May 26, 2009 at 06:53 PM
written by Michael Munson

Sponsorwise to SponsorPitch, 10 Years in Sponsorship

As you may have heard, Michael Munson, the founder of Sponsorwise, joined the SponsorPitch team last week. Michael will reside in Silicon Valley and continue in his current role for Fantell while serving as Vice President, Content & Strategy for SponsorPitch. Mike can be reached by email at [email protected] and on Twitter at @mjmunson. Here is his story..

In 1998, After going through grad school and doing a Master’s Thesis on a study of sponsorship effectiveness, I ended up working for FCB Sports – a division of Foote, Cone & Belding – in San Francisco. This agency arm advised clients like PowerBar, AT&T Wireless, and Dockers how to maximize sports marketing spending.

My first assignment at FCB was to identify all the sports sponsorship opportunities in the western states for AT&T Wireless. This included all the obvious sports, but also less obvious ones. Have you heard of adventure racing? Anyway… I used telephone book-like directories, my own knowledge, and was even able to find a bit of information through online research, to compile my list.

I leaned on the Team Marketing Report Sports Sponsor Fact Book and the IEG Source Book for much of my research. But honestly, when you are in the Internet and technology capital of the globe, looking at directories published once a year to find information, when you know it is possible for that information to be online and updated in real time, is a major buzz kill.

The lack of such a resource astonished me. There I was, spending two weeks working on the most inane project imaginable after 18+ years of school. Worse, even after I identified my list of properties, if I wanted to know anything about them, I had to call and ask for a media kit or a proposal because so few had websites. Even if they had a site, the information I could use to assess it as a sponsorship opportunity worthy of consideration, was missing.

Why couldn’t I have just done a search on a website and seen all the sports properties available? Why couldn’t I find out about them and their audiences online, anonymously? Why wasn’t IEG or TMR providing this? The client had to be getting billed at least $75/hour for this research project. If AT&T Wireless is going to pay north of $2000, it should get a database with properties around the globe, with useful information about all of them. Oh, and it should probably go beyond sports, to music, film, fashion, arts, causes, etc. If I’m a marketer, I want to know what my customers are passionate about… and sports is, but one data point in this mix. But hey, now the agency had this proprietary list it could sell other clients for 100% straight to the bottom line profit. Why would the agency share it?

Needless to say, it became evident the Internet was the perfect way to share information about sponsorship opportunities and a universal source for that information would be valuable for everyone.

So armed with about a year of “real world” work experience, a lot of naivety (and a healthy amount of skepticism about how the industry, in 1999 I quit the agency job to start a company called Sponsorwise. The goal was build a website and database to disseminate information about sponsorship opportunities on the Internet to efficiently and appropriately connect sponsors and properties, based on strategic fit and opportunity to deliver results, not executive preference.

Sponsorwise built a platform that allowed a narrative description, standard attributes, demographics, location, sponsorship asset inventory, and contact information about a property to be stored and searched. It charged $199 per year for properties to store their information in the database, and got a couple hundred properties to pay but a couple thousand were needed for the company to be viable and properties weren’t signing up as fast as we needed to keep the business going, so I had no choice but to look to corporations to generate revenue. This was not a good development for those of us with a vision for a ubiquitous database of sponsorship opportunities.

Hastened by the bursting Internet bubble, Sponsorwise developed and sold hosted software to automate receipt and review of inbound proposals to corporations. It initially looked like a blessing in disguise. We could get corporations to pay for a submission system, and send properties to our database to grow it. We pursued this path from 2002-2004. At one point our system handled 3000 proposals a month for as many as 30 different corporate customers, and the database exceeded 100,000 sponsorship seekers. The industry standard database looked promising, and Sponsorwise was ready to launch a new version that would allow any property or company on the site for free.

Then in 2004, SponsorDirect, who had tried to build its own online database with IEG SponsorDirect in 2002, followed Sponsorwise with a proposal management system. It differentiated by preventing properties from submitting the same information to multiple companies. When Sponsorwise heard it lost business because of this limitation in SponsorDirect’s product (called a feature), it was forced to follow suit and abandoned building a database in favor of more customized proposal management sales to corporations.

Seeing the model Sponsorwise had developed to facilitate building the ubiquitous database was being denied by shortsighted corporate marketers, and that corporate interests were being favored over property interests at every turn, I left Sponsorwise.

Now, 10 years after I did my original list of sports properties for AT&T Wireless at FCB Sports, we really haven’t advanced all that far as an industry when it comes to facilitating information exchange about sponsorship opportunities and sponsorship seekers online. Neither Sponsorwise, SponsorDirect, IEG, or anything else became the standard database network for sponsorship opportunities and companies seeking them.

Sponsorwise and SponsorDirect have large databases, but neither company has interest in supplying properties the tools to manage their information, or anyone else search tools to sift through the mountains of data and facilitate new relationships. Why? Nobody has shown any willingness to pay for it.

So sure properties have saved some time not having to enter and keep up to date information about their offerings online. And maybe they have saved a couple hundred bucks too. But can you honestly say, you, whether a buyer or seller of sponsorship, is better off as a result?

The proposal management software that corporations have seen fit to buy makes it easy to put up barriers and control the constant stream of inquiries they get, but it also ends up “boxing in” properties. In a day and age where a property could potentially offer social media, events, network TV/online assets, and sponsorship offers the ability to create cool activations, properties should demand more.

Corporate marketers might feel they have benefitted from their proposal submission and management software, but they must realize their zeal to keep information to themselves is an outdated mode of thinking. I mean, no matter how many proposals get sent to you, “reacting” only gives you a partial glimpse of the best opportunities for your brand.

But this is the real problem. Since sponsorship properties have yet to rally around a single platform, directory, information portal, or network of sponsorship opportunities, nothing has achieved a critical mass. This hurts the credibility of sponsorship as a marketing tool and also prevents better technologies and ideas from being developed that will make doing your job easier, whether you sell or buy sponsorships.

Oh the tools that could be built to facilitate information sharing and improve sponsorship marketing as a discipline…

The good news is SponsorPitch is now stepping into the leadership vacuum and taking its turn. It is ready, willing, and able to make a concerted effort to lead the industry with an information sharing and networking platform where the purveyors of sponsorship can congregate and share ideas with cutting edge information technology tools, in one place, with one format.

Linkedin, Facebook, etc. have made us all more comfortable with connecting, sharing and finding information on the Internet. Now, with even more media fragmentation, sponsorship opps from traditional to new media forms are popping up faster than ever before. Simply stated, there’s never been a more critical time to have a real-time tool to keep track of information and connect people to relevant information in this business.

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