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Q&A with Sponsorship Thought Leader Paula Beadle

By Chris Olsen

Paula Beadle and I have known each other a long time, but many years had passed since we last worked together. Our first meeting was many years ago when she had an event marketing business in Minneapolis and was selling sponsorships for the Basilica Block Party. I was the marketing and promotions director at the sponsoring radio station and we had so much fun bouncing ideas back-and-forth about sponsorships and really enjoyed working together. She was one of the hardest-working people I knew then and it holds true today. I was excited when we reunited a few years ago and she asked me to help build the Caravel brand and now the Sponsorship Mastery Summit. I suggested that we feature her as a sponsorship thought leader in the Q&A series, and although she was initially reluctant, I was able to coax her along.

Paula doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer, but I disagree. For several years she has worked right alongside industry trailblazers, many of whom are presenting at this year’s summit. She also has worked with several remarkable people and organizations as clients and has had the opportunity to lead the way on many new initiatives. One description she would agree with is GRITTY. Paula is tenacious and energetic, and she loves her work. Although I know Paula well, I was excited to sit down with her and learn more about her journey and plans for the future. 

Chris Olsen: What did you want to be when you “grew up”? 

Paula Beadle: I knew as a high school student I wanted to be in marketing. I was part of DECA (a program that prepares leaders for careers in marketing, finance and management) and participated in a state competition where I presented a marketing plan for my new product, “Designerators” (trust me, you don’t want to know anything more). Surprisingly, I won an award and began to dream of what was next. I recall having a conversation with the dean about my plans after high school. When I shared that I wanted to work in advertising, after a long pause, he warned that advertising is really competitive and suggested that perhaps I should consider beauty school. That career path could not have been further from ideal for my rough-and-tumble attitude. Someone else suggested that I learn how to bartend because I would have a job to fall back on. I never learned how to bartend and I’m still searching for the right hairstyle, but I am realizing an entrepreneurial dream come true.

CO: What was the first sponsorship or partnership you developed and what was the outcome?

PB: The first one I vividly remember was with Pepsi and the Ringling Museum of Art Medieval Fair (oh, the stories Michael Kitchart and I have about those days). I’m not sure it was the first sponsorship, but it certainly was an early one. I was thrilled that I got the meeting with Pepsi after several attempts. I was well prepared and confident for a young 20-something, and I recall feeling like a dragon slayer that day. I walked into the meeting and immediately began my pitch with all the reasons Pepsi should sponsor the Medieval Fair in Sarasota, Florida. I had just delivered (boldly, I might add) the awareness Pepsi would receive. The incredibly patient gentlemen twice my age and four times my experience politely pushed the proposal across the table and said, “If you think you can find one person who has never heard of Pepsi, I’ll buy it, but do you think you can do that?” I was like a sailboat that just heeled over into the water from a gale-force wind. I said no, I don’t believe I can. He challenged me to figure out how we could help move cases of Pepsi through Kroger and said to call him back then. We developed a gift-with-purchase campaign, got the meeting and he did indeed become a sponsor of the Medieval Fair.

CO: What’s the biggest difference in sponsorships from when you started to today?

PB: Brands used to make a significant investment for visibility and hospitality and that was called a sponsorship. Today the expectations are higher—for everything from fully integrated programs that meet key business objectives, to execution and measurement of outcomes.

CO: Have you achieved your business vision?

PB: Absolutely not and I’m not sure I ever will fully achieve it. I have a clear vision that I’m committed to, but it’s constantly evolving. Those who know me well know I’m an obsessive planner.

CO: What does your business vision look like now? 

PB: The focus for the future is helping organizations and people be more successful through planning, training and development. I’m at the point in my career where I want to use my expertise to guide others; I want to inspire new ideas and shape new ways of doing things. I want to bring people together to write a new story for the sponsorship industry and blaze a new trail. And I want to have some fun and make some friends along the way. Simple.

CO: What was your most memorable sponsorship or partnership ever? What made it memorable?

PB: I have many memorable partnerships. I’ve been fortunate to work shoulder to shoulder with some amazing people and properties from the buying, selling and producing side of the table. A few that immediately come to mind:

  • Burger King and Minnesota Vikings: We did a “Triple threat” gift-with-purchase poster featuring Chris Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed.
  • Coca-Cola and the University of Washington: This was a complicated, long negotiation and the most significant partnership for the university at the time.
  • Amazon and the Special Olympics USA Games: The team at Amazon really demonstrated what a true partnership looks like—they rose to the occasion and did more than we ever imagined. My vote for best-in-class social good
  • The Paris Panthers and Netjets: I’ve never been told “no thank you” more times and maintained my persistence, because I knew this was the right partnership. The audience, sport and brand aligned perfectly with Netjets. Once we came together to have the conversation, they quickly came onboard as a sponsor and today have an initiative to support the sport of horse show jumping.

CO: What part have sponsorship conferences and workshops played in your career journey?

PB: The course of my career changed after attending my first IEG Conference somewhere around 1990. I was a backup attendee filling in for my boss. Sponsorship was a part of my marketing role at that time, but like so many marketers working for a small company I was also responsible for advertising, PR and special events. I wasn’t sure where sponsorship fit into my career until I attended that conference. I left knowing sponsorship marketing was what I was going to do. I recall the first session I attended where Lesa Ukman was kicking off the conference. I was blown away by her insight, enthusiasm and vision. During her presentation she talked about an unheard-of event called Burning Man. I remember a conversation I had with her later about how ideas on the fringe often find their way to the center, so it was important we were paying attention because that’s where innovation begins—on the fringe. Which was also what sponsorship was at that time. I spent the next few days attending as many sessions as possible and at night I would forgo the networking opportunities to rewrite my sloppy notes. That first conference and the many that followed had a significant impact on my success.

CO: What led you to launch Sponsorship Mastery Summit?

PB: I was fortunate to work with companies that invested time and money into providing learning opportunities for me. The sales and marketing training I received was a game changer, and I’ve wanted to share those same aha moments. But more importantly, as I talked to brands, events and properties around the country, it became clear that there is a big gap between what brands experience during the sponsorship process and the rights holders’ interpretation of it. I realized there was a need for rigorous and strategic sponsorship sales training and planning. I believe that as an industry we can do better, and it begins with elevating our standards.

CO: How is it different than other sponsorship conferences?

PB: I’ve been attending conferences for many years with the hope of learning real strategies and tactics that I could put into action to be more successful. Unfortunately, I often left with a handful of stories of the results of others’ work and not the step-by-step on how they made it happen. Our goal for Sponsorship Mastery Summit is to create a real opportunity for growth through active participation in a learning environment. We are inviting everyone to be a part of the conversation so they can learn from each other, share best practices, challenge each other’s thinking and be inspired.

CO: What’s one piece of advice you give others hoping to master sponsorships?

PB: Accept no gracefully, but not permanently.

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: Chris Olsen is a former broadcast media marketer and brand journalist who leverages her behind-the-scenes media expertise as a marketing and communications consultant to nonprofits and mid-sized organizations. A strategic storyteller and an inspired graphic designer, Chris helps Caravel clients understand, articulate, illustrate and elevate their brand and sales stories.