Welcome to Practical Sponsorship Ideas
Brett De Hoedt

Brett de Hoedt interview – part 1

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Welcome back to Practical Sponsorship Ideas.

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Brett de Hoedt, self-proclaimed “Mayor” of Hootville Communications, a PR and communications company focused on helping not-for-profit organisations punch above their weight (in a metaphorical sense).

Say hello to Brett de Hoedt

Before founding Hootville Brett de Hoedt worked as a print journalist, talk radio host and publicist with various media organisations.

He has interviewed most major players in Australian politics, business and entertainment. He understands what the media wants and what it takes to gain coverage.

Today Brett offers media, PR and marketing training. Brett also shows off at conferences and events as MC and facilitator.

So are you worth sponsoring?

Kym: All right Brett, let’s get started. How can people look like they’re worth sponsoring?

Brett: I think if you’re looking for sponsorship from a stranger we just have to accept that the first way they’re going to investigate you is via your website. So I do think it’s really important to have a website that makes you look like you’re worth sponsoring.

Now, by that I mean you have to look credible, look like you have some authority, that you’ve got a bit of an operation going even without the sponsor. And I think sponsors are drawn to people who look as if they have their act together and can go to the next level courtesy of some sponsorship rather than some rag-tag scramble of an organisation that desperately needs some help. I don’t think that’s appealing to anyone.

I think websites have got to introduce people very quickly to what the organisation or the project or the team is about, and then be really specific about ways that you can benefit from potential sponsorship.

Sponsorship is like dating…

Kym: It’s sort of like dating? The less desperate you look the more opportunities are going to come your way?

Brett: It is sad but true, isn’t it? The only reason why one looks for dates is because they want a date. But if you look like you want a date you don’t attract a date. So yes, there has to be a bit of show business. And I have had organisations say something along the lines of, “We don’t want our annual report to look too slick. We don’t want our sponsorship proposal to make us look too rich.” Literally, “Don’t use too much color. Don’t make it too big. Don’t make the stock too glossy or well designed because then we’ll look as if we don’t need help.” I actually don’t think it works like that.

That phrase, “Everyone loves a winner,” is relevant here. Whilst you don’t have to look like the greatest, the biggest and the grandest, you do have to look as if you’re a relatively professional organisation that’s worth supporting.

Kym: But what about those people who are just an individual or a very small organisation, that don’t have the resources or the skills to put something together like that?

Brett: I think it’s going to be really hard to appeal to a potential sponsor without a website. At the very least you need obviously a sponsorship proposal, and that should at least meet some of the criteria that I’m talking about from your website. It has to look reasonably professional, reasonably well organised, reasonably and effectively explain what you do and look like you’re the sort of organisation that can benefit further from sponsorship.

Also I think there’s a difference to be highlighted between sponsoring an organisation as a whole and sponsoring a specific project or initiative. I think to a potential sponsor who doesn’t know you intimately as an organisation, it’s a very big ask to say, “Hey, sponsor us as a whole.” That’s a very difficult to understand concept and it’s a bit of a commitment without end. I’d much rather be asked to commit to building a certain building, funding a certain project, sponsoring a team – this is how much it costs our team to take the field every week, you can sponsor us for one month of games, four big games – or something like that. It’s much more tangible, specific and defined. And it actually means it’s much less of a leap of faith to engage in that sponsorship.

You’ve gots to have personality

Kym: Is personality important? Is it really about sponsoring me as a person rather than the idea of a property or an organisation?

Brett: I think the role of the individual cannot be overstated. And that’s sad but true because we will sweat over the website. We will sweat and stay up late over the sponsorship proposal. We will sweat on every sentence in the cover letter because we think it’s going to have such an effect on people. And I think the great truth – which this could be good news or it could be bad news – is that relationships matter.

I certainly find in my experience that proposals are one thing, but once people know you and trust you and like you and find you interesting and worthy of support or worthy of doing business with, then things can happen at a far greater velocity. So yes, I think your personality’s important. And frankly I think you should probably consider whether there is someone in the organisation requiring sponsorship that’s worth promoting. It might be a CEO with a great story to tell about how they started this organisation against all odds. It might be the story of one individual who you organisation helps. It might be one customer that you’ve assisted to develop a great business. Someone – a human being – that can personify the organisation is really important, if they are a naturally appealing and sympathetic character.

Yes, that is hugely important. You might, you just might have the luxury of having a website devoted to getting sponsorship or a section of your website devoted to getting sponsorship. If you’ve got someone like that, highlight them – preferably not just with a photo and their words, but preferably with a video of that person. I can’t emphasize enough how the right person can just make things happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

Kym: So going back a little bit, is it important for that person or the personality that embodies the organisation to have direct contact with the potential sponsor? For example, you were saying it’s a good idea, I assume, to network in their area of influence before you even start to look at sending a sponsorship proposal?

Brett: Person to person rules supreme. I met a woman the other day from the National Australia Bank; the bank sponsors an employment program for African refugees to Melbourne. Now, that has created about 200 six-month long internships with young, African kids, and 53 jobs. That’s not an unsubstantial number of jobs and that’s just in Melbourne.

That relationship, like so many others I come across, started off with one National Australia Bank employee – just a normal employee – happening to be a volunteer with this group. He got thinking after volunteering for long enough that, “Hey, wouldn’t it be good if my employee, the National Australia Bank, employed some of these people that I’m helping by volunteering.” And so on and so forth. And now it’s 53 jobs later.

The bad news is that you must be circulating as best you can with potential and prospective sponsors to do that. And it might not be overtly to seek sponsorship. But more contacts are just a by-product of having a high profile. And you build that profile through speaking, appearing, writing opinion pieces in trade magazines, getting out to networking obligations, the business breakfasts, all of those clichés. And that comes naturally to some people and it doesn’t come naturally to others.

Getting outside of your comfort zone

Kym: If you do want to be successful you’re going to have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations that you may not be used to? Like public speaking or giving presentations?

Brett: Absolutely. On an ongoing, long term basis. Because I don’t think it would be a fast turnaround. It would be extraordinary if suddenly you attended a couple of business breakfasts and you walked away with a $25,000 sponsorship proposal approved. So I think it’s always the way, and I think it’s probably the same for business whether it’s a sponsorship or just doing a deal. You’ve got to be out there and circulating, otherwise how do people know?

Most people – well, I think the vast majority of people who are likely to be your sponsors aren’t looking actively as to who to sponsor. They’re probably inundated with requests. Depending on the size and the scale. So you’ve got to have a profile of you’ve got no chance.

Kym: Well, to touch on that subject in a previous interview and also some of my personal experience, having spoken to some sponsorship managers with some larger organisations, some of them get 50-100 a week of proposals that come across their desk, many of them unsolicited.

Brett: Well, the extraordinary number of unsolicited proposals says everything. It’s a bit like trying to get your script produced in Hollywood or something. So I think that points towards the need to go to some sponsors that might be a little less obvious than others, particularly if you’re a drag racer, obviously automotive brands might be prominent but perhaps there are some less prominent organisations out there. But it’s really tough so you can see why if you’re a prospective sponsor it’s not very hard to find someone to sponsor. You’ve got to really go above and beyond and a piece of paper and a proposal probably ain’t going to do it.

Creating brand you

Kym: We’re about creating some sort of an authority around what you do and putting yourself out there. What would you think are the most effective ways of doing that to reach the broadest audience? Is it social media? Is it going to networking events where your potential sponsors would be?

Brett: Well, I am a great fan and a believer in public speaking. And I think you can find yourself with some level of public speaking opportunity if you try. I’m talking about everything from the Rotary clubs and the service groups to the business breakfasts that are at a local level. They are often looking for people with something to say, and that’s a way to expose yourself and your brand and get people to get a sense of you and I think that’s worthwhile doing.

Similarly, if there’s trade press in your field of endeavor, generally trade press is pretty eager to hear from people with something to say, with some advice, with some insight to write for free for their magazines. Social media I find a pretty hard and slow return on investment of time and skills. Those are some of the really basic ways of getting a profile.

I’m not a great fan of advertising straight out which I find expensive and pretty inefficient. But you’ve got to show as if you’ve got some expertise in your sector. And frankly a lot of the people who claim to have that expertise don’t have that expertise. So you’ve got to have some sort of profile, some sort of expertise, some sort of authority, and those are a couple of classic ways to do it.

Another classic way, of course, classic contemporary is to write a book or an e-book on your area of expertise. It just makes you look as if you know what you’re doing, and that’s the sort of person I’d like to sponsor, not someone who’s basically wanting to be subsidised to indulge their own interests.

Having authority and evidence – social proof

Kym: Well, so how would you then jump between the proposition of providing value, as you said, by public speaking or producing some valuable content for people to read and so on and so forth to making yourself available for a sponsorship opportunity, to let people know that you’re in the market so to speak?

Brett: Well, that’s a good point. You’re not going to be writing or talking about how you need sponsorship. You’re going to be writing and talking about some area of concern in relation to your skills or your expertise or your operation. So that’s a different thing. And I think I would rather receive a sponsorship proposal from someone I’ve heard of or saw speak or read than a total stranger. So I think that’s important.

Number two, when I go to your website, even if I don’t know you, if you have evidence of the fact that you write these stories, that you’ve appeared at these events and spoken, I immediately think, “I don’t know John, but clearly John has some stature and some standing in his sector.” So I think that’s important.

No doubt in every sponsorship proposal some part of that proposal is devoted to proving your credibility and your authority and your expertise. There’s no better way that I know of to quickly prove your expertise than saying, “In the last month I’ve spoken twice at a Rotary group and a local business brunch. I have written two stories for the magazine and featured in a regional ABC radio interview about drag racing, netball, whatever you want to talk about.” Those things are so much more powerful, so much more powerful and convincing and persuasive than, “I am a leader. We are experts. We have excellent customer service.” Because you would say that, wouldn’t you?

But there’s a presumption – rightly or wrongly – that if you’re speaking, writing, appearing, offering your expert advice to media that you guys must be good. That’s worth sponsoring.

Kym: And therefore demonstrating your abilities through actions. So to take my own sort of thing, if I was to write some articles for the trade magazine and the motor-sport magazines indicating that I already had a little bit of a following then that would make me more attractive to a potential sponsor?

Brett: Utterly. Utterly. It is such a divider because let’s say you want to get a sponsor for a drag racing team. I imagine that every team would love sponsorship because it’s such an expensive hobby. What a quick and efficient way to divide you from 90% of your competitors – media coverage, speaking, writing – ding, ding, ding. 90% of people won’t have that. 95% won’t have that. That’s something.

Kym: I suspect that those skills that you’ve developed doing that you will be able to leverage or activate the sponsorship better by already possessing those skills?

Brett: Yeah, I think you’d be used to telling your story, you’ll know what cuts through with an audience, you’ll be able to also maybe say that, “Next time I write a story, make a speech, make an appearance the sponsor might benefit from that as well.”

That concludes part 1 of my interview with Brett de Hoedt. Part 2 and part 3 are now available.

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