Successful Sponsorship Negotiation: Getting to Yes
You’ve written your initial sponsorship approach to your dream sponsor and have been invited in to pitch. How do you get them from interested to yes? Here are a few sponsorship negotiation tips to put into practice in the meeting:
The first two points are about mindset – yours – and getting into the right frame of mind before you walk in the room to meet your potential sponsor.
1. What’s your best alternative? Before you even step through the door, decide what your best alternative is. This is not something you will share with your potential sponsor but is the absolute minimum you’re prepared to negotiate to. Don’t make it too low or too difficult to deliver and make sure that it will still serve you well – otherwise, you could find yourself with a sponsor who is giving you far less than you would like while still having to jump through hoops for them.
2. Be confident about your offer. You also need to be very clear with yourself that you are NOT the weaker partner in this. You may need sponsorship but you are not so desperate for it that you will give away too much for too little. Sponsorship – successful sponsorship – is a two-way street with both partners benefiting from the relationship. If you’re not in a win-win situation for both partners, this is unlikely to be a sponsorship worth having. Remember that – and the fact that you will have other opportunities to negotiate with other potential sponsors – and be clear and confident about your offer.
3. Open at Your Max – there is no point in starting off a sponsorship negotiation at anything lower than your maximum so don’t beat around the bush. Be clear, consistent and spell out what you would like – and more importantly, the benefits that your sponsor will get as a result. For example, if it’s headline sponsorship, perhaps you’re offering a level of exclusivity. You will be able to determine early on in the meeting whether or not this sponsor is likely to meet you at your max – and if they’re not you can start to get a sense of where they will meet you and what you will offer them in return.
4. Use Silence – outline your max and the potential benefits that could be associated with that – and then stop talking. You’re not trying to intimidate the potential sponsor. However, by using silence, you will demonstrate that you are confident about your offer – rather than blabbing on nervously and giving them the impression that they could negotiate their way into anything because you’re so desperate for a sponsor. Silence is also useful because, as with donor conversations, what’s most important about any negotiation is that you listen to what the other party is saying. If you barely draw breath for the entire meeting, you won’t hear what they’re saying and you won’t pick up cues about what they’re looking for.
5. Offer Better Terms – if they seem unsure but it’s not an out and out ‘No’ perhaps you could offer better terms. Maybe they’re coming into an expensive time of the year or have other outgoings around the time of your event, project or programme – in which case, do you need the money beforehand or could they pay in instalments? Remember, sometimes a sponsor’s unwillingness is not because they don’t want to sponsor you but because they have other concerns around the deal. One event sponsorship that I negotiated clashed with a potential sponsor’s training event but they loved the organisation I worked for – so I simply switched their sponsorship to another event at the same level with the same benefits and for the same amount but at a different time of year – sorted.
6. Give and Get Something Back – remember that, while you are asking your potential sponsor to give you something they are getting something valuable back in return – a unique association with your charity. Perhaps you’re putting them in front of an audience that they want to reach or maybe their support will show them in a different light. When you go into a sponsorship negotiation never lose sight of the fact that they are getting something in return even if it is your charity that is benefiting financially.
7. Ask for Something Valuable that Doesn’t Cost Them – if they’re adamant that they can’t afford to sponsor you at the level you are seeking but are only interested in that particular level of sponsorship in terms of benefits, consider whether there is something else they could give you besides the money they are prepared to offer that is valuable to you but won’t cost them a penny. Will they give you a full page ad in their staff magazine to promote a charity challenge? Will they promote your charity in their stores throughout the month of May? Will they give you part sponsorship in cash and part in kind (this works well if they offer products but equally, if they offer services. For example, could they offer customer training to your front of house staff or social media training to your comms team?)
Above all, sponsorship negotiation should be flexible and creative. Don’t view it with fear but as an opportunity for two parties to work together to create something unique and you will be well on your way to success. When I worked at the National Museums of Scotland, one of the first sponsorships that I negotiated for them was for an exclusive exhibition from the Forbidden City in Beijing. I went into the meeting with my ‘benefits list’ and a determination to get the best for both of us. Not only did I negotiate the largest sponsorship the Museum had had up until then but I also worked with the sponsor to deliver a complementary exhibition created by household name fashion designers that they worked with, which was inspired by the exhibition and featured an opening with model Jodie Kidd, dripping in diamonds and a Scott Henshall one-off creation. This was picked up by national press – many of which had never written about the Museums before. I could never have gone into that meeting with those benefits as I didn’t know they could even potentially exist but through the sponsorship negotiation process, the sponsor and I laid our cards on the table, put our heads together and created something truly unique, which gave both of us benefits far beyond what we had imagined.
Go in to your sponsorship negotiation meetings knowing that you are equal parties, that your charity has something valuable that the sponsor wants and that you are determined to negotiate a win-win situation – and you are well on your way to negotiating a successful sponsorship deal. Good luck!
This post was inspired by a seminar by Julia Langkraehr at the Thrive: Women Unlimited Conference in London in March 2014. Although it was about business negotiations, I recognised that there were techniques that I’d also used in successful sponsorship negotiations.