Why More Brands Should Sponsor Grassroots Sport

Grassroots initiatives and participation in sport has grown hugely over the past two decades, yet the majority of marketers still see it as a naff “if we still have budget” thing. They think it lacks the sexiness or media value delivered by huge global events but a number of projects over the last few years have proved otherwise.

Take Barclays for instance, one of the biggest employers in the UK with over 1,600 branches in the UK. Back in 2004 they committed to investing £30million in a community initiative to create sustainable sports facilities across the UK – the single largest injection of cash into grassroots sport by a company in the UK.

Over the following decade Barclays invested many more millions in creating twenty-six flagship sites in partnership with professional football clubs alongside a number of local sites offering a range of sports including basketball, netball and tennis through to skateboard and BMX tracks. This generous investment has been a huge success and contributed to the health and well-being of individuals across all ages in the local areas where Barclays invested.

More interestingly though, is the abundance of positive press Barclays have received as they have become known over the years as the biggest corporate investor in grassroots sports. In terms of the Barclays brand and image, they are now seen as an ethical brand and part of the community in such a way that that is unachievable with regular sponsorship which is key to creating the pursued “trust and loyalty” of customers.

It may seem cynical, but this is a way to get to the hearts of people that common advertising and sponsorship does not allow so it is surprising to see the lack of brands involved in grassroots sponsorship. That said, it absolutely has to be conducted in the right manner and be a genuine investment in the community otherwise the many benefits of grassroots sponsorship risk being overlooked as an awkward branding exercise.


Why it’s important (not necessary) to be brutally honest in sponsorship 

I love the sponsorship industry and all the people that work in it.  However, I have always found that unlike the marketing or television industries, everyone in sponsorship seems to walk on eggshells with confrontation or disagreements.  In my limited experience (Slingshot is only 7 years old), very few in the sponsorship industry speak what’s on their mind.  Conversely they tend to say what most people want to hear.  Whilst being diplomatic has never been my strong suit, I also feel that frantically nodding in agreement actually erodes an existing problem within the sponsorship industry for a number of reasons:

1.    Growth: everyone seems to continually pat each other on the back with the quality of work produced.  Ironically, the same people will also tell you that a lot of the work produced in sponsorship is actually not that inspirational.  Certainly much of the industry does not seem interested in raising the bar for itself, and therefore gripes when other industries start taking a piece of “their pie”.  However, if PR, digital, social, VR and other agencies are better equipped to articulate and cultivate partnerships because they understand the potential of the medium, and traditional sponsorship agencies stick with what they know with broadcast consumption, then the industry continues to create a rod for its own back.

2.    Stand for something: I was recently commented in the Financial Times regarding the decline in sponsors with this year’s popular Chelsea Flower Show (read article here).  Having both consulted for clients who secured sponsorship for their own garden as well as shopping sponsorship opportunities against Chelsea Flower Show sponsors, I am pretty familiar with the opportunity (full disclosure, I have never worked with the Chelsea Flower Show directly). From a business point of view, it is not wise to disparage what might in the future be a great client; however, I do fundamentally believe that the value proposition is not in line with the assets they currently deliver.  This is not to say that the Chelsea Flower Show is not a good sponsorship opportunity, but I believe the current way it is pitched it is overpriced, and unsubstantiated.  While saying this in a newspaper may mean Slingshot Sponsorship will never work with the Chelsea Flower Show, it’s important to have a true reflection on why it’s happening rather than assuming an economic blip.  Assuming an economic blip means that every other rights holder who has struggled this year will attest their lack of funds through the general economy, rather than reflect on a changing marketplace and whether they are driving real value to brands.  If you drive value, can articulate and measure it – securing sponsors is no harder today than it was yesterday.

3.    False hope: sponsorship is driven by passion projects.  It is very hard to tell someone who is passionate and truly believes in a project that their idea isn’t going to work, or at the very least, isn’t going to work the way they expect it to.  Especially when saying it will work comes with a pay cheque.  No one wants to crush anyone’s dreams, however without being truthful, you are actually providing a disservice to the passionate person who then continues to chase their tail and ends up nowhere.  My route has always been to pull the bandage off quickly.  It’s terrible, but at least they can start investing time and resource into a project that they can be both passionate about and make money from.

So speak up, be heard, and try to implement change into an industry that could be so much greater than the sum of its parts.  And isn’t that what sponsorship is all about anyways?

The Extreme Tech Challenge 2018 launches with style in Oslo

After a hugely successful XTC 2017 competition, which included some amazing sponsors, XTC 2018 has officially launched with a bang in Oslo.

The world’s largest technology start up competition, backed by Sir Richard Branson, hosted an intimate launch at SALT, Oslo with multiple budding start-ups, accelerators, athletes and the XTC team. Not only will this year be bigger and better than ever, there is also a new look website, new brand and, of course, new start-ups ensuring the best of the best can achieve greatness with their game changing ideas.

After a grand opening from XTC’s CEO Bill Tai, we were treated to some insight in to the success behind some of the world’s greatest technology companies, a look in to the future and how to keep ahead of the game. Here is what I learned from the best:

The 3 P’s of successful start-ups

Paul Herz (Apple and Facebook) gave the start-ups in the room invaluable tips on ensuring scalability and success. The three key areas are platform, partners and processes. Apple for example has iTunes as its main platform which is simple, easy to use and designed for the consumer. They have over 70 partners that produce different parts of their products better and cheaper than they could, which ensures the product quality and profit margins remain high. Finally, Apple’s processes are simple, streamlined and set to ensure everything is delivered on time. All start-ups should emulate this simplicity, over complicating everything and getting expensive partners on board wont attract VC’s or investors and will erode the profit margins.

Arnold Schwarzenegger might have got it right

Isabelle Ringnes, tech-evangelist, took us all through the exciting, and slightly daunting future of tech. It was incredibly interesting to hear about the realistic possibilities to connect our brains directly with devices and robots that have been designed to emulate feelings and facial expressions. Now, I’m not against robots or AI for that matter, but as long as there are restrictions in place to stop Arnie popping back and the Terminator films coming true!

Sport and start-ups are one and the same

To top it all off, legendary Olympic Nordic Skiier (and tech enthusiast) Axel Lund Svindal explained the need to overcome adversity, not just in sport, but in the similar competitive landscape of the start-up world. There are many attributes that cross-over between sport and start-ups; determination to succeed, competitiveness, hard-work and professionalism to name a few. Axel talked us through his incredible career and the mind-set in takes to be the best, some amazing advice for budding global disruptors.

In fine XTC form, it was all finished with a party integrating round table tech discussion. With XTC applications for 2018 now open, it is the perfect time for sponsors to integrate in to this exciting and growing industry with the next global organisations. Get in touch to find out more – kieran@slingshotsponsorship.com or 020 7226 5052.

How to Hire the Wrong Sponsorship Sales Agency/Consultant/Employee

At Slingshot Sponsorship, we’ve done our fair share of hiring and working with sponsorship sales professionals – considering it’s all we do; you could almost say we are experts at spotting what to look out for.  As this is a considerable gripe amongst people looking to hire people and expecting people to work for free (aka commission-only), I thought I’d provide some guidance so you don’t continue to expect getting something for nothing or worse still, being let down and frustrated after investing time and money into making unicorns happen.


  1. The Black Book. If they start with “I’ve spoken to this brand already because we are BFFs and they’d be very interested in your event/charity/music festival/art exhibition/conference/awards programme/start-up, but obviously we couldn’t make that happen without being retained and hired by you first”, do not hire this person.  Firstly, anyone who can do a semi-decent job in sponsorship sales should know at least someone in every brand remotely interesting.  So this is basically a base requirement you should be looking for – not a reason to hire.  Secondly, a good person in this industry genuinely wants to create opportunities and will do so without needing to leverage a job from it – there would be other ways to frame this if it were a true statement such as, “I actually know a great brand and would be happy to make this happen regardless of whether we got the job, and I’d be happy to try and organise this for an introducer’s fee.”  Finally, it isn’t prudent for sponsorship sales people to be discussing properties they don’t represent to brands as it’ll make them look bad (imagine they didn’t win the business).  So this is usually not even true to begin with.  So don’t hire based on this statement.


  1. Agreeing with everything you say. Far too often we’ve lost out on pitches because I am quite open about discussing the fact that their property is overpriced and that we won’t sell it for that amount because no one would purchase it at that rights fee.  Unfortunately, either sales people don’t know or else they are just agreeing with you because that’s what you want to hear.  To be completely honest, without actually doing any strategic or valuation work (which almost never happens at pitch stage), the person you are trying to hire doesn’t honestly know and therefore shouldn’t be agreeing with you on how much it is worth.  And if they do so, they are just trying to give you what you want and you are likely going to hit a road block when it comes to properly taking your sponsorship proposal to market.


  1. Talking about big brands that have nothing to do with your property. A lot of people will have worked with sexy brands if they work in sponsorship, but if you are a choir in Leeds it is very unlikely that Red Bull is going to come along and give you a million pounds to sponsor you (no offense to singers in Leeds).  A lot of this is smoke and mirrors, just because they work and know big brands does not mean that these brands would be remotely interested in your property so any kind of discussion like this is completely irrelevant.


Saying this, it’s important to ask the right questions.  Here are the top three questions I would ask someone I was thinking of hiring if I was trying to hire someone to sell my sponsorship:

  1. Where do you think we’ve been going wrong and how do you propose you can fix it?
  2. What is your process, how many people are required (both from the client as well as from the agency) to achieve the target?
  3. What do you think the potential could be and how long will it take to get there?


With all this in mind, I cannot stress, people do not work for free.  As much as commission-only is very enticing to you, it is unrealistic and at the end of the day, you get what you pay for.  So invest both your time and your money, but invest wisely – you’ll be amazed at the results.

My Year as a Placement Student at Slingshot

The novelty of graduating university has decreased substantially this last decade. As the number of millennials attending university increases, the value of being a university graduate has dwarfed. If a post-graduate walked into an interview claiming they deserved the job role because he or she had a degree, employers would laugh and say ‘you and a million others’.


The only thing that’s increased from university are the expenses of attending the education system and the level of competition in finding a job post-graduation. 10 years ago, It was almost a guaranteed deal in finding a job after University – those graduates didn’t find themselves with their backs up against the wall like this contemporary generation does today.


As an undergraduate I’ve learnt that a degree simply doesn’t cut it anymore.


The real value lies within acquiring hands on, tangible experience through embarking on a placement year. Students need to be able to provide employers with sufficient evidence that both supports and reassures, you can get the job done.


One way or another, acquiring work experience is critical in the process of becoming employable; and I drew the most benefit is working in a smaller organisation.


I cannot stress enough how working in a smaller firm has affected my professional development for the better. My understanding on how the entire agency operates strengthened as I was an integral part of the team. In a big company, you become a cog in a piece of machinery and never truly achieve full awareness to your impact – having that lack of insight to your progression indefinitely detriments your experience as an intern.


The Key Thing I’ve learnt:

Passion over credential. I had zero experience prior to working with Slingshot and minimal knowledge on sponsorship, yet my passion to learn allowed me to develop quickly and become a valuable asset to the agency – drive can’t be bought, but knowledge can be taught.


The Top 3 Favourite Things about My Job:

  1. Numerous role opportunities. Operating within a small team provided me with the chance to perform every job role which offered me and understanding for what career I’d want to specialise in for the future.


  1. Creating relationships. Focusing on sales allowed me to build rapport with various clients and individuals both nationally and internationally that has not only helped me grow in confidence but has opened my world up to potential opportunity.


  1. Unrivalled insight. Working with a sponsorship agency that taps into all sectors meant that I’ve had the pleasure of working across various industries, which kept my experience interesting and refreshing. This allowed me to harness a much broader understanding of the realm of business.


What I Thought Before Work And Now:

I never expected to love work. It wasn’t until I began to see results that the obsession grew. From a sporting background myself, I was always competitive and those characteristics are easily transferable – the office is my new playground and my highs are found from achieving above and beyond from what is expected.


What I’ll miss the most:

Being pushed from my comfort zone. It wasn’t until Slingshot I realised my true potential. Being in an environment where I’m constantly motivated and expected to deliver helped me understand how vital it is to stay clear of what’s familiar or easy because you’ll never grow as an individual.


Although a degree certifies your knowledge in the field, applying your knowledge whilst earning a wealth of experience and building a vast network of contacts is critical to the early stages of your career. It’s ultimately what you do now that affects your future and Slingshot was my stepping stone.

Be The ‘Right’ Holder

In today’s age, we are witnessing industries becoming ever more cluttered with brands and consumers are spoilt for choice. With the level of competition skyrocketing; brands need to find new and innovative ways of differentiating.


As the market becomes increasingly saturated, trying to identify something distinct about a brand is blurred; yet deriving something unique for a brand is crucial and is the underlying principle designed to drive their success. Distinguishing that certain something about an organisation represents the biggest sales tool in their arsenal – the USP.


Brands are now utilising the latest innovations in sponsorship, as opposed to standard forms of marketing, to create emotional connections with their target audience, creating sustainable and long-lasting relationships.


Rights holders need to be aware of this and use their platforms as a gateway to helping brands accomplish their goals, providing opportunities for brands to leverage themselves from their competitors. To do this rights holders must invest time into identifying the key ways they can help a brand differentiate and reach their business objectives, which means prospecting should be more targeted than ever.


It is therefore paramount that rights holders promote themselves as the property that will help differentiate the brand from their competitors and become the solution, not an option, in providing brands with the perfect opportunity to stand out from the crowd, leading to their further success.

The Art of Sales

Mastering the art of complete awareness to the world around you is the recipe to a successful life in sales. Paying attention to every detail, shift and trend in the marketplace is what businesses strive off in order to remain one step ahead of the game and their competitors. In order to take full advantage of the market is through understanding how to appropriately assess and predict its dynamic change and flow.


We live in an ever-evolving world – this means that in order to be a successful salesperson, you have to immerse yourself into that industry and allow it to become your world. A good start would be following every social media account relevant to the industry you’re focusing on, installing google alerts to notify you with any updates related to the topics you’ve assigned as well as subscribing to every newsletter and magazine that might suggest the latest trends. This is so that you’re always channelling your efforts effectively and remaining most efficient with your time.


As a sponsorship agency, it is paramount for us to stay on top of the latest news regarding market analysis, value of assets and current sponsorship deals. We do this by sourcing every bit of material related to our clients’ accounts and industries through every accessible but credible source. This provides us with enough material so that we never find ourselves on the back foot in a pitch – we know exactly what brands need and how to achieve it, in addition to sustaining long-term relationships even when our clients’ events come to annual finish.


Simply put, if you fail to prepare – prepare to fail. Knowledge acts as the bread and butter to a salesperson’s arsenal. Never bring a knife to a gunfight, do your research and have constant awareness of the industry you’re selling into, this is what distinguishes salespeople that can close, from those who cannot.

Teamwork Won’t Make The Dream Work

The next innovation in football sponsorship has arrived – more advertising space. Shirt sleeve sponsors will likely be on show from the start of the 2017/18 season and some reports have suggested that this space is valued at 20% of that of a main kit sponsor. Think of that what you will, but what is actually interesting about this revelation is the news that an agency has brokered an aggregated deal with up to ten Premier League clubs to sell this space to a single sponsor.

In a sport that generally divides, it appears a selection of Premier League clubs have decided to unite for a potential quick-fire commercial gain. This wouldn’t be the first time that one brand has been associated with multiple Premier League clubs, with brands such as Mansion.com, Dafabet, Europcar and bet365 currently spreading their allegiance, but a deal with ten clubs teaming up to take a share of the spoils would be a first.

In the EFL Championship earlier this year, 888sport launched an interesting partnership as the first main sponsor to simultaneously sponsor four teams (Birmingham City, Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Preston North End), which saw the company roll out a series of activities as part of the 888sport ‘Fans First Campaign’.

To add to this, Sure recently signed a multi-club sponsorship deal and became official partners with Premier League clubs Chelsea, Everton and Southampton, brokering an official ambassador from each team separately.

The difference with these two examples is that on each occasion the brand would have strategically selected their partners based on a multitude of commercial reasons, whereas the potential Premier League shirt sleeve deal with such a variety of clubs will arguably be far less strategic and unsustainable.

The type of brand to take up such an offer likely won’t be interested in the success of the teams’ performance or driving engagement with fans, but will simply look to capitalise on the Premier League media machine to significantly improve its brand awareness.

Whether a deal can be struck or not, only time will tell, but the real winners here will be the Premier League clubs who decide to commit their shirt sleeve sponsorship efforts into pursuing a long term strategic partnership with a brand.

Think Sponsorship from the Start

It is the stamp of a successful event to be able to successfully attract sponsorship from brands and thus enable an event to grow. However, the question often asked by organisers is when to approach potential sponsorship. Many will fall into the trap of leaving it too late for brand involvement and miss an opportunity to subsidise and support their event. Here are a few tips that will help you when you’re creating an event to help maximise your chance of securing sponsors:


  1. Engage Sponsors through the whole process

A successful sponsorship involves ways in which a brand can be interwoven throughout all aspects of the event. Initial communications and marketing to ticket sales and the event itself are all valuable assets that sponsors can utilise and you can monetise. Through connecting with sponsors in the planning stage you can create your event with bespoke brand opportunities for each sponsor and activate them properly given you have the time.

Bringing on a new sponsor late in the game can often seem rushed and doesn’t leave a sponsor feeling like they got the most out of their investment. The sooner you sign a sponsor the more they can integrate and ultimately, they will pay more for it.


  1. Don’t approach just any brand

When you are approaching sponsors for your event, stop and think why this particular brand? Can they add value to my event, can they provide product, and even more importantly, what can I offer to them that they can’t get anywhere else? You need to be able to justify why your event will benefit their brand because sponsorship is not charity, it’s a partnership.

The key is to approach brands that will resonate with your event’s audience because ultimately, corporate sponsorship is a form of advertising for a brand. You need to be able to show the benefits to the brand not only at the point of sale but also throughout and post your event so they will renew and upgrade on investment, continuing their support in years to come.


  1. Don’t just pull a price out of thin air

The most common mistake you can make when approaching sponsors is not valuing your assets properly. Knowing the value of what you are offering a sponsor is crucial because no brand will pay for something they don’t believe they will get a return on. You also must recognise that the brands you approach see sponsorship proposals every day and can tell if your offering is worth the investment you are asking for.

Think logically- if you need £100,000 for your event but you only have £25,000 worth of sponsor assets, you don’t charge one sponsor £100,000, you find four sponsors instead to cover your costs. You need to be practical. Would you pay four times the price of anything? No! Nor should you expect that of your sponsor.

5 Things I Learned On Necker Island

We recently completed our first year of sponsorship for the Extreme Tech Challenge – the world’s largest startup competition highlighting companies that are literally changing the world, which culminated in a very exciting XTC Finals on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island on February 2nd.  Here are some of the things I learned while surrounded with the world’s most impressive and forward-thinking tech start-ups:


1.    Sponsors like the sun.  We have worked with many events all across the world, but turns out when the sun shines, sponsors shine too.  Will make more of a note to take on more clients that have tropical destinations for the future.


2.    Small numbers mean big opportunities.  Due to the size of Necker Island, the XTC Finals is limited to 100 attendees.  Usually with sponsorship, the bigger the audience, the more valuable the rights fee.  However, in this case, you have the actual opportunity to really meet and have meaningful conversations with everyone.  Rather than being pushed to a table at an Awards ceremony, real friendships were made and business was being done because it was easy to do so.


3.    Remoteness creates more sponsor engagement.  Because the British Virgin Islands are so remote (it took me 20 hours to get there with two flights, one ferry, and a ride in the back of a pickup truck) most people wanted things to do, and one way or another, you ended up running into people that were at the event throughout the week.  It became a mini community where tech and entrepreneurship met at the beach over Painkillers (the local drink) and ran into each other in truck taxis and ferries all over the island.


4.    The kids are alright.  Of the three finalists, two were under 25.  When you look at the actual impact of their companies on the world (Cresilon is a revolutionary material that stops bleeds in seconds and ReDeTec has made 3D printing accessible and sustainable), it blows your mind.  This really is the future, and it’s pretty damn exciting.


5.    Sponsorship has the power to create life changing experiences.  The most unforgettable moment was witnessing the power of sponsorship on individuals.  As part of sponsor iTutor Group’s activation, they took 10 of the top female CEOs in Asia to the XTC Finals on a super yacht.  Super yacht aside, the women were so incredible in their own right and at every point throughout the day they talked business – to each other, to the sponsor, and even to me.  More incredible still was that many of the women hadn’t even been in the water before – so it became a week of overcoming fears, a week of firsts, and most importantly, a week of growth.  The fact that this was delivered as part of a sponsor activation is what makes it so meaningful and impactful.  Rather than just bask in the glory of being a sponsor, iTutor Group made a real impact in their own community and in the lives of people they are wanting to champion in their country.


I’d definitely encourage you to have a look at some of the entries from our competition this year.  And if you want more Necker Island photos, you can view them on my Instagram.

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