Rant by Rob Eveleigh, Brightelm: R.E.S.P.E.C.T. your sponsors

// Guest article by Rob Eveleigh, Brighthelm UK

Brightelm’s Rob Eveleigh considers what associations can learn from a music legend.

Photo: Rob Eveleigh

Photo: Rob Eveleigh, Brighthelm UK

The late great Aretha Franklin recorded many songs including 17 in the US Top Ten. She had a voice known the world over but who knew one of her songs would be relevant to association event sponsorship. “Respect” became an anthem for the feminist movement in the late sixties, it earned Aretha two Grammys but most importantly it tells the story of a strong, confident individual standing up and demanding she be given the respect she is due.

The same is true in so many business relationships, including those developed when we organise a conference or event. Those of us working in a dedicated professional manner have a right to be heard and treated with respect. It is however a two-way street, which is what I want to focus on: we don’t just have a right to be respected ourselves but as true professionals we need to respect those around us.

Another name that will no doubt become legendary in music circles, but for all the wrong reasons, was the Fyre Festival. It was a wonderful example of where the organiser had so little respect for anyone else involved in the event that it’s no surprise that the whole thing fell flat on its face. From suppliers to attendees they simply didn’t care about anyone around them. It was an entirely selfish approach to event organising and they more than deserve the way they have been pilloried by the press, social media and general public.

I don’t intend to go over the well-known details of the event, but I am intrigued about their approach to sponsorship, from which we can all learn a lot of lessons. Firstly, there is the approach they took to sponsorship sales. Their pitch document was too long and convoluted, leaving the reader with no idea what they were actually buying or how much it was due to cost. 

Clearly the sales team (to give them a generous title) felt they could use fashionable words, empty promises, some very creative stats and pretty pictures to pull the wool over the eyes of the sponsors. Apart from anything else this approach shows a lack of understanding and respect of the people they are pitching to. Those people holding the sponsorship purse strings at major brands have heard more than their fair share of pitches – they know how to spot the bad ones and Fyre was one of the worst.

Adding to their ineptitude and lack of respect was revealing the names of “potential sponsors”. At the simplest level that could lead to a potential law suit when they use someone’s logo without permission. More importantly though, most global brands like to keep details of what they are doing confidential until the sponsorship is activated. Otherwise it can ruin any possible competitive edge.

What was fundamentally missing from the Fyre sponsorship pitch was respect. Global brands are interested in genuine exposure to a defined audience under specific conditions and they are more than willing to pay for it. But to believe you can persuade a company to part with money on loose promises is at best unprofessional and at worst fraudulent.

It is hard to describe Fyre as a festival, let alone compare it to a professionally run association event. However, the lessons remain the same: identify what you genuinely have to offer to sponsors, be honest and open in term of what you can deliver and how it can add value to them, and only then go in with a pitch that respects them, their business and their professionalism.

Finally, a quick nod to those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music – I am aware that “Respect” was originally written and released by Otis Reading… but I think we all know which version has stood the test of time and had the greatest impact.

Rob Eveleigh,

What's your opinion, observed something similar - of different? Let us know!

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