Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Signing Them Up.

Well, I have to hand it to you people. Actually, quite of few of you handed it me last week -- I got flooded with e-mail about the sponsorship thing. Seems I struck quite a chord with the vast majority of us who will never churn high volume web sites, preferring instead to focus on quality of presentation and product.

Quality. What a concept.

With the exception of one thimble-brained dweeb -- and he knows who he is -- everyone wrote to ask more questions about securing sponsors for their sites. So I thought I'd take a few moments here to respond to the most frequently asked questions.

The most frequent query ran along the lines of, "Okay, Rob, we're with ya. But how the heck do you get sponsors in the first place?" If I were as flippant, shallow and transparent as the average marketing and advertising guy, I'd give you an answer like, "You hire a professional like me to do it for you." But that's not what you want to hear, is it? No. Fine. I just hope you can live with yourselves while my kids stand on street corners bearing signs that say, "Will write code for food."

Okay, so if you're not going to send checks, how the heck do you get someone to sponsor your site? Well, the first thing you have to do -- I kid you not -- is:

1.BELIEVE YOUR OWN STORY. That's right. You know how you keep telling your parents/spouse/friends-at-the-coffeehouse that the net is where it's going to be happening any day now? You remember how you thumbed your nose at the guys in the office when you kissed them off for a life on the web? Well, it's time for you to climb into a monkey suit and go to some blue blood businesses types and do the same thing convincingly. Preferably, without laughing. That means you have know your stuff inside-out. Because for every dollar a sponsor invests, he asks at least one hundred questions.

2. PUT TOGETHER A PROPOSAL THAT MEANS SOMETHING. And be sure to include some numbers to back you up. What kind of numbers, you ask? The kind of numbers that tell a potential sponsor that his dollars are much better spent on your site than someplace else. Sure, it sounds simple, but just ask the man/woman/thing that does this for a living: it's incredibly difficult. A spreadsheet is a spreadsheet, but making a spreadsheet matter to someone requires a lot of diligence and hard work. The biggest mistake novices make in this area is NOT knowing where their potential sponsor is currently spending money. If you really want to look like a goof, try walking into the meeting without this information. I've been in conference rooms where the temperature shoots up a good ten degrees on embarrassment alone.

3. THINK SMALL. Don't sell the moon and the stars if all you've got is a '56 Buick. Okay, that's a tad obscure, but what I mean is just sell what you've got to sell, and take what it's worth. I can't tell you the number of knuckleheads that pitch me on sites that are sure to generate at least X number of hits a week with a clickthrough rate of Y. I REALLY know they're airheads when they punctuate it with a,"and these are very conservative numbers." Look, if you've got a small site, flaunt it for the quality of visitor you get. Every advertiser I have ever known ALWAYS preferred quality over quantity, because quality leads are much easier to close. Don't expect to get rich overnight, but do plan on it to grow.

4. THINK LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP. The best sponsorship opportunities are NOT get-rich-quick snake-oil concepts. They're "here's why we think there's a fit" meetings. Again, the quickest way to arouse suspicion is to walk in the door with a get-rich-quick attitude. Your odds are much better with a teamwork approach. Building it together has two advantages: first, it allows your sponsor to enjoy a sense of control (regardless of how ill-conceived his notion may be). Second, if you really work openly and pro-actively, your sponsor will help you develop content. This will come in handy the day you both sit down and decide that you really have something that you would both like to "take to the next level."

5. NARROW A LIST OF TARGETS. Sure, I love your site. You love your site. Your Mom probably loves it, too. But the bad news is that not everyone loves it and even fewer are willing to spend money on it. If you really want a sponsor for your site, there's one thing you absolutely MUST do:

Stop thinking about your agenda and start thinking about theirs.

The problem that many developers suffer is a strange case of myopia, where nothing else matters but their site. In business -- especially the service business -- you've got to get warm with the notion that it's the OTHER GUY'S agenda that matters, not yours. That's why he's paying you and not vice-versa. If the relationship is good ad respectful, this can be a lot of fun. If it isn't, it's a lot like being married to Madonna. Yeecch.

In my experience, the best targets are NOT huge businesses or start-ups. The most receptive sponsorship opportunities are small-to-mid-range businesses that are too big to ignore the internet, but too small to handle it by themselves.

6. CHARGE SOMETHING REASONABLE. Yeah, I read all about these pre-natal kids in sneakers earning a zillion dollars a year creating websites and stuff. But unless you recognize yourself in that last sentence, you're just as mortal as I am, which means you have to deal with reality. I never recommend charging by click-through, because I'm a marketing guy, not a net-nut. I know that building sales and relationships does NOT happen with one mouse click. It takes time, patience and persistence on the internet and every place else. I'd recommend starting out on a monthly fee for the first 90 days, or whatever time period is required for you to come back to your sponsor and demonstrate the site's effectiveness. Trust me, NOTHING gets a client's attention like, "See this bump in sales? We tracked every one of them, and 80% came directly from the website at a cost to you of $X per lead." The other reason to charge monthly is that to most of them, the internet is still brand-spanking new. A monthly fee is a cost-containment that gives most new sponsors a very high comfort level.

7. PICK UP THE PHONE. Undoubtedly the hardest part of any sales, but face it, pal, you're in the sales business now. Of course, if you really believe that you can do a company some good, the phone receiver gets a lot easier to pick up. Let them know how much you know about their business. If they have a website, tell them what you liked about it and how you can augment their efforts. Mention that you have 42" biceps. ANYTHING. Just get them talking in the same direction as you're rowing.

8. DON'T SELL AIR. Talk to the marketing person, but don't sell hard. Instead, ask them to visit the site you're proposing they sponsor. Pointing them to a site that already exists goes a long way to closing a deal, because most of these people THINK you're asking them for money to build them a site. Conversely, nothing screams "FAKE! FRAUD!" louder than someone who calls up and "proposes" a project for which he hasn't yet lifted a finger.

9. LEAVE YOURSELF AN OUT. Look, you'll make a lot of calls -- and unless you really know how to network -- probably get a lot of rejections. But the smart guys all use rejection to refine their techniques, which in the end, gives them higher success ratios. But in the event that you do sign a sponsor, make sure the sponsorship is for a limited time, subject to renewal. You want to leave yourself an out for several reasons. First, your sponsor may want to leave you. Second, you may want to leave your sponsor. And third, your sponsor's competitor may want to pay you three times your going rate.

10. PLAY THE SOCIO-POLITICAL CARD: Hey, we live in a politically correct world, where "corporate community" stuff is not only expected, it's monitored. There are lots of businesses who would love to give to a cause, but have no place to put the money. Which is why great place to start is with sponsor-prospects' lists of current pet causes. Look for the hole they don't fill and pitch them on filling it.

Remember, sponsorships -- no matter how noble the cause -- are still about business. Make sure your sponsorship opportunity is, too.

Rob Frankel

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