Ad Agency Pro Bono Sponsorship “Help” to Properties

It happens all the time. Large and small advertising agencies, brand integration companies, and PR firms “help” charities and non-profits and other properties. They provide them with great marketing campaigns to build brand awareness, web sites, and so forth. But often, and usually most often, these are big mistakes. They hurt the property financially, and mess up their fundraising and sponsorship programs. They make it so that the revenue-generating parts of the properties are destined for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. The products they produce—the web sites, outdoor campaigns, social media campaigns, radio and TV campaigns—are top notch. They are great! But they fail to help put money on the bottom line.

What I so often see is these agencies coming up with spectacular brand awareness programs. They take a charity from obscurity to stardom. The organization’s web site is flooded with hits and unique visitors. People talk around the water coolers at work. Media outlets cover the story as the PR firms work their magic for unearned media impressions. The media partners secured by the agency providing the pro bono support also become engaged. And everyone goes WOW—was that ever amazing! Then they bow at the feet of the advertising agency and sing its praises. They rave about the fantastic the work of that agency (99.9% of the time, it is amazing output) and how, if it were not for such “support” by this wonderful advertising agency, this poor helpless charity or non-profit would still be mired in obscurity. Or how this “more established” charity or non-profit could have fallen into this spiral of doom. It might have a fairly strong brand and the “supporting” advertising agency helps it “to get to the next level.”

The problem is that the marketing agency focuses on brand, awareness, impressions, and all the things it can do. Then after everything is launched, the water cooler talk is happening, and the social media is all “a twitter,” someone says to the fund raiser or sponsorship person:

“OK, we have done our work. The brand is strong, so go get the money!”

But the money does not come in. There is no sense blaming the ad agency that did all that wonderful work and “helped us so much.” It is the sponsorship person’s fault because he or she cannot translate such “marketing success” into financial success.

What all these geniuses fail to understand is that the value of the exposure delivered by the brand marketing launch and immediate honeymoon is now over. When the sponsorship person goes to a company and says:

“Hey, look at all our coverage. You can benefit from that,” the smart brands say, “Oh, let me know next time you launch and I will get in on the front end and reap the glory and exposure, rather than ride on the coattails of something that is now history.”

Once the hype is gone, so is the value.

So, what is my plea? Hey, you agencies that want to “help” so much, bring the sponsorship folks in at the front end. Have them be part of the strategy and integration with their partners and sponsors. Let them reap money from this great campaign, not wipe their eyes in the dust storm after the hurricane. Work to integrate sponsors and not ostracize them. And to those properties that are lucky enough to get such support from an advertising agency, make sure they build your sponsorship program into the campaign or pass on it. Otherwise, by the time you need to raise funds, you will be leftovers and your five minutes of fame will have passed.

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well. Please add your thoughts or comments below. Thank you for reading and your feedback.

Brent Barootes


  1. Brent, you are right on! My first exposure to this ‘sponsorship’ thing was around the turn of the century. Company promised great return, but only produced lots of shiny materials and not a penny! More recently, I saw the same phenomenon, where a national organization was ‘guaranteed’ $million plus in sponsorship revenue, when in fact all they ended up with was a bill.

    • Roy, so very true. I have had a ton of email feedback on this morning’s post with examples just like yours. Thanks for sharing here. Brent


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