The Devil’s Advocate

The Devil’s Advocate

Too often we surround ourselves with like minded people. People who think like us, aspire like us and have similar visions to us. I am not saying necessarily “yes” people, but simply people who think the same on a team. I have always (and not always happily) tried to have someone on my team or in a discussion who thinks differently. Someone that looks at a situation through a different lens. Someone who will second guess the mainstream thinking. This is what makes a successful team.

When we work with a client to build out an inventory, we make sure the people we meet with at that property are from across multiple departments and areas, whether directly impacted or not by a sponsorship program. This gives us a much deeper insight into both potential asset development, but also organizational culture.  There are people who have worked for a property for a long time and as a result sometimes those staff feel the programs they run, are their programs… their baby and not that of the organization. And they are protective. We learn a great deal from people who oppose (initially) sponsorship within their organization. They educate us on elements we may not have considered for that specific organization or sector. When we do this type of work we will speak with the Zamboni driver and the facility GM and everyone in between say for an arena or recreation centre; at a charity it would be the fundraiser, the CEO, Board members, programming people, researchers, finance people, operations people, IT people etc. It is so important to get the insights of all.

On the brand side this is just as critical. Do not make an investment on a sponsorship from a silo group like your sponsorship team or marketing department. Integrate sales, finance, operations, HR and so on. Each person will bring insights you never knew they had to your investment. It may be regarding the assets you will receive, how you will finance it (pay in full up front versus over a 5-year period) or even on activation opportunities. And these insights are not always only their professional input… sometimes it is their personal belief or knowledge.

It is hard, but when sitting around the table, encourage people to be honest and forthright. Get them to talk about how they feel. Imagine if there was a young professional in your organization who had attended WE events as a student, done WE community “volunteer” events overseas and had then worked for WE as a fundraiser. And she or he is on your team at your company. And at this discussion table all your team (except for them) is talking about how amazing WE is; how fantastic the brothers are, and the organization is. Everyone is supportive of the high six figure potential sponsorship investment… and then that 31-year-old staff person says, “I don’t agree”. You can hear a pin drop. They go on to say “I have been part of this. This is what I experienced. This is what my concerns are.” We need those people to speak up whether it is at the buyer or seller table. They need to voice their opinion, their thoughts, their beliefs. It may change assets you offer; it may change the way you make a sponsorship investment as a brand with caveats and other deliverables. This is how we get better. It may alter nothing more than you thinking differently about something.

Make sure someone on your team is the devil’s advocate. Make sure in every decision you make, that someone is opposed to the decision. Make sure there is a downer person / disruptive person with every decision process you undertake. They may not be right, their thoughts may not be adopted, but they need to provoke your thinking beyond what you and “your kind” communally think together. Suspend your reflex to ignore these people and their opinions. You don’t have to embrace them, and it does not always have to be the same person… but ensure there is a dissenting opinion in every discussion where an impactful decision is being made.

Please remember to stay HIPS! (Healthy, Isolate when possible, Physical distancing from others and Safe!)

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  1. Love this commentary Brent. Great partnerships start with transparency and mutual benefit. You can’t have that when either side is unwilling to speak their mind regarding concerns around any level of any deal.

    • Tyler, terrific point. Everyone around the table, be it internal or with external consideration, without the ability to speak freely ideas and thoughts the outcomes will be minimized. And it is that transparency and trust and integrity as you note, that brings success. Thanks for sharing.

    • Agreed Tyler! Clients may also appreciate an individual speaking openly about an asset that may help them achieve their goals better than the ones they are considering in the first edition of the proposal. “Great point, thanks for speaking up.” Don’t be scared by these words!

      • So true Josh… don’t be afraid to say “Great point, thanks for speaking up.”


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