by Aziza Uko
Every Nigerian must have at least two reality TV show ideas. In sponsorship, nobody is out to help anybody. It’s about all commerce. A plan is not a house. A calling is not a ministry. A recipe is no cookie. And an idea is not a property.
“AZIZA, PLEASE I need your help.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I have this idea, I need sponsorship.”
I have had this dialogue countless times, I’ll estimate, with thousands of youths. I worked in a public relations function for an organisation that was serious about sponsorship. We spent billions of naira annually on our marketing communications. We were a very visible brand focused on retail market. When it came to communication, we were a big dog. So, of course, with the visibility came a torrent of sponsorship requests.
It is from that job I derived the theory that every Nigerian has at least two reality TV show ideas. They may not have them written down anywhere or may not come up with a fancy proposal for sponsorship, but at least two hardcore ideas for a reality TV show have crossed everybody’s mind and those ideas have been thought about deeply or even discussed with a friend.
A bulk of the requests for sponsorship were matched with a letter of decline, but a good number were invited to make a presentation to our team. It hurt me to see young people with great ideas struggle to get their message across.
Thankfully, at some point, I led the sponsorship function and I had the freedom to include in my schedule what I always wished I could do – teach!
To be more effective, I made Thursdays an open day for all people who wanted to make presentations. So, each Thursday, I got a good number of young people with great ideas who needed money to match it into a room and this is what I told them.
Sponsorship is cold-hearted calculation
Yes! Forget about the do-gooder benefits of sponsorship to the organisation. If you are looking for someone to pity you and give you some money to make your dreams come true, run to mum and dad. Sponsorship is not Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
There’s a big distinction between the two of them. Sponsorship budgets are used to drive the marketing objectives of the organisation. So it’s treated pretty much the same way as advertising money; it’s just that the marketing matrix differs.
IEG defines sponsorship as, ‘A cash and/or in-kind fee paid to a property (typically sports, entertainment, non-profit events or organization) in return for access to the exploitable commercial potential associated with that property.’ and a property as, ‘a unique, commercially exploitable entity, (typically in sports, arts, events, entertainment or causes).’
In sponsorship, nobody is out to help anybody. It’s all about commerce.
Be original, but not too much
Many are so consumed by the quest for originality that they lose their way completely. It’s important to ask the question, “Is there anything new under the sun?” Most platforms have been explored by those who ran before you. Is there any need to re-invent the wheel?
Talent hunt of all kinds, for instance, have been done. Specifically, singing talents hunts have been done before. And guess what! There’s a world’s leading TV brand in that category called Idols. So, when a young person comes to me and says, “Aziza, I have this idea for a singing talent hunt for TV,” my immediate question is, “Something like Idols?”
You would think that the most common answer would be, “Yes.” Sadly, it’s “No, something different.”
While differentiation is the essence of brand creation, it never hurts to simplify your audience’s decision-making process by referring to the champion in your field and saying, “I am just like him.” Immediately, your prospect gets a picture of who you are because she’s familiar with the world’s leading brand in your field. It will save everyone, including you, a lot of sweat.
There’s a reason why #1 is #1. It makes sense to respect that. He didn’t become number by chance or luck, he became #1 because he did many things right. It’s a fatal error to be driven by a blind quest to be different that you step away from everything that’s great about the leading brand in your category. When you do that, you end up picking up redundant or discarded ideas and combining them with untested ones and will end up with an awful and unsellable phony of the real thing.
For a man in no place at all, you have nothing to lose by copying the leader.
Businesses don’t sponsor other businesses
So many times, I have seen proposals that belong on the desk of a venture capitalist or a loans officer on mine. If you have a great product or a great business idea and you need funding to get it out the market, there’s no money for you in the marketing communications purse. Forget about it. There are no shortcuts in life; you have got to go get funds for your business like every other entrepreneur and let go of some of your equity or some profits by way of interest payments.
This is true even if what you want to do would have commercial exploitation benefits to sell to a sponsor e.g. a TV station or a new kind of phone or a new website. You have got to have a property that holds value before you can successfully sell it to a sponsor.
Remember our definition of sponsorship and property.
Two is better than one
I believe that the biggest impeding factor in the quest for sponsorship is fear. There’s so much paranoia in the sponsorship circuit about having one’s idea ‘stolen’ that so many ideas land on the sponsor’s desk without any pruning whatsoever.
This is the way ideas go: they fly with the wind. It’s been proven that many people think the same kind of thoughts within a certain time frame. Ideas are the cheapest thing to find. Everybody has one. In fashion for instance, isn’t it amazing that a certain season opens around the world simultaneously and designers from Beirut to Lagos-New York to Milan come up with the same ideas? How does that happen?
When you are laying down on your bed, awake at night, looking at your ceiling thinking of doing your own version of ‘Top Chef’ or ‘Project Runway’ be rest assured that you are not alone. Possibly, at that same time, awake with you, thinking the exact same thoughts, are hundreds of others.
The lesson: Submit your ideas to people you trust and believe in. So that your assumptions can be challenged, your focus sharpened, your idea made better. That way, a refined product makes it to potential sponsors’ tables, increasing your chances.
Till you do something, you really have nothing
A plan is not a house. A calling is not a ministry. A recipe is no cookie. And an idea is not a property.
The race is not about who has the best idea, the race is about who gets to the market first. So, don’t hang around with your idea tucked in a safety deposit box in your lawyers chambers complete with a trademark seal and copyright stamp. While it’s locked up there, safe and secure, you may just turn on the TV and see your ‘idea’ showing on TV and you are not the creator.
Do what it takes to exit your idea from the realms of thought to the real and tangible where it can be measured and bought by a sponsor.
Control freaks end up alone
Ever wonder why professionals in sponsorship use the word ‘buy’ to describe sponsorship? It’s because that’s what it is, a buy decision.
When you accept sponsorship money, you are actually selling your property to the sponsor for an agreed period. For a TV show, it could be a season, for a sporting event, it could be for the entire tournament.
Whatever the agreements are, if you don’t want to let go and start using the words ‘we, us, and our’ instead of ‘me, I, and mine’, you are getting nowhere with sponsors.
Most young people in the search for sponsorship act like they did with their parents while in school, “Mom and Dad, I love you so much. I need money for all kinds of things. Thanks, you are the best. … Don’t bother visiting me in school, I am doing fine. My grades are fine too, no need for you to check them. Just give me the car I need and lots of pocket money. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Hugs and kisses. Love you!”
Sorry, sponsorship relationships don’t work that way. You have to be willing to foster partnerships to get a sponsor who would back you up. This leads me to the last and perhaps most important.
Sponsors are people too
A lot of people blame their failures on their lack of contacts. “If only I know a ‘big man’ in the company, I will get the sponsorship I need.”
That’s the worst kind of impossibility thinking. It produces only regret and failure.
People run things. Find out what the people want, not in terms of bribes but in terms of value. Approach people with respect. Don’t try to force your idea down on other people. Listen to them, ask questions and be interested in the answers.
Respect for people and their own ideas will take you further in life.
I thought I was done, but there’s one more thing.
Don’t try to game the system
It doesn’t work. Don’t send out different figures to different organisations based on what you think will be their budget or appetite for your kind of property.
The people who take decisions on sponsorship are professionals and the mark of professionalism is information sharing. They talk!
Organise yourself. Put your sponsorship matrix together – you’ll need professional help with this; get it. Be consistent with your communication and presentation. You can personalise the ‘soft’ aspects of your proposal, but the hard facts and figures should be consistent.
Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the desire to sign up a sponsor that you get desperate and under-price your property. Be firm and confident. People like that.
This article was first published in Y! Magazine, Issue 5