February 2, 2010

Deliver Results

By Renee Houston Zemanski

Think you’ve done it all? You haven’t met Sylvia Allen. Just last year, this upbeat and determined CEO, 69 years old, rode 11 miles in the Iditarod dog sled race and took a helicopter ride to go glacier-hopping in Alaska. What’s even more remarkable (not really, if you know Allen) is that she retained the right to sell sponsorships for the prestigious Iditarod event from over 4,500 miles away at her business in Holmdel, NJ.

As CEO of Allen Consulting, a full-service marketing and communications firm, Allen is used to selling sponsorships, but most of them are in the “lower 48” near the beach such as the Oceanfest in Long Branch, NJ and the NJ State Ice Cream Festival. No matter where you are – Alaska or New Jersey – the key to selling sponsorships is to make sure that people see it, smell it, touch it, and experience it, says Allen. In fact, to get her prospects involved in the Iditarod, Allen lets them experience it via the Internet through “The Iditarod Insider,” with access to daily video clips, live events, exclusive video archives and interactive race content. If prospects can’t make it to Alaska to view the race, Allen wants to bring the race to them. Allen also believes that to sell sponsorships for any event, she has to experience it firsthand. That’s why in 2005, she bid on and won a chance to ride in the first 11 miles of the Iditarod race.

Allen attended the Iditarod again in March of 2006 and is currently pursuing sponsors for 2007 by attending outdoor trade events and spreading the word about the once-a-year event. While sponsors in the past were mostly Alaskan businesses, she believes that there are many national sponsors that could benefit from the event’s prestigious recognition.

As an internationally known, highly regarded trainer and motivational speaker, Allen isn’t afraid to share her secrets to success. In fact, she wants to share them. Sponsorships are investments, according to Allen and she has a passion (and knack) for selling them.

“I define sponsorships as ‘an investment, in cash or in kind, in return for access to exploitable business potential associated with an event or highly publicized entity,’” says Allen. “The key words are investment, access, and exploitable. By constantly looking at sponsorships as an ‘investment’ – where there is a viable payback – no longer are you talking to someone about a payment of money. Rather, it implies that value will be returned to the investor. ‘Access’ means the ability to be associated with a particular offering – a sporting event, festival, or a concert. Last, ‘exploitable’ means to take the greatest advantage of – in a positive way – the relationship.”

To be successful in selling sponsorships, Allen has developed and marketed, through seminars and books, a 12-step program to sponsorship success. In addition, Allen says that it’s equally important to tap into your creativity.

“Don’t be afraid to be outrageous,” says Allen. “During a sales meeting it’s all right to say, ‘Let’s brainstorm right now.’ You must have passion for what it is that you do and it must show. It’s true in any profession, but especially selling.”

Finding the Perfect Fit

In selecting sponsors for any event, Allen looks carefully at the attendance, demographics, and psychographics of the event.

“You can’t be Mountain Dew going to an AARP convention,” she jokes. “That’s why it’s so important to do your homework, know your client’s business, know the event, and match them appropriately. Be a consultant instead of a salesperson. Change your whole mind-set; care about the client – ask, ‘How can I help you? What are your biggest problems or challenges right now?’ Know your prospect’s personality and sell to it. Be sensitive to their style.”

It also helps to look at the event from a sponsor’s point of view, says Allen. What criteria would they use to determine participation? Will sales and management support the event? Will the event give them new business opportunities? Did the event grow in the past few years? Did organizers deliver on their promises? Understanding what your sponsors are looking for will help you make an easier sale.

Before meeting with any prospect, Allen prepares a one-page fact sheet that clearly outlines the event basics – the who, what, where, and when; the benefits of sponsorship; marketing opportunities; and promotion ideas and levels. At the same time, Allen cautions not to overwhelm your client with too much information. “When selling sponsorships, keep in mind that the prime objective of the proposal is to whet the sponsor’s appetite,” says Allen.

After discussing the benefits of the sponsorship, talk about pricing and value, says Allen, who believes that an important selling strategy is to let your prospects understand that if each component of the sponsorship were purchased separately, it would cost twice as much.

Once your sponsorship components are established, Allen says, it’s time to get the media involved as a sponsor by following the same guidelines as selecting your other sponsorship partners.

Whether your clients are the media or a corporation, Allen recommends working ahead of the client’s budget cycle. If you’re working on a promotion for March, it’s not okay to start in October. You should be working in August.

You also need to train your sponsorship buyer, says Allen. “You have to show them how to work an event and then get them involved with it,” she says. “Just being a sponsor isn’t enough. I try very hard to get the sponsor to come to the event because once they have the total immersion, they can see how valuable it is to them. Remember, the more you involve them in the process the more committed they become.”

Last, Allen says to always over-deliver. “It doesn’t cost you to do a little extra and they always remember it,” she says. (If they don’t remember, remind them.)

Sylvia Allen is an internationally recognized speaker and sponsorship sales expert. She is an adjunct associate professor of marketing at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Her firm produced more than 100 events and raised more than $1 million worth of sponsorships for clients last year. Allen is author of A Woman’s Guide to Sales Success, (Allen Consulting, Inc., 2006) and co-author of How to Be Successful in Sponsorship Sales, (Allen Consulting, Inc., 1998).