Practice makes perfect in the Five Minute Pitch

publication date: Jun 4, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski, Lisa MacDonald
Picture a sponsorship faceoff, Dragon's Den style. On one side, five eager presenters seeking corporate dollars for great projects. On the other, five corporate sponsorship officers, each with a mock budget of $100,000 and instructions to ignore any geographic limitations they'd normally apply.

Hungry and hopeful, the five contestants had already reviewed the companies' sponsorship guidelines, researched their marketing and sponsorship objectives, and interviewed the officers. Before a live audience at the 2010 Western Sponsorship Congress, they pitched to the panellists holding the imaginary money.

  • Sean Rodman of Victoria's Royal BC Museum opened with a touring exhibit touting Canadian artist Emily Carr as a feminist leader who challenged her era's notions of appropriate female behaviour as well as worthy art.
  • The MS Society of Canada (Manitoba division) fielded Shelly Smith-Hines offering involvement in the 2011 MS Walk to be held in communities throughout Manitoba.
  • Seamus O'Keefe pitched on behalf of Play On!, a national street hockey tournament affiliated with Hockey Night in Canada.
  • Marc Carnes of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra offered ties to a three-year series of family concerts in locations throughout Alberta.
  • Gary Dewar from the City of Edmonton proposed naming rights for a new recreational complex, or for Heritage Day, an annual day of free admission for city-owned historic attractions.
Lesson #1 - It's not always about sales

To gasps and applause, Dale Hooper of PepsiCo Beverages Canada turned to the first presenter and announced, "Sean, I'm giving you all my money!" Hooper pounced on the project's great fit with PepsiCo's systematic efforts to retain and grow female managerial talent.

He even offered Rodman more money than he'd requested for four locations, as long as PepsiCo could incorporate a speaker on leadership with a visit to the exhibit for its women's staff networks at each stop.

Hooper complimented all the presenters on their use of social media networks, their unique customized proposals, and the fact that they had reached out to him in advance for specific discussions of PepsiCo's goals for its sponsorships.

Lesson #2: More of the same doesn't necessarily fit

John Windwick of ATB Financial found things to like in a number of pitches. He offered Smith-Hines more than she'd requested in return for a deeper involvement, and split his remaining budget between selected locations in the Edmonton Symphony's family concert series and the City of Edmonton's Heritage Day.

While some companies focus on a particular sector or type of event. Others, including ATB Financial, prefer to diversify. Windwick ruled out the Royal BC Museum because the company already sponsors the Art Gallery of Alberta's young artists' competition, and turned down the street hockey tournament because ATB sponsors minor hockey teams.

Lesson #3: Sponsors' ideas may be better than yours

Chris Pollen of Homes by Avi favoured the proposals from Edmonton contenders. How could he resist naming rights on a new City of Edmonton recreational complex located near an Avi development? He couldn't, and immediately spent two-thirds of his budget.

Pollen noted that his company was not yet involved in the arts in Edmonton. The symphony's concert series included a three-year commitment. Pollen countered with a smaller offer for a one-year trial, with renewal if the project met the company's objectives.

To the MS Society, Pollen offered an entirely different idea: scholarships within the building trades, with the winning students helping to build an Avi home. The MS Society could then raffle the home.

Lesson #4: Back to the drawing board is still a win

If Lucy Railton of Konica Minolta Business Solutions could tell sponsorship seekers one thing, it would be this: Companies that sell products to other businesses want hospitality opportunities for potential clients, not a chance to impress the wide world.

She saw potential in the Royal BC Museum and Play On! While she ruled out their initial proposals because they didn't provide chances to meet potential clients, she asked them both to try again - the museum with a proposal for private corporate events during the tour, and Play On! with a sponsorship centred on the Corporate Challenge portion of the event.

Lesson #5: Sponsor staff engagement can lead to a winning proposal

All the pitchers who won a share of Chrystal Robert's mock budget had one thing in common: they provided or had potential for significant volunteer involvement by staff. That matters to Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, where leaders believe that the high morale from hands-on community involvement strengthens the company's recruitment and retention.

She noted the lack of volunteerism in the Royal BC Museum proposal, but liked it enough to offer some money if volunteer opportunities were added. To the MS Society she proposed a one-year trial budget provided they could work together to grow the scope of the event. She allocated the rest of her money to the City of Edmonton's free Heritage Day, again requiring the city to create a heavy volunteer component.

The long tail:relationship building

In the TV version of Dragon's Den there are clear winners and losers, but all participants in this exercise felt richer for the experience. Sean Rodman and Shelly Smith-Hines both agree with O'Keefe's assessment of the networking opportunity that resulted from being part of the pitch panel.

"It certainly raised our exposure," says Rodman. "I made some contacts that I'm still sustaining."

For Smith-Hines, the publicity for her organization was a bonus but she experienced a more personal benefit. "I think it gave me greater confidence. I was well prepared and knew my inventories and properties of what I was looking to sell. The feedback from the panel and the audience was great."

"Being prepared" was another critical success factor identified by all participants. For Gary Dewar, the experience reconfirmed what previous efforts had taught him, "... that you need to have a clear understanding of a sponsor's needs and wants.  Success is more likely when you do your homework."

So can a practical exercise like the Five Minute Pitch result in real-world sponsorships? Without a doubt, the answer is yes. All participants report ongoing contact with conference attendees that may result in a future sponsorship deals. But, as Sean Rodman puts it, "you have to take a long view of it. The time to close a deal from initial contact can be 18 months to two years. Making the contacts was important."

It's not too late win an all-expenses-paid place on the panel in 2011 and experience all the challenges and rewards that this sponsorship faceoff has to offer! See details here.

This article is excerpted from Winning Together, a 52-page handbook on sponsorship from Hilborn. Download it at no charge from the navigation pane on the left - our gift to you.

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