Selling Out? The Stigma of Sponsorships

There’s a stigma attached to accepting sponsorships. The hardcore purists—especially some artists and musicians—regard taking on a sponsor as a failure of integrity (aka: selling out).

If you have a passion, they argue, you can’t subject yourself to the whims of some corporate Sugar Daddy. Next thing you know they’ll be making decisions for you, threatening to cut the purse strings if you don’t bend to their will.

Getting sponsorships, they say, is simply choosing to become some company’s puppet.

I think that’s a pretty immature outlook. It doesn’t make business sense, of course. But it also doesn’t make moral sense.

From where I stand, the integrity of your project isn’t about whether you’re sponsored or not. It’s about who’s doing the sponsoring, and what you’re expected to do in return.

Selling Out? The Stigma of Sponsorships

How Sponsorships Foster Creativity

Not to be a cold hard businessperson, but the blunt reality is that the best products—including works of art, literature and music—wouldn’t exist without sponsorship.

As long as there’s been capitalism, there’s been a relationship between the people who make the money and the people who put that money to good use. Often, that good use is sponsoring someone with great ideas but little support.

There’s no better example than the Renaissance.

To this day, Renaissance art is considered proof that the time period was a high point in human accomplishment. I’m no art expert, but I’m pretty sure the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel isn’t corporate propaganda.

But like most great things, Renaissance art required finance.

It’s not that paint costs that much. It’s that the artists needed to devote their lives to their craft. That meant they didn’t have time to bag groceries down at the Florence Save-A-Lot for rent money.

Wealthy patron sponsors like the Medici family funded some of the most enduring “products” in human history by freeing talented people up to create it.

No one would say that those artists sold out. Michelangelo’s David doesn’t have “Brought to you by Medici, Inc” carved across his chest. It was simply a matter of a powerful business (and besides being a family, the House of Medici was certainly a business) making art patronage a part of their brand.

The artists got to follow their passion and make a living. Everyone won.

Sponsorship Is Your Friend

The same principle that drives art sponsorship can work for any content-based business. Your blog, your podcast, your website, your one-man interpretive dance revue; whatever you do, you’ll be able to do it 10x better with financial support.

Getting paid to pursue your own ideas as an entrepreneur isn’t giving up control. It’s taking it.

Those who would say sponsorships are “selling out” are—I think—living an illusion of independence. Literally, they think they don’t “depend” on anyone, and are therefore free to do as they please. But let’s think about that for a moment. Are they online?

Internet service depends on everything from the manufacturer of their computer to the near-monopolies that control broadband service to the electrical infrastructure provided by the government.

Independent? Please. Unless you’re carving your blogs into the trees on your self-sustaining subsistence farm in the Ozarks, you need support.

Instead of trying to live the fantasy of independence, understand that your relationships with more wealthy, powerful players are two-way streets.

When you take on a sponsorship, you’re not “selling out.” You’re not surrendering. You’re choosing to enter into a mutually beneficial agreement from which your project will benefit as much as (if not more than) the company will.

Get Sponsored On Your Terms

Of course, there is such a thing as selling out. If you submit to unreasonable terms or excessive control of your product, you’ve made yourself a cog in your sponsor’s wheel.

That’s why it’s important to choose your sponsor carefully, and even more important to consider the terms of the deal carefully. Know what rights you retain when you accept someone’s money. Make sure those rights thoroughly protect your ability to stay true to your vision. If they don’t, find someone else.

Remember: when a company agrees to sponsor your content, that means they already believe that your vision and your talent are valuable.

They might only be interested in the financial value, but so what? That only means that your ability to speak to your audience is being recognized. It means you have the pull that comes with your unique ability, just as they have the pull that comes with their cash.

If that’s understood, you’re not a tool of your sponsor. You’re a partner on equal terms.

As long as the sponsor you work with shares your basic values, treats you with respect, and doesn’t stand for anything you’d be ashamed to associate your brand with, there’s no reason to feel like a sellout.

Often, the sponsor is just another independent business, doing their best to add value to people’s lives and get paid for it. Just like you.

If you’re worried about integrity, simply investigate your potential sponsor’s activities. See how they make their money and what they do with it.

If the sponsor uses child labor or sells high-end protein bars made from kidnapped puppies, you have the power to walk away. If they have a bad reputation for abusing sponsees, simply move on. You’re in control.

A  person who cultivates their own talents, builds an audience, and attracts sponsors hasn’t sold themselves to the highest bidder.

They’ve reclaimed their ability to walk their own path in a way most people never do. If you can manage that without violating your own sense of integrity, that’s not selling out. That’s independence.