Throughout my marketing career I have either led, supported or observed attempts to create worthwhile brand partnerships and sponsorships. Not surprisingly, much of the dealmaking focus ends up being on gives and gets….and particularly the gets! After all, you pursue these agreements to help illuminate your brand and give legs to your marketing campaigns.

If you follow this blog you will note a recurring theme of efficiency of time and effort; my passion in this area is no less appropriate for this topic. I have witnessed innumerable tragedies resulting from collapsed discussions after working these deals for months…and months. To prevent this from happening to you, you need to survey the environment within which you and your partner operate to better and more quickly assess the likelihood of a deal ultimately occurring.

With the goals of efficiency and success in mind, I’ll now offer up a list of items to audit as your discussions begin:

Size each other up.

Most times, big boys play with big boys.  I can’t tell you how many times emerging companies convince themselves that if they can just get P&G/Kraft/Heinz/Pepsi to put a logo on their packaging they’d be golden. Your company needs to be similar in scope or else your target partner will instantly recognize the ‘help’ to be one-sided. Power brands are not in the business of helping young brands break through…unless they plan to buy you!

One way to detect an imbalance is to estimate number of consumer touch points for each of your primary consumer-facing assets (packaging, web site, etc). If brand A reaches millions and brand B reaches tens of thousands, forget it.

Make sure to pick on someone your size. A successful deal at a smaller level may even generate an epic case study to support an approach for something bigger.

Can you really help each other?

The best path to effective partnering is listening. Find out everything you can about your target and what their business needs are.  Start with demo and business objectives and work your way outward. Simply sharing touchpoints is a more primitive style of partnering. You want to help your partner not only hit their target but you want to do it in the right media, with the right message, with the right brand associations, with appropriate context and in the right tone.

To be specific, if you want money coming your way, you will need to show the partner that you can develop their brand equity because you have a verifiable stance over that space in the market…and / or….you have to show the partner that you can reach their desired demo in some ways better than they can.

Much like with sales processes, you want to approach a sponsor with the mindset of knowing and believing how you can build their business. What’s more, be conscious of what unique elements you bring to the table (interesting activations, access to influencors/talent etc), particularly if your scope is a little smaller.

In today’s environment of more sophisticated marketing, the better sponsorship builders are outstanding brand strategists, who gain credibility by in effect consulting with the target partner. In my most successful deals I have actually helped my partner position and package the deal to sell to their own management internally. Making life easy for someone is  great way to make a new friend!

Show me the money.

Get real, real fast. If you kick off using words like partnership yet what you really want is sponsorship (and money!), become open about this as soon as you can.  You don’t improve your chances much by asking for a cash injection toward the end. In fact, you can risk taking a hit to your reputation by not bargaining in good faith. Use the right language and signal the right intent up front.

….and where it is coming from…

This is a tough one to ask about directly. Point is, if it’s new/incremental money that is intended for sponsorship your path is potentially less painful. In this rarer of cases you are benefitting from a clear intent to seek sponsorship opportunities.

Next best is if a potential sponsor is looking to upgrade partners. You can quickly gain deal momentum by probing where the trouble spots have been with pasts partnerships and come up with solutions that show how you are a step up.

The most complicated situation is one where brands are considering new methods to activate. In this case, you are no longer up against previous sponsorship deals but all other marketing and activation spends. You may be dealing with a partner who despite apparent enthusiasm is barely more than speculating as he or she surveys multiple options for spending marketing dollars.

Know who you’re dealing with.

Approval and decision processes are the most emotionally taxing. Brace yourself. Be prepared to be ignored for days or weeks at a time and then re-draft proposals based on top level feedback on both sides, or changes in circumstance.  You may feel like you’re on the cusp of a deal, but then again you may stay there for what feels like forever.

Mitigate this risk by probing on two key areas. The first is understanding the decision making process and structure of your partner. How many levels, how many people. Try your best to understand all of their their pain points to facilitate decisions. Offer to meet them if you can; the closer you can get to decision makers, the better. The second area to probe is if there is a critical activation impetus such as a product launch. Those core events and the planning lead time required on their end will give you a sense of when conversations (and answers!) may heat up….or why they have slowed down.

Timing is everything.

…which brings me to timing. Time matters greatly and rears its head in many forms. You want to know at what time annual budgets are allocated. If you’re late to the table, you have a long road ahead if you are attempting to re-allocate spending from other area. You want to understand activation lead times (e.g. some brands prefer to highlight key programs at periodic sales meetings for example). Know what the milestones are…and beware of yours as well.

Think long term when building partner and sponsor relationships. That will get you started early and allow you to build a strong network from which a deal can materialize at any time. The more short sighted and transactional your perspective, the more frustrated you may become.


This checklist serves as a guide to leave you confident you’re in a promising situation. Once that happens, you can concern yourself less about environmental factors that can thwart your efforts while you focus on the core elements of constructing a deal:

  • Asset bartering; there are many models out there or you can just build one. In a sponsorship situation, yes, one of the assets is cash. Starts with understanding the media value of all of your consumer touch points
  • Problem solving; be there to help your partner, always; the more you’re all about them, the more success you are likely to have
  • Marketing combustion; through collaborative activation, make the whole of your combined program greater than the sum of each of your inputs