool.
Of those 15 to 20 proposals we received each week, none of them listened. Mostly, they were the equivalent of receiving a big fat family photo album in the mail. Sure, the kids were cute, but a) I don’t know who they are, and b) how does it solve my client’s problem?
The journey from contact to contract takes a long and complex road. By far, the most effective way to navigate it is one step at a time. A sponsorship proposal, by its very nature, tries to leapfrog the multi-step process and jump right to the end. Its fatal flaw is that it forces a yes/no response from the potential sponsor. And because it is self-focussed (there’s the family photo album again!) and hasn’t addressed the key challenge facing the potential sponsor, it’s a “no” nearly every time.
It’s impossible to know the challenge or the opportunity that a corporate brand is pursuing unless you’ve got insider knowledge. To gain that, you have to get through the door. At this stage, that’s your only objective.
So your first approach to a potential partner doesn’t need to sell. It shouldn’t even try. It should intrigue. Maybe it disrupts. It piques interest. It does enough of this to make that potential partner willing to take your call and eager to begin a meaningful conversation.
In effect, you want them to show you their photo album. Only after you’ve given theirs a very close look will you let them see yours.
Very well, you may say. But how do you pique their interest just enough to get in the door and encourage them to talk through their challenges?
We’ll have more to say on that later.
The Fit Sponsorship Academy is led by Tim Wood and Bruce McKaskill, principals of Australia’s Fit Sponsorship Group, a sponsorship sales and consulting agency that has been delivering results for the arts, cultural, community and cause sectors since 1999.