Welcome to Practical Sponsorship Ideas
Brett De Hoedt

Brett de Hoedt interview – part 2

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For you reading pleasure, here’s part 2 of my interview with Brett de Hoedt of Hootville Communications.

In part 1 of the interview we covered:

  • How to look like you’re worth sponsoring
  • Personal marketing techniques to attract potential sponsors
  • Creating a brand and having authority

Be very specific about your sponsorship opportunity

Kym: Turning to creating a viable sponsorship opportunity; what advice can you share with us in this area?

Brett: Yeah, look, I think apart from looking the part, be very specific about your sponsorship. I’ve seen organisations seek sponsorship in a general sense. “Just write us a check for our general operations,” which I think is far less appealing and far more confusing and likely to create more doubts than saying, “Sponsor us for X number of races,” one season, our opening round, six home matches. Break it down and estimate how much it costs to take the field or take the track or hire a staff member and offer sponsorship that one specific project. I just think that’s more appealing and less intimidating.

Also similarly, give an end date to the sponsorship. I’ve seen proposals that don’t specify end dates. I think it’s a mix between being far too specific in what they want from sponsors and presume that they know what the sponsor might want. The other half, some proposals are too open ended and that leaves too much up for discussion from the sponsor.

Provide unique experiences for the sponsor

One big thing that I think can be appealing, and I know this would be great for drag racing teams, is giving the sponsor’s staff an experience. That is something I have seen work very well in the non-profit sector, where again major banks have quite large and developed sponsorship and volunteering programs. One of the things they found most appealing is the fact that a food rescue group that turns leftover food from supermarkets and restaurants into meals for the homeless, that organisation was able to say to the ANZ bank, “Once a month you can send 50 of your staff down and they can volunteer their day with us and rescue the food and turn it into lunch, serve it at a hostel, etcetera, etcetera.”

That experience and also solving a problem for the sponsor was worth much more than the signage at the annual general meeting, the little logo in the annual report. And that problem the charity helped solve was, “How do we get our 50,000 staff around the country all volunteering two days a year?” That was something unique and enriching and seen as far more interesting than wearing a badge on your shirt.

Kym: Was it mandatory for them to do something like that? Or that was a new policy?

Brett: Look, frankly I’m not sure if it was mandatory but it certainly was a corporate policy that across the year, across the board, staff would spend one or two days volunteering. That sounds fun and easy. You would think that that was easy but actually they were having trouble getting quality and interesting volunteer experiences for their staff because they have so many staff. And in truth, not that many places could take a large number of staff at once for just one day. So that was a problem for the bank.

And also they wanted an interesting experience for the volunteers. Now, if you’ve got an interesting experience, something that ends up being a bit of a team building exercise at the same time as volunteering or something, well, to be honest you’re probably competing with other team building exercises which cost the sponsor thousands of dollars. So instead of going paint balling or go carting or ab sailing they might spend the day with you and get an insight. So that might be a version of sponsorship which is far more sophisticated than saying, “Please give us your money and we will brandish your logo.”

Kym: Well, that raises the interesting thing. A lot of companies, in particular in the area I’m interested in, talk about connecting with local communities. What better way than to be part of a team that’s actually dropped in the middle of the local community?

Brett: Absolutely, absolutely. I think saying to someone – see, that’s a rethinking of the sponsorship, the traditional, conventional sponsorship model. But there are lots of volunteer experiences out there where these days the volunteer pays to volunteer. And that’s what we see in overseas volunteering. A lot of people actually pay organisations for the opportunity to volunteer overseas. Now, that seems strange but it’s a way of raising money for the organisation and offering an interesting experience in return and I think that is something that small organisations and sports teams can think about. It might be, “Look, give us a check for X, we will take 20, 12 or 6 of your staff, give them a great day of volunteering and make sure it’s a great day.” It’s a version of sponsorship. Basically you get something – money. They get something and everyone goes home happy.

Logos and thank you speeches aren’t where it’s at

Frankly, I think it could be easy to overestimate the allure of sponsoring you. I think people looking for sponsorship sometimes think that slapping on a logo and thanking the sponsor in a speech will make all the difference. But frankly I think it’s usually reasons other than that.

Kym: Yeah, I’ve been doing a little bit of research and the idea of logos and publishing a brand like that is pretty much dead in the water these days.

Brett: I find that a bit embarrassing. Absolutely, I really do. They want media exposure that might entice them. They want interesting experiences for their staff. They want access from their managers to key decision makers. And frankly they also want to be seen in a certain light. And those are the buttons to choose. Those are the buttons to press.

Beatification by association

Kym: Well, to expand upon that, to be seen in a certain light. Is this because of the idea of being associated with that particular organisation or whatever will have a rub-off effect on them?

Brett: I think 100%. It’s the opposite of guilt by association. It’s beatification by association. And that is absolutely why so many large organisations make humongous sponsorships for junior sport around the country. They have a number of benefits because anything to do with children of course is controversy-free or absolutely a slam dunk and, “Hey, it’s for our children.” Where I’d much rather them fight social causes. But yes, they want to be associated with goodness and they want access, of course, into parent’s brains and hearts and minds and wallets as well.

One problem that smaller organisations have is that big sponsors want national sponsorships so they don’t have to repeatedly broker and manage new sponsorship properties. So that’s a problem. But yes, I think anytime that – and I see it all the time. A large corporate can be associated with something that’s just genuinely good. Well, you know, that’s a real selling point.

I think anyone who is trying to sell a sponsorship where there is some social good attached to it is at a huge advantage over someone who clearly just wants the sponsorship so that they can continue their hobby or their life or their desires.

Horses for courses

Kym: But if you turn this around just slightly, if what you’re participating in isn’t seen as a – let’s say it’s not adding to the social well-being and welfare of people, how can you trump that card or cross that barrier?

Brett: Oh, look, I don’t think it’s a huge barrier because, frankly, 90% of sponsorship probably goes to organisations and causes just like that. It’s probably my particular bias that I know non-profits much better than corporate. I think – no, no, then I think you – well, then you are fighting on different things. You’re fighting – you’re arguing on the exposure you can give the sponsor and probably the experience you can give the sponsor. So if you’re racing, can you offer a marquis for the sponsor? I don’t know. On race day, can you invite them into the pit lane? Can you get them to – seriously – help service your car for a fun day and throw in a barbecue and some booze and make it a happy experience for everyone? There’s plenty of horses for courses I’m sure.

Get the sponsors attention!

Kym: Okay. What about tips specifically aimed at creating a memorable sponsorship proposal?

Brett: Please do not spend too much time or space explaining the intricate background to your organisation. I see that a lot in all sorts of presentations where by the time the people have given the full flow chart of the organisation, the background and the funders and who auspices it and which department it falls under, I’ve fallen asleep.

I think people, they get it. As soon as they see the envelope they get it. Yet another bloody sponsorship proposal. So my best advice would be you’re going to be rejected 99% of the time anyway. Do not fear rejection because you’re too interesting or different or attention grabbing. For goodness sake, make your proposal three dimensional, by which I mean to do something like I did when I was in my 20s looking for work as a journalist, a very difficult field in the middle of a recession, I used to include for jobs that I really wanted a small bottle of whiskey or some tea bags or some liqueurs and say in my opening line, “Pour yourself a glass of X and sit down and read my resume.” Well, I didn’t get 100% interviews but I got the attention of the person 100% of the time and I got more than my fair share of interviews and jobs.

Please, it’s just like any other form of advertising. Get their bloody attention. Don’t professionalise yourself and be so boring. Don’t make yourself so vanilla. So please grab people’s attention. You’re probably going to miss out anyway, so don’t be scared at their response. The big thing you should be scared of is no response at all, which is mostly what we all get.

Kym: So that’s using the classic technique in that instance of sending lumpy mail?

Brett: That is a corny, old truth. The package, the box, the thick, padded envelope is always opened before the boring old two-dimensional envelopes because the three-dimensional envelopes have something exciting inside.

I remember for one client in PR containing a small bottle of Tic-Tacs which looked like medicine, because we got the special, cylindrical, plastic white lettered containers that used to contain medicine. We got the right sized label and used the right sized font. It was for the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia. We typed on it in just the same font, just the same spacing as chemists used to use something along the lines of, “Dear Journalist. If your ignorance about mental illness issues persists, please see the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia’s PR representative.”

And, you know, because they were lollies they stuck around on people’s desks and they were shared. They may have just raised a little chuckle and it may have just shown the journalist that the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia knew how to play the game, that they were confident, they had some sort of sense of humor, they weren’t just begging for a favor. And I think something very similar to what you want with your sponsorship proposals. You want to show that, hey, we get this. We get it, we’ve got some verve, we’ve got some show biz, we’ve got some mojo And that’s who I want to sponsor. Not some two-dimensional, “Dear Sir, blah, blah, blah.” I’m bored already.

Kym: So thinking outside of the square, trying to separate yourself from the pack, is that one of the major requirements?

Brett: Look, all you want to do is just at least get read, get heard. And don’t forget that statistic about 150 proposals. It’s very, very similar to journalists receiving literally 150 or 250 emails and media releases a day saying, “Please cover my story.”

Pursue multiple sponsors at one time

Kym: I’ve come up with a basic process to get in front of a potential sponsor. The idea is to…

  1. Develop a hit list and research potential sponsors and make sure that they’re a good match.
  2. Organise an initial contact with them just to determine how responsive they would be to a sponsorship opportunity.
  3. Send an introductory letter which has some of this pizzazz we’ve just been talking about in an effort to get a face-to-face meeting with them
  4. During that meeting develop the outline of the proposal and what needs to go into it.
  5. Follow up with the actual proposal.

Is that the sort of process that you would suggest or would you suggest something completely different?

Brett: No, certainly not completely different. That sounds good to me. I mean, I think it’s really important to pursue multiple, multiple targets at the one time. I mean, which sounds really obvious to some people but I see it all the time, particularly when people are chasing jobs. They’re quite comfortable with waiting to hear back from the first job before really applying for the second. That sort of philosophy. So I would do all of that at the same time in large numbers, because it’s a numbers game.

What else was I just going to say about that? When you do – if you do get in front of those people, gee whiz, value their time. And again, have something three-dimensional to give to them, whether they sponsor you or not.

One thought about the proposal is give people some options from, you know, a small buy-in to a major buy-in. Give them lots of ways to say yes.


Read part 1 and part 3 of my interview with Brett de Hoedt.

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