Dealing with Unhappy Sponsors

Walmartfrown_2Having an unhappy sponsor or two, especially after a big, splashy event like Halloween Town, is part of life.  I figure there will always be unhappy customers so you might as well learn how to deal with them.  Here are a few tips on what I do when my sponsors lose their happy face.

Don't take it personal.  The sponsor probably knows you tried your best, you just came up short in delivering the goods.  It's about what was agreed on and what was provided.  It's not about whether or not you're a good or bad person.

Let them vent.  This is always a tough one for me because I want to argue my case.  Deep down I want to show the sponsor that I'm right and they're wrong.  But you have to accept that that won't make the situation any better.  What will is letting the sponsor unload on you.  And just don't tune them out.  Remember, they're sowing the seeds for what can become a productive conversation.

Acknowledge. Explain. Repeat.  If the sponsor isn't happy just venting and wants an exchange instead, start by acknowledging their disappointment: "I'm sorry you were disappointed with the set design."  Then, very briefly, explain yourself: "We told you that the set was a three year process and there would be less decor the first year."

Focus on the positive.  All of the programs we run here in cause and event marketing offer a lot of value for sponsors.  I remind my sponsors of their windfall so I can isolate their complaints.  I don't try to dismiss their concerns, but I do want to put them in the larger context of what was achieved. 

Focus on the fix and the future.  When a sponsor complained about their zone at Halloween Town this year I did all the above, but I put most of my energy into developing next steps.  I showed them how I planned to solve the problem next year so it would never be a problem ever again!  Sponsors are just people: they're solution-oriented and just want to know their complaints are being heard and solved.

Take the fight to them.  In talking about the future, I always make sure to zero in on things the sponsor needs to improve.  My "fix" always includes ways the sponsor could help address the problem.  A sponsor that's worried about their branding at Halloween Town could have more staff on-site to take ownership for their area and to execute a flawless experience for guests.