Q&A with Sponsorship Thought Leader Michael Kithcart

By Paula Beadle

I’ve known Michael Kithcart for decades, and although our career paths have taken different directions throughout the years, they always seem to intersect, and we find ourselves working together again. From our early professional days working for Renaissance Festivals to our mid-career media management positions and now leading the charge for Caravel Marketing, sponsorship has been the common thread. Michael serves as the chief strategy officer at Caravel Marketing and is a powerful source of inspiration and insightfulness to colleagues, clients and friends.

Michael is a master facilitator, revenue generator, team builder and vision activator. She most recently served as vice president of sales and event sponsorship for iHeartMedia in Minneapolis, where she led, coached and trained teams that exceeded sales and sponsorship goals. Throughout her career, Michael has transformed organizations, created new departments, organized startups and enhanced the effectiveness of individuals and teams. In previous roles she has served as the chief operations officer, marketing strategist, consultant, and performance coach to top executives and entrepreneurs.

Michael will be leading a breakout session at Sponsorship Mastery Summit around building a winning sponsorship culture and team. Recently, we chatted about her career journey and she shared details about what she’ll cover during her session at the workshop. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Paula Beadle: How did you get started in sponsorship sales?

Michael Kithcart: As you know, I was in my early 20s when I did marketing and sold sponsorships at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and also for Renaissance festivals in Florida. I’ve always been on the event side seeking brands that align with the assets and audiences. I’ve sold sponsorships for music, nonprofit, sports and arts events.

PB: How has sponsorship sales evolved over your time in the industry?

MK: Sponsorship has reached a tipping point in being part of an overall marketing strategy for brands. There are more ways to provide impressions before, during, and after events, and there is an increase in events that can provide either a broad mass fan base or a very niche fan base.

PB: Most recently you worked as VP of sales and event sponsorship for iHeartMedia—how were you able to achieve success in your role there?

MK: By building a team that would focus specifically on sponsorship sales—a group of sales pros coming together as a team is really what made it successful. This was a volunteer group who committed to meeting, sharing information, brainstorming for each other, hitting team goals and sharing in the bonuses. It improved the overall opportunities for sponsors (local, regional, national), produced better activation, cultivated a culture of sharing ideas and best practices, and substantially increased sponsorship revenue. We saw wins in expanding local sponsors into national events, securing new categories for events by learning what was working for others, and creating truly customized sponsorships that met the objectives of clients. Our local team saw double-digit growth year over year, and it makes me proud knowing the team has continued to grow and have more success with different leadership after I left.

PB: What’s your favorite thing about sponsorship sales today?

MK: The creativity and integration that only sponsorship can provide. The opportunity to connect with audiences in a meaningful way, complement the business strategies and drive sales through various marketing platforms has always drawn me to sponsorship marketing.

PB: Anything different you would like to see? 

MK: I would like to see brands expand their sponsorship portfolio to include a wider variety of sponsorships that are aligned with the varied interests of their audiences. A cross-pollinated approach to sponsorship could more effectively engage a brand’s core audience.

PB: Tell me about your session at the Sponsorship Mastery Summit.

MK: I’ll be leading a session about building a culture and a team to support sponsorship efforts.  Sponsorship is a team sport and many departments contribute to sponsorship success. Everyone in the organization can influence sponsorship to be more of what’s possible, to be more in alignment with what is needed to be inclusive and succeed. Participants will learn specific steps they can take to enhance a culture for sponsorship sales success, how to engage and include others, and ways to build a team.

PB: If you had to pick just one key piece of advice to give someone working to master sponsorship sales, what would it be?

MK: Challenge thinking—of self, others, sponsors. Sponsorship is only limited by our thinking, so my challenge to anyone selling sponsorship, myself included, is to continue to break free from the “way it’s always been done” and see the opportunities within the event in a new light. Paint a fresh picture for new and existing sponsors. Tell the story with the sponsor as the main character. Find out what sponsors have always wanted to do at an event but haven’t yet been able to, then figure out a way to make it happen. Ideas are what sell sponsorships. How good are yours?

About the workshop: Sponsorship Mastery Summit takes place September 25-26 at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington and features industry experts facilitating intensive and interactive sessions for mastering the art and science of sponsorship. Participants collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, explore new ideas, and leave with a simple sales plan, an improved story, sponsor leads, a sales process, best practices and new connections. The learning and exchange continue online for three months with webinars and information on the most relevant and important topics key to sponsorship success. Learn more and register here.

About the author: Paula Beadle is the president of Caravel Marketing. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of creating order out of chaos. Paula has helped numerous organizations discover and achieve their goals by developing and managing innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue, and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.