By Paula Beadle
These days it’s easy to become discouraged, but we are growing in different ways, and the challenges we face will make us better when calmer days arrive. Franklin Roosevelt said “A smooth sea, never made a skilled sailor.”
Sponsorship has made great strides over the last several years and now will evolve at an accelerated pace. With diminishing spends and sponsors in the space anticipated, we will need to be better than ever in the development and delivery of solutions. As individuals and organizations, our growth will be fast-tracked as a result of this crisis.
As we recently learned from the IEG sponsorship industry survey, we know the stakes are high, concerns are continuing to evolve, and reviving sponsorship revenue efforts are going to be challenging but necessary and inevitable. We wanted to offer specific advice for planning and navigating your sponsorship sales efforts. No sugar-coating, just real talk.
Turn your focus to 2021 regardless of the current standing of your event. The sponsorship sales effort is often focused within the event year, this has been a disadvantage with brands who are planning 12-24 months in advance. Now is the opportune time to redirect your efforts to next year. Ideally the organization would be separated into 2 distinct groups – those who respond to the current challenges and those who direct their focus towards the future. It’s difficult to do both and this may be contributing to the feeling of lack of control and instability.
Determine specific goals for the year ahead and develop a sales plan. Be specific about your revenue and partnership goals. Focus on 3-5 goals and develop a plan to accomplish them with specific action steps and a timeline. Deep dive into trade opportunities, specifically to reduce operating expenses and expand your marketing efforts.
Shore-up your systems and internal operating process. I understand this can be a laborious under-taking, and you may feel confident in your current practices, materials, process. Consider these questions: Do you have a comprehensive sales plan? Do you have an easily understood asset inventory and pricing model? Do you have a solid prospect list with contact information and key facts? Do your sales materials tell a compelling story visually? Do you have templates for proposals completed? Are your contracts updated? Do you have a sales process map? How about activation plans?
Examine your sales process. While times certainly have changed, the core pillars of the sales process have not. However, adaptation and agility should be at the forefront of your mind as you begin to plan for 2021 and journey through the sales process right now. We’re going to cover some key elements of the sales process we are seeing, hearing and experiencing that have evolved as a result of the recent crisis.
Step 1: Prospecting
Prospects you were in conversation with 6 weeks ago have likely tanked and conversations are at a halt. Focus on your warm prospects – those that are likely to “continue the conversation” in preparation for when your event does take place. There is also a significant opportunity to work with new prospects if you’re event has developed COVID response programming or events that specific prospects can align their brand with. For example: if your property has converted its space as a food bank, you may want to contact a grocer or food supply company to support your efforts. A partner can also provide more than fiscal support at this time as well. If you have developed new programming – look to prospects who have staff or volunteers that could also bolster your event’s on-site efforts.
Step 2: Preparation
Don’t underestimate the power of preparation… especially right now. Preparation is an active task that everyone should be doing every day. Do your research. Knowing what categories and industries are thriving and spending is valuable information.
Step 3: Getting the Appointment
I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of sponsors and prospective sponsors who want to continue working through the partnership process. Granted very few contracts are actually getting signed, but they are completed and ready when the time is right. No matter where a partner is in the relationship process, they want to hear from you. You should never assume they are not buying or not willing to have a conversation.
Step 4: Presentation and Assessment
Examine ways to provide more value to your sponsors. Take this opportunity to develop new ideas and offerings that are more valuable than traditional sponsorship assets. Especially right now, you likely have had to pivot your event by developing a new framework for how you deliver an event or experience to your audience. Your opportunities will likely not look like what they did 6 months ago. Pay particular attention to your digital and virtual opportunities.
Step 5: Customized Proposal
Maximize your strengths. Begin by shoring-up your unique selling proposition. Examine all the ways you are different. What makes your event unique, what is the thing your event is known for, who is your audience, what are you personally known for? Unique business challenges emerging as a result of the COVID-19 crisis will require specific expertise. Brands and agencies will have a desire to work with people who are experts, know how to solve problems, bring creative ideas and cultivate meaningful partnerships.
Step 6: Negotiation and Closing
Be prepared to adjust your cancelation language. Sign ONLY multi-year deals – make the decision within your organization right now that you are no longer signing one-year deals and if that means you lost a sponsorship, so be it. The amount of time and energy put into one deal for one year, is not worth the time. I would make the exception in this one case – a new sponsor who wants to pilot a new program.
Step 7: Fulfillment
Flawless execution has never been more critical. Insure you and the organization fully commits to over-delivering. Create an activation plan that clearly spells out the contract deliverables, the action steps that need to be taken to fulfill the contract, who will complete each task and when.
About the author: Paula Beadle is the CEO of Caravel Marketing, a national consulting company specializing in sponsorship marketing, and the founder of Sponsorship Mastery, an annual summit and programming dedicated to improving individual and organizational sponsorship performance. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of developing smart strategies and creatively connecting the right partners. Paula has helped iconic events and major brands achieve their goals through innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.