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Q&A with Sponsorship Thought Leader Jason Klein

By Paula Beadle

Jason Klein has had a long career in sponsorship, and we have a lot in common. We have both sold and bought sponsorships, worked in media and share a passion for training and development. He is an exceptional communicator. In part, because he listens intently. This is truly a gift in his profession because he meets with sponsorship salespeople every day. He has a wealth of knowledge and patience and is generous with both. Jason has a tough job of saying “no, thank you” more often than he would probably like, but he does so respectfully. I’ve been on both sides of Jason’s yes and no answers and somehow, he delivers both gracefully.

I have a sense that if some brands knew how their agencies treated potential sponsorship partners they might cringe. More frequently than expected, agencies do not exemplify the brand they represent. Jason Klein and 88 Marketing are shining examples of an agency that embodies their clients’ brands. Alaska Airlines is a beloved brand and an active sponsor with exceptional activation and they support the community in a big way (check out the Russell Wilson Happy Hour and prepare to be impressed). Alaska Airlines and 88 Marketing are simply best in class.

Over the years, Jason and I have had many great conversations about the sponsorship industry and I always walk away feeling inspired and wiser. Few people have prepared and reviewed more proposals than Jason. He immediately came to mind as a must-have panelist for the Sponsorship Mastery Summit. I recently had a chance to talk with Jason and ask him questions about a few topics he will share at the summit.

Paula Beadle: I imagine you see some exceptional and a few shocking sponsorship sales practices. I’m curious to know what sellers do that surprises you? 

Jason Klein: Unfortunately, I see more of the bad than good. A four-paragraph email is the kiss of death. Trying to sell something over email is never successful. A 30-page PowerPoint sent blindly is also a waste of time. I would also say that 90 percent of the proposals I receive look the same—so standout, be brief, showcase ideas. Be sure to get the brand’s name correct (e.g. Alaskan Airlines).

Many people send me proposals. Most are saved as PDFs, and they are often titled “Alaska Airlines.” With the huge number of proposals that I receive it’s hard to find a specific proposal when they all have the same title. It’s like sending a resume and titling it “resume.”

I don’t receive as many phone calls as I once did, but it still surprises me when someone leaves a long pitch message on voicemail or sends me a long email—for me, “long” is anything beyond four or five sentences. Brevity is key.

PB: How do you like to work?

JK: Although my job is to find and secure the best sponsorship programs, I want to use my time efficiently. I like brief notes outlining why someone is reaching out, written concisely with three to four sentences, tops. If it’s interesting and fits the strategy at first glance, I will ask for more information. I really like a one-page overview to determine if it makes sense for us to meet or schedule a call. This is also easier to share with the client and they will be more likely to look at it as well.

PB: Do you reach out to events or do they contact you? 

JK: Both really. When we first begin working with clients, they are often a bit more reactionary and work on responding to what’s incoming. Over time we are more strategic and proactively reach out based on the strategy and objectives.

PB: What do sales “masters” do?   

JK: They do their homework. They get that it might not be the right fit now, but perhaps in the future we’ll work together, so they are understanding. How they respond to a “no” is so important. They have ideas and understand that selling sponsorship is not about a list of assets. They think more about the ideas and how to help the sponsors business than the inventory they have to sell. They ask questions and bring a proposal that shows they heard you and is written in a digestible format. I remember these people even if we don’t work together in the short term. Sometimes a no today is a yes down the road.  It’s about playing the long game and building relationships. People usually want and try to find a way to do business with people they like.

PB: Do you think sponsorship sales training is lacking? Is that why you see more of the bad than the good? 

JK: Absolutely—training is critical and under-valued. I hate to say it, but many of the properties who need it most are the least likely to do it. Regardless of what you do or how long you’ve done it, we should all be trying to get better.

PB: Why do you think that is? 

JK: Perhaps the boss feels threatened; fear of training someone and they’ll move on to something else; a culture that doesn’t invest in their people. These are all examples of an old school mentality that still exists.

I will also say that I’ve been to many conferences. It’s interesting to hear speakers tell their stories and great to network with other attendees, but often you don’t take away practical strategies or tactics that you can apply. There is a huge need for sponsorship sales training. That is what makes the Sponsorship Mastery Summit different—it’s truly an interactive learning experience.

PB: Let’s talk about the biggest challenge in the sponsorship industry. How do you determine the value of a sponsorship opportunity?

JK: That’s a tough question. I’ve been in the sponsorship industry for almost 25 years, so a lot is based on experience. I know the range and look at comparative pricing of similar properties based on market size for certain assets. Sometimes it’s not about the dollar amount and more about opportunity costs.

PB: Do you apply an impression model?

JK: For certain assets we do look at impressions to help determine the value, but it’s only one factor and all impressions are not equal. It’s difficult to apply impressions to events. A sign with your logo at a fair with over 1 million people may not be worth as much as a more detailed message at a smaller more targeted event with 10,000 people. Both may not be priced appropriately. There is often a disconnect between the value that properties put against benefits and the value brands attribute to assets.

PB: Do you think pricing is more art than science? 

JK: It’s a mix of both, but properties set their own benchmarks and it’s often worth what someone is willing to pay for it. It needs to be realistic, but the market will dictate this. There are so many factors to take into consideration. The category, market, scope, exclusivity, etc.—just name just a few.

PB: What is one thing you hope people take away from the Sponsorship Mastery Summit? 

JK: I hope people take away some useful tips on how to improve their sales efforts and feel inspired.

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.