(Almost) Nothing like Mad Men: Reindeer Games with Advertising Agencies


It is an uneventful Tuesday in your Fundraising office when the call (or more likely, the email) falls out of the Sunny Blue Sky: “Hi, I ‘d like more information on sponsorship of your outdoor Summer Series. Can you send me an overview? I have a client that might be interested.”

Wow, you say. Today is the Day. Glorious. At Last. Your first instinct is going to be to send them a comprehensive proposal outlining in full and excruciating detail seven separate and wonderful ideas, with pricing and benefit.

Don’t. Play it cool. Breathe.

The Advertising Game is a lively business and you probably don’t know the Rules of this particular Yahtzee.

Advertising agencies exist for but for one singular purpose: to maximize profit. They will (and do) endorse poster ads above urinals in the Men’s room at Wal-Mart if the price is right and the client digs it.

How do Agencies make money? A company hires an Agency to either assist with the creative development of a brand or to vet advertising and sponsorship opportunities on their behalf. The latter is accomplished in one of two ways – either by the agency being paid to review and pass along your proposal or by buying your proposal outright, and marking up the price that the client pays. I honestly prefer to work with an agency that buys my idea outright and charges the company separately.

Agencies also make considerable revenue by negotiating pricing with media (print, television, radio, etc) and taking a percentage off the marketing buy of the client.

What does this mean for pitching a sponsorship to an Agency? Here is what I’ve learned from painful trial and error and from dating a marketing director for a lifestyle magazine (who traded up for a younger and sleeker Audi but showed me some tricks before I landed in the Used Car auction). Some Pro-tips:

  1. Take it slow. Don’t give your best ideas right away. Agencies love information. They love seeing what you are doing, what your pitch looks like, the price tag, and how you as, ultimately, the competition for the marketing budget, are presenting your ideas. Don’t give them anything too specific until you’ve had an initial conversation. They are going to ask you (I promise) to, “Send everything you have for us to look at.” And you mustn’t.
  2. Get the Meeting. If they are serious they will devote some time to talking through your 1-2 good ideas in person or on the phone. If they say, “Oh, just send me everything” you should be proceed with caution. At the end of the day you are the competition.
  3. Ask many Questions. What sort of organization (even by industry) are we talking about? What is their specific marketing plan for your region? What is the timeline?
  4. Talk about your Audience In the arts we have an enviable audience for most any marketer. Be prepared to talk in detail about the demographics of your audience. Call me to chat about how to do this or start with a simple zip code analysis of where your subscribers live. Or, you know, call me and I can help.
  5. Propose an Idea that looks a lot like Advertising. Agencies best understand ideas that look like traditional media. What does that look like for us? The back of your season program is worth a bunch to someone.
  6. Tailor your Proposal. The Agency is not going to care at all about sponsor ticket allotment, opportunity to host events in your donor lounge, or the personal VIP backstage tour with your Artistic Director. They are going to care about visibility and ROI. Develop a custom overview, based on a specific idea that you discussed on the phone or in person. Your proposal should be short and direct, 2-3 pages max. Of course as a .pdf yes?
  7. Emphasize Urgency. Of course it will be more interesting to hear that there are other parties who’ve received the proposal, particularly if they are in direct competition. Don’t lie though. Lying isn’t good. Be creative.

So you take the meeting, develop a good idea with your Agency Bestie, send off a strong proposal and then Crickets.

And then you wait. And it probably won’t go anywhere. Why? Odds are stacked against us compared with the more traditional media – however many eyes will gaze upon your Summer Jazz Party Presented by Mazda will pale in comparison to a Sunday advertisement in the local paper or a television ad during the football game.

Follow up of course. If you gave it a good show, not much to be done if you don’t get the gig. The best Agencies will call or email to give feedback. That’s not true. Hardly any of them will call or email you again until they want another proposal.

I have pitched so many impactful, creative ideas that went nowhere with Agencies. It is a lot like dating or job interviews. Sometimes she just wants a German sedan, and often the client will stick to sponsoring soccer.

What if they say Yes? Be prepared to negotiate price and terms. I always prefer to throw more into the proposal (additional print advertising, length of promotion, sampling opportunities etc) rather than to lower the price.

Pitching agencies is a lively Game and you should treat it what way. It might be failed effort but the attempt will make your sponsorship program stronger.

The day you land one of these deals call me and we can celebrate together. The most fun in fundraising is when the phone rings and the answer is Yes.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
This entry was posted in Cultural Entrepreneurship, Fundraising, Sponsorship. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to (Almost) Nothing like Mad Men: Reindeer Games with Advertising Agencies

  1. Pingback: Quit Selling Sponsorships. Start Cultivating Partnerships. | artful fund raiser

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