Subscribe to the SMA Newsletter

3 Ways to Embrace Uncertainty and Develop More Impactful Partnerships

Developing powerful partnerships that actually drive change within communities and beyond is no small feat. It takes willing partners – both properties or rightsholders and brands – to truly create an impact. We were fortunate enough to sit down with a best-in-class brand who partners with numerous organizations with a focus on developing cutting edge partnerships that create shared value and unlock growth potential.

UnitedHealth Group has raised the stakes on how partnerships are cultivated, developed, and executed to deliver on their mission to help people live healthier lives. Sponsorship Mastery Summit speaker alum, Allen Hermeling, Senior Vice President, Sponsorships and Growth for UnitedHealth Group, took some time to discuss the healthcare giant’s sponsorship shifting strategy and objectives, in addition to discussing what he has learned in his years since moving from sponsorship seller to buyer.

When it comes to UnitedHealth Group’s major partnerships, Allen has enterprise-wide responsibility. UnitedHealth Group is comprised of two units: UnitedHealthcare, a leader in health benefits, and Optum, an information and technology-enabled business that delivers clinical and pharmacy-care services.

Over the years the company has amassed an impressive partnership roster that includes The Players Championship PGA Tour event, the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, New England Revolution and other pro sports teams and events. The organization has also stepped into athlete sponsorships, including securing golfer Rory McIlroy as an Optum brand ambassador. They have also signed recent partnerships with the Essence Festival of Culture, the James Beard Foundation and Peloton.

Wow. Talk about an impressive roster of partnerships.

Allen’s thoughtful remarks inspired this list of three ways properties can use to build relationships with brands and form impactful sponsorships.

 1. Follow the 2 P’s of Sponsorship Sales

Allen’s tales from both sides of the partnership table reinforced that sellers must be persistent and patient. It is a fact of corporate life that brand priorities, and the decision makers, are constantly in flux. You may think you’re on the path to getting something done when, suddenly, a wrench is thrown into the process.

That’s OK. The deal-making process is never linear. If you have built a package of rights and benefits that you’re confident can help a company meet its objectives, don’t get discouraged. Definitely don’t give up. Make changes to address new brand goals and work with your initial contacts to get updated information into the hands of the new players within the company.

Patience also will serve you well in the all-too-familiar situation of a potential partner eyeing a lower-level or shorter-term deal. It may be tempting to take the bird in the hand, it’s worth it to fight for a true strategic partnership that will deliver long-lasting value to both parties.

 2. Stray from the Straight and Narrow

Just because a company has someone with “sponsorship” in their title, or even an entire department devoted to partnerships, it doesn’t mean those are the only folks who originate, negotiate or close deals.

Whether it’s finding a way in to introduce a proposal, or seeking support for a sponsorship “in the works,” identify all the connection points that can help you engage and champion your opportunity.

If your property is located where the company has a large customer or employee concentration or is in a market it has targeted for growth, find a local contact and leverage your geographic advantage. If your opportunity allows for employee engagement, make the HR department aware of it. Likewise, if the sponsorship can be activated to promote a brand’s environmental stewardship, bring it to the attention of the company’s sustainability office.

Connectivity also means finding common ground between the values of your organization and those of a prospect, as well as highlighting consistent messaging and themes in both parties’ advertising and marketing communications.

3. Embrace Changing Demographics 

UnitedHealth Group’s roster of partnerships reflects dramatic changes that are opening opportunities for sponsorship sellers across a wide range of industries and companies.

Just three years ago, the company’s portfolio was heavily weighted to football and golf. That’s because for decades its target market had been older white men. As with many companies, the customer base is diversifying, creating room for partnerships with a culinary institution, the country’s largest event targeting Black women and a fitness platform that skews younger.

In light of similar, across-the-board business transformations, it is currently a great time to review and update your database of prospective sponsor categories with an eye to adding brands that, just a few years ago, would not have been likely targets based on audience fit.

Together, these three insights spotlight the fact that sponsorship sales cannot be ad hoc. Success requires a strategic approach to targeting and prospecting, identifying and approaching key contacts and aligning benefits with a company’s key stakeholders, audiences and objectives.