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?