When I started my journey towards a career in sport, I never realised there were so many options that existed – from activation agencies, sponsorship agencies, athlete management, brand management, rights holders, commercial sales, the list goes on.
I now work for Flash Sponsorship, a rights commercialisation agency, where we represent a small number of rights holders and help them package their rights and sell them as sponsorships to like-minded brands. Over time, we’ve built some lasting relationships with both rights holders and brands, as we work to ensure that the partnership delivers value and ultimately leads to a renewal. That hasn’t always been my role. It has evolved over time from rights management of existing sponsor relationships, to a dual strategy and sponsorship sales role, and more recently direct sales, which I was terrified about.
I am however delighted to admit that I love it. Although earning commission is a great reward for the hard work required, for me it’s not about that. It’s the thrill of meeting new people, showcasing your clients to them (the relevant one of course) and getting the “fit” perfectly right.
Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to try new things
Lesson #2: The Sponsorship industry is full of opportunity
I’ve been involved in plenty of deals before, but the one that stands out, is the one I worked for the hardest. Where I had to put my #1 reason for never wanting to be in sales aside, and pick up the phone. I’ve relied heavily on emails, WhatsApp and meetings, but when it comes to phoning anyone, I always found a reasonably good reason not to.
Turns out, phone calls work. I have to psyche myself up every time, but they work! Honestly, if a prospective sponsor can’t take your call, and in today’s frenetic world we are all busy, they won’t. But if they do, and most of the time they will, have your elevator pitch ready, and after introducing yourself, get to the point.
Lesson #3: Pick up the phone the first time. It’ll save you a lot of time.
A recent deal, and the way it unfolded, really stands out for me.
Food Lover’s Market and The Sharks.
Our client, The Sharks, mandated us to secure a meat supplier. As I’m sure you can imagine, when you’re feeding a full-time academy team in training, food and especially meat, makes up a sizeable number of their budget. Although I had a few meetings with meat suppliers, it wasn’t on strategy for them and nothing came of it. Food Lover’s Market made the most sense to me, but I just couldn’t get a meeting. Why not, you may ask? Because I was relying on email alone and hoping someone would simply reply with a yes.
When I finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone, I made contact immediately, and secured a meeting within weeks.
Lesson #4: Have a plan and never give up on it.
In the very first meeting, Food Lover’s Market already had a counter proposal for me – “Why can’t we supply all the food? Including the meat, dairy and fresh produce.” It makes sense right? But when you’ve been in talks with several prospective brands without success, you end up reducing your scope with a view to achieving some measure of success.
A few weeks later, we met again. We were now looking for double our original ask, with a “beefed” up set of rights. Food Lover’s Market had a clear strategic approach to how and why their presence in KZN was not only important, but how it could be achieved through the leveraging a sponsorship of The Sharks. The original rights package simply didn’t deliver on those needs, and Food Lover’s Market needed more to work with. More visibility, and more opportunity to tackle their current strategy for KZN – a big reason to talk about their regained ownership of their Durban stores and revamp. They stores were back in the family-business, and offering the best in fresh food, and who better to associate with than the best of the best in KZN rugby, if not SA!
And so, unexpectedly, I left our second meeting with the remit: “How much would it cost to be on the playing kit, and to get some players to make appearances in select stores?”
Lesson #5: Be flexible. Provide options. Express the ability to be fluid with the ask.
As one can imagine, these players have incredibly busy schedules. Not just Currie Cup, Heineken Cup and URC duties, but international duties as well, training and family. So to make players available to sponsors is extremely difficult and limited. Their time is precious, so when you need to build that into your rights matrix, you move from a purely value in kind trade exchange type deal, to one that involves cold hard cash. They needed to invest. And invest they did. Why? Because their message is important, and so is their Durban market.
Months in the making to make sure we got it perfectly right, Food Lover’s Market are now the Official Food Sponsor to The Sharks. That means you need to follow their social channels (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) to make sure you don’t miss the chance to meet your heroes at your local Durban Food Lover’s Market next season.
Lesson #6: Perseverance pays off.
The learnings from this deal are a highlight for me because I started with a plan and a prospect, and ended with a new sponsor for one of our clients. A win-win result in which we met the needs of both The Sharks and Food Lover’s Market.
- I had no relationship or connection with Food Lover’s Market, but have subsequently met some incredibly interesting, insightful and passionate people who I get to work with for the next few years (at least)
- I went there with intention for my client, where I could proudly showcase why the partnership made sense. I was confident in my product and preparation.
- We found and secured a perfect match in a partnership between our rights holder and the brand.
It’s easy to get despondent when you’re cold calling, and in truth I almost gave up before I even had a meeting. Ultimately, if it’s not a hard “no”, don’t stop trying. And just pick up the phone. With strong rights holders, a supportive team, a solid plan, good timing and a bit of luck, the next deal is one phone call away.
Your in Sponsorship,
Did you know that Flash Sponsorship has identified world-class education tools and courses to address the lack of formal sponsorship training and education in South Africa? Our aim is to uplift our industry to international standards and to assist as many individuals as possible, from industry newcomers to experienced professionals.
We represent the following organisations in South Africa:
1. European Sponsorship Association (ESA) Diploma
This course is administered by the European Sponsorship Association and is the only one of its kind in the world. Launched in 2012, it attracts candidates from every sector, and by the end of 2022, over 600 practitioners were awarded the prestigious ESA Diploma qualification from 22 different countries. It is a 8-month online programme. Flexible & web-based the platform enables those working full-time to study when convenient, fitting in in amongst their work and life commitments. The ESA Diploma is suitable for mid to senior level staff.
Cost: Early bird: £2,100 (payment in full by 24 November 2023)
Thereafter: £2,550 (payment in full by 18 January 2024)
Accreditation: Not accredited in SA
Next start date: January 2024
Duration: January – August (8 months)
Red & Yellow Sports Sponsorship Marketing Certificate
In conjunction with Red & Yellow Creative school of business we have developed an online, 10-week course in sponsorship, which is aimed at individuals, graduates and industry newcomers in agency, brand or rightsholder environments.
This is a unique opportunity to empower yourself with a specialized and focused online course in sport sponsorship marketing. It will enable you to better understand the sponsorship environment and how it fits into the marketing mix. More crucially, in 10 weeks, you’ll learn more about the world of sponsorship, developing relevant activation ideas and how to do basic research & evaluation of a sponsorship to report on.
Cost: R19,750 per student (excluding accreditation)
Accreditation: R2500 per student.
Next start date: 26 February 2024
Duration: 10 weeks
And finally, if you haven’t heard of Activative, then you are missing out on one of the best sources of industry intelligence and case studies that exists. With a team of sports journalists positioned around the world, you could be receiving daily insights across all sports disciplines and brand categories to help drive your strategic sponsorship execution. If you want a test drive of the access controlled platform, let us know, an we’ll arrange a free trial for you. http://www.activative.co.uk/