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How to Make a First Impression with a Sponsor

Dan Migala's picture

Throughout your life, you have probably heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  The key is to remember that this holds true not only in your personal life, but also in the world of sponsorships. 
I am a sponsorship rep for a big brand. I can tell you that the vast majority of the thousands of unsolicited requests for sponsorship we receive each year are declined.  Regardless of whether or not you find this surprising, I thought it best to be honest and offer a sneak peek into how it really works.
With the odds against you before you even get started, cutting through the clutter is of paramount importance.  The obvious goal is to better your odds of landing a follow up call or meeting. You might be wondering what you can do to help achieve this goal, so I am going to outline a few things you should and should not do to make sure you are on the right track.
The most important thing is research. I cannot stress enough the importance of researching both the company and the individual you are planning to contact.  From a company perspective, you should have at least a decent understanding of their business products/services, financial performance (especially if they are public), and existing partnerships.  Once you have this information, you should be able to make an educated guess about their current strategy.  At this point you should be able to identify obvious synergies between the product you are selling and the research you have compiled. The best way to get a brand’s attention is to show them how working with you achieves their objectives, so your proposal should specifically outline the benefits to the brand as well as the cost of entry.  If you are not sure what their objectives are, you should focus on how working with you can move the needle on their bottom line.
Of course if you do not get off on the right foot with the brand contact it does not matter how well your property/product matches up with a brand’s objectives.  It is important to remember that the brand contact is your door into the organization, and they can make or break your efforts regardless of their position on the ladder.  if you put care into your approach you can create an ongoing rapport with a key brand contact that can open doors within their current organization and potentially others via their contact list. 
Creating and managing this rapport is not just a science, it is an art.  Not all personalities are meant to mesh together, but there are some basic things you can do to reinforce or establish your reputation.
First, you should research your contact.  LinkedIn and other tools exist so you can gain insight into their role and expertise.  Understanding their past work history is just as important as their current role. Communicating an understanding of their expertise shows the brand contact that you have done your research and are serious.
Second, you should empathize with the brand contact.  Most companies these days are looking for ways to cut costs and increase profit, so you should assume that your contact does not have a large team that is dedicated to receiving and responding to random proposals. I recommend using email as a primary mode of communication. As long as your message stays on point and shows the benefit to the brand you should receive a response, and it might lead to a phone conversation or in-person meeting.  But do not push! Brands never want to work with pushy sales people.
Which leads me to a very important point I consider a pet peeve.  If you reach out to a brand contact and they either pass you to an agency representative or have an agency representative contact you on their behalf, do not be offended.  Remember, brand contacts that have small teams may rely on their agency reps for assistance with certain projects.  Take this as a good sign that someone is getting back to you.
Utilizing LinkedIn as a venue to reach out to brand contacts is often debated. Some brand contacts might be fine with solicitations being sent to them directly via LinkedIn, but I personally am not.  I view my LinkedIn as my personal page for my professional life just like facebook is to my personal life.  Anyone who truly reads my profile will see a web site they can visit to submit their sponsorship request, so when they do not follow those instructions it gives me the impression that they are desperate and may be difficult to work with.
Hopefully by now you have a pocketed a few tips that you can put to use as you orchestrate your next proposal, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few things that you should NOT do when reaching out to prospective companies.  You might think that these sound like obvious don’ts, but I have seen them happen. Repeatedly….
1.     DO NOT send the same email communication to multiple people within an organization.  Doing this is very insulting to the brand contact and creates extra work for them internally because everyone who received the email sends it to them. I can guarantee that if you do this your project will never see the light of day at the company. If you do your research properly and reach out to the proper contact, you have put your best foot forward and your reputation will stay in tact.

2.     DO NOT send the same email/letter/proposal to a variety of brands in a category without triple checking that the brand name has been fully switched out.  This will jeopardize your chance of getting this business.  I personally find it humorous when this happens, and respond to them saying that I do not work for that company.  I know it embarrasses them, but I know they won’t repeat that mistake. 

3.     DO NOT try to tell a brand contact what is important to them.  They live their brand values and strategy every day.  If they tell you they are not interested at this time, they must have a valid reason for doing so.  If you are too aggressive or try to go around them, you will tarnish your reputation in such a way that the brand may not work with you now or in the future.
I hope you got a good laugh out of reading these don’ts, and I also hope that you never get too busy and distracted to allow one of them to happen to you.  I recommend focusing on the following list of things to DO in order to build a solid reputation:

1.     DO research the company, including financials, existing partnerships and strategy.
2.     DO research the contact to gain a better understanding of their background and experience.
3.     DO make contact via e-mail and be sure to illustrate how working with your project/organization will have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line/achieve specific objectives.
4.     DO understand that it is okay for the brand to recommend you work directly with their agency representative(s).
5.     DO remember that reputations are built by cultivating relationships and gaining experience over a period of time, but it all starts with that first impression.
Taking care to follow this advice will speak volumes of your character and future reputation, and if done properly will lead to future success.

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