SPONSORSHIP: Admit It, You Are Lost

Published on June 13th, 2013

By David Fuller, Pilote Media
American sport has a strange relationship with sponsorship. On the one hand, large stadiums are named after big brands and sports like NASCAR are emblazoned with corporate logos. On the other hand, shirt sponsorships are uncommon and many people in the sailing world think sponsorship is a dirty word.

As a marketing strategy, sponsorship can be incredibly good value for money and sailing as a sport has a lot going for it as a sponsorship vehicle, but is it being sold in the right way?

Judging by the proposals that come across my desk, the answer is no.

The MBA was designed to give practitioners in areas like engineering and science, the skills they needed to run a business. Many engineers, doctors and lawyers never studied accounting or marketing, but at some point in their career, they find themselves having to have these skills. The same is true for sport.

It’s little wonder that given limited resources, a sailor would invest in training and skills development that will get them around the course fastest. There is a certain logic to this – if you are standing on the top step of the podium then the endorsement deals should look after themselves. But many Olympic medallists will tell you differently.

I believe that sailors are missing out on sponsorship because they haven’t done the equivalent of an MBA. Winning on the water is one thing, but winning in the board-room requires different skills.

In order to help sailors, teams, clubs and event organisers, I’ve worked with sponsorship experts to create a series of webinars to teach the basics of sponsorship.

Webinar 1 – An Introduction.
This free event is a way to find out what modern day sponsorship is and whether it is right for you. If you don’t want to be interviewed after you have lost a race, then perhaps you are not ready for the responsibilities that come with being a sponsored athlete or event. If you don’t want to be on Twitter or update your Facebook page, then you need to work out other ways to deliver value to your funding partners.

It doesn’t matter if you are sailing a 72 foot wing-sailed catamaran or a Laser, the process of working out what you have to offer, valuing that offer, packaging that offer and then finding companies who match that offer is the same.

Free Event. Register here.

Buy all 4 Webinars and save. Get an extra 10% discount with coupon ‘scuttle’

Webinar 2 – What Are You Selling?
Getting sponsorship is about sales and if you are an athlete or team, then the product is you. If you are selling an event, then the offer is already ‘productised’ to a certain extent, but the process of ‘packaging’ is the same.

There used to be 4 Ps of Marketing – Product, Place, Price and Promotion. In a world of ever changing technology and business models there might be 6 or 8 or 10 Ps that need to be considered these days. People and Passion are things that could be added into the mix in order to create a successful marketing strategy.

The Product is the functional bit. Are you a middle-aged white male who has a long CV of impressive sailing achievements or are you a 17 year old female who wants to go to Rio? Why are you the best brand ambassador for the sponsor you are chasing?

The product is also the inventory of sponsorable assets. These features will include the usual ‘logo on hull and sail’ but there are potentially hundreds of partnership arrangements that you can offer. Of course you have a web-page, perhaps even a sizable following on Facebook and Twitter which you can use to promote your sponsor’s wares, but have you considered licensing rights for clothing or merchandise? Have you thought about sampling opportunities? What is the ‘base model’ and what are the customisations?

The Place is the geographical markets where you will be seen. If your chosen race starts in France and ends in France and has no television coverage in the United States, why would a US brand back you?

The Price is not how much your campaign will cost you. A can of Red Bull is priced at a couple of dollars, but that’s not how much it costs to get it to the shelf. What’s your profit margin? How do you justify it?

As for Promotion, People and Passion – you need to be thinking about how you build a fan base, what your audience looks like and perhaps even start thinking about a brand. Are you the underdog, are you the proven winner, are you the joker?

Decisions that you make at this stage affect which sponsors you go after. How you find the sponsors that are in the market to buy the new productised you is the subject of the next webinar in the series.

$24.99. Or 10% discount with ‘scuttle’ coupon code. Register here.

Webinar 3 – The Dating Game. Finding Your Perfect Match
Analogies are always dangerous, but all the phrases that apply to dating apply just as well to the process of finding a sponsor. A long term relationship is much more likely to result if there is a match between the two parties.

Technology has revolutionised the process of finding a partner. The chances of finding your ideal match in an alcohol fuelled random sampling of your local nightlife district is probably a lot less than letting the algorithms of an internet dating site do the work for you.

Similarly, why send a hundred letters to random companies when you can do structured searches for firms based on geography, incorporation date, turnover and industry?

The biggest mistake that sailing sponsorship seekers make is to not do enough research into a company and not make their proposal relevant. In an age of Linkedin and Facebook and Twitter there is no excuse to not know the name of the Marketing Director or the Sponsorship Manager or to not know what the theme of the last advertising campaign was.

Research can also help you differentiate your proposal from another sailor or team who is competing in the same event. If the CEO has stated in the annual report that the focus of the business is going to be Asia, then incorporate that into your offer. If the financial press is talking about a new product launch or a merger, then think about what consequences that has for your proposal.

All this takes time, but think about the dating analogy. It might be a good idea to find out if your date is a vegetarian or loves Thai food before booking the restaurant for your fist date!

Of course there are still some ‘old-fashioned’ methods that work. Networking, referrals and being in the right place at the right time are just as important to doing a deal as a computer generated compatibility score.

So you’ve got your offer and you’ve got your prospect list, but what about your sales collateral? You’re going to need a proposal, a presentation and a couple of other things.

$24.99. Or 10% discount with ‘scuttle’ coupon code. Register here.

Webinar 4 – Proposals, Pitches and Partnerships
Unfortunately, many people who are looking for sponsorship start at this point. Many of the proposals that come across my desk are generic pleas for charitable donations to help fund someone else’s hobby.

We began this process by working out whether sponsorship works for you. Taking money from a sponsor means you have to work for that money. You may have to speak at corporate functions, you may have to entertain guests in the hospitality tent. You may have to write up your day’s racing for the blog while your team-mates are in the bar. So are you serious about being a sponsored athlete, team or event?

Then we spent some time working out what it is you are offering a sponsor. The who, what, where and how-much, before looking at strategies to identify sponsors who would benefit most from your offer.

Once the prospect list is done, and all the other supporting collateral is in place, it’s time to think about proposals, pitches and presentations.

Sometimes you get lucky. You put yourself in the right place at the right time and you get an opportunity to put your case to someone who can do something about it. So you need to be prepared. It’s called the elevator pitch. What if you found yourself in the lift with the Marketing Director of your ideal sponsor and you had 20 seconds to get them interested? Being able to concisely describe the benefits of your campaign is something you will need to do over and over again.

More formal proposals differ depending on how much you need to raise and who you are looking to get it from. Formats differ – from PDF written submissions to downloadable forms to PowerPoint presentations, but the rules are usually the same.

Rule 1 is keeping the sponsor’s needs in mind. How does your offer solve their problem and why is it better than the next proposal they will read?

Good proposals also ‘join the dots’ so that the sponsor doesn’t have to do all the thinking. Give examples of specific activation ideas that show you have done your research. Think about their whole business – what can you do for employees? Do they have a dealer network or affiliates that can be included in the program?

Whether you are looking to get some in-kind kit from a clothing company or a multimillion dollar check for a multi-year campaign, being the best requires an investment in time and money.

$24.99. Or 10% discount with ‘scuttle’ coupon code. Register here.

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