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Q&A with Sponsorship Thought Leader Jane Zalutsky

By Paula Beadle

Jane Zalutsky is a pioneer in the sponsorship industry. She is also affectionately known as the “Velvet Hammer.” She is as sophisticated and stylish as velvet and as powerful and effective as a hammer. Her natural ability to combine the two is magical. I’ve had the honor of working shoulder to shoulder with her for 15 years, beginning when she hired me to join Washington Mutual. Jane was the first vice president of experiential marketing at WaMu until 2008, when we both became refugees from the financial services sector meltdown. Jane opened her own consulting firm, JZworks, in 2009.

Jane has had a dynamic career as a producer, strategist and marketer in both the corporate and nonprofit business worlds. She was co-president of One Reel, a Seattle-based event company that produced marquee events like Bumbershoot, Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle and San Francisco, and AT&T Summer Nights at the Pier. She has also served on multiple boards and commissions over the years.

Jane was the first person we asked to participate when we made the decision to launch the Sponsorship Mastery Summit. Jane could teach any subject related to sponsorship, but we’ve asked her to conduct a session on negotiating and contracting. Outreach to our sponsorship network revealed that the negotiation and contracting phase is a challenging part of the process.

After a round of golf, Jane and I talked about negotiating sponsorship contracts. She began the conversation by noting that negotiating the contract is only a small part of the overall effort to create and execute successful sponsorship deals. Truly understanding what the quid pro quo is—what is being packaged, obtained, and delivered and then executing on that understanding—is the critical part and goes so far beyond the contract. The contract is the record of intent if all goes well. It is the legal document if it does not go well. While developing a successful contract is often the place to really figure out the business points, it is the ongoing relationship and actions by both parties that are the critical part.

Paula Beadle: What are the negotiating mistakes you see people make most often when negotiating a sponsorship contract?

Jane Zalutsky: You can never truly document every possible circumstance that may come up, so focus on the parts of the contract that are most critical to guide the primary actions of both parties. As the property, you should develop your standard sponsorship contract and always use that as the starting point, if possible.

PB: What is the one thing you want attendees at the Sponsorship Mastery Summit to take away from your session on negotiating and contracting?  

JZ: Always look toward the long-term win when creating a true partnership—one that will be beneficial to both parties. Do not focus on maximizing a short-term gain. If you are a property, the negotiating process is where you can gain a clear understanding of how to make your sponsor be successful.

PB: Over the years you and I have been together at the negotiating table and I’m always amazed at how you maintain your focus and poise. How do you prepare for a sponsorship negotiation? 

JZ: I generally want to listen more than I talk. I believe that gives me a strategic advantage and it gives me time to think through several steps ahead. My preparation is knowing what I have to achieve, what I can flex on and what I can give up if necessary. I always try to anticipate what the other person is thinking in each of those areas. Always focus on the big picture. And I am not afraid to walk from a conversation in order to take more time or talk with other stakeholders.

PB: Will you share a few key points that you think should be included in every contract? Are there any points often missed?

JZ: Carefully define the renewal process and timeline for that decision. Make it easy to continue the partnership. Always ask for a multi-year deal, even if that had not been previously presented.

PB: You are an exceptional communicator and I’m curious—how would you describe your communication style? And how does it help you in the negotiation process?

JZ: I am a listener first, which I try to balance with two things: wanting people to feel comfortable and wanting to be in control. In the negotiation process, I am comfortable with silence. Many people are not, so they rush in to fill the space and often give clues or information that are valuable to the negotiation.

PB: Do you have an example of a sponsorship negotiation that is particularly memorable?

JZ: I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing properties and brands. I would probably say the naming rights deal at Madison Square Garden and the University of Washington Coca-Cola partnership were most memorable.

PB: You attended one of the first IEG conferences more than 30 years ago and were part of a small trailblazing group of people talking about this relatively new marketing discipline called “sponsorship.” Do you recall what you talked about?

JZ: I recall talking about how sponsorship had the opportunity to function as a marketing discipline with goals and results, not a frivolous event spend that a CEO wanted to participate in (mostly sports at that time.) Sponsorship could have both measurable and substantive impact on a brand and engage consumers in a new and creative way. Believe it or not, that was pretty revolutionary in the early 1980s.

PB: What do you imagine will be the talk of the Sponsorship Mastery Summit?

JZ: People will come away from the conference feeling that there is always something helpful to be learned by taking the time to talk to other professionals in the field and to share knowledge and experiences. You never know where or from whom you will pick up something that is really relevant to you, so spending a few days with others in the business is a great way to jump-start that. And I am guessing that people may start to talk about this event as the IEG Sponsorship Conference 2.0.

About the workshop: Sponsorship Mastery Summit takes place September 25-26 at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington and features industry experts facilitating intensive and interactive sessions for mastering the art and science of sponsorship. Participants collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, explore new ideas, and leave with a simple sales plan, an improved story, sponsor leads, a sales process, best practices and new connections. The learning and exchange continue online for three months with webinars and information on the most relevant and important topics key to sponsorship success. Learn more and register here.

About the author: Paula Beadle is the president of Caravel Marketing. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of creating order out of chaos. Paula has helped numerous organizations discover and achieve their goals by developing and managing innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue, and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.