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The First 90 Days

Dawn Turner's picture

The first 90 days of a new sponsorship is very similar to the first 90 days of a new job. It is all about getting to know each other, putting your best foot forward, establishing the parameters of the relationship and continually working to impress.

All partnerships have a variety of courtship periods. Some are long, some are short, some are sought out and others are forced. Regardless of the reason for inking the relationship, these first 90 days are the time where both parties should put the negotiation period behind them and put forth good effort to make sure things get started on the right foot.

There are a number of ways properties can make the beginning of all partnerships much easier on both parties. In my opinion, the first thing the property should do is establish a solid mid-to-upper level employee to serve as the key contact for the sponsor. This person should be in a position to either make decisions on their own or get answers and solve problems quickly. Putting someone who has a sense of authority as the face of the organization is important so the sponsor feels their investment (regardless of spend level) is important.

The second thing the property should do is be proactive in scheduling an initial planning meeting/session with the sponsor. As soon as the deal is inked (or maybe even before…), the property and sponsor should sit down and go over all of the opportunities and assets available as well as the sponsor’s main goals/objectives for the year. The conversation will likely include agency representatives for the sponsor and is a good starting point for creating a working calendar/schedule.

During the planning meeting, the property should be very clear about any activation do’s and don’ts that are solid rules of the league, organization or event. They should also be prepared to share best practices and come armed with ideas for ways the sponsor can interact and work with the property and collaborate with other sponsors.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for properties to proactively reach out to their sponsors and schedule time where they can get to know each other and collaborate. It is these small things that can really set them apart from the competition and will go a long way when the property is ready to consider renewal.

Communication is another key element in making a positive impression in the first 90 days. The partner contact should be prepared to schedule weekly or other regular touch point calls, e-mails or meetings, and they should be very clear in their written and verbal communications. Not all sponsor contacts are familiar with the rules of engaging with leagues, teams and events, so the property representative should not assume they understand all aspects of the relationship. The innate knowledge that comes from working in these situations is something that can only be learned by doing, unless it is properly communicated by the property contact.

Let me offer an example. This season the NHL encountered a lockout. The franchise we work with was very good at keeping us informed of developments and decisions that were being made every step of the way, even in the midst of staffing changes they endured. Looking back, I can say I knew every step of the way who our main team contact was along with the status of the lockout. I should also mention that this was proactively offered by the team, so when our executives asked questions we always knew the answer (what a great feeling!).

Once the lockout was coming to a close we knew the team would have a matter of days to do an entire offseason of planning. Given my background working with and for teams, I completely understood and respected the efforts the team had to go through to create an entirely new schedule, print and distribute tickets, and review all of their sponsor activation plans (among many other things!). In our case, we revealed a new visual identity two days before their first game. Some might say this is good timing, but from the team’s perspective I know they felt a lot of pressure due to the need to deliver updated creative.

This whole process is no small feat, and there are folks at every team working long hours to make sure things run properly for all of their partners. We are very fortunate to have solid, knowledgeable team contacts working with us to make us feel very good about our relationship. It is this confidence they continue to instill in us week after week, and I think it is comparable to how all properties should handle themselves.

Sponsors tend to get distracted by their industry business and other projects, so they will appreciate all of the efforts the property makes in the first 90 days. This does not mean sponsor should think they are completely off the hook during this time. It is also up to them to be responsive to the team requests for meetings, accepting of information and willing to make time for collaboration and planning. Not all sponsors have the same level of activation budget available, but that does not mean they should not be engaging with their property contacts as often.

The efforts I have described above for the first 90 days should not end at day 90. They should serve as the benchmark for how the property and sponsor conduct business during their entire relationship. Taking the time to establish a solid base will lead to enhanced relationships, better and more frequent collaboration and a real sense of community between parties. It is these qualities that lead to a much smoother discussion when it comes time for renewal.

If you have any ideas for topics you would like to see in this column, please send me a note via Twitter @dawtrnr

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