Last night I spoke at a great event, on the topic of ‘Sponsor Smarter – How To Get MORE Sponsorship In A Digital Age,’ which was organised by Rob Fenton, the founder and director of Hipsters, Hackers & Hustlers.
Having personally been at the sharp end of sponsorship sales, selling it for events I ran in my first job out of University, then as someone managing a sponsorship sales team, and now working for a brand that is frequently asked for sponsorship, I decided to share 10 of the unwritten rules of sponsorship I’ve picked up over the last 10 years or so.
They don’t apply in all situations and won’t work for everyone – nothing ever does – but by considering these factors when you pursue sponsorship for your events, whether it’s for a 6-figure headline sponsor or just a few hundred pounds to cover the costs of drinks at your first ever event, you should enjoy more sponsorship success.
Rule #1: Sponsorship is a numbers game
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is being focused on that one ‘perfect’ sponsor that is a match made in heaven for your event.
Maybe if you’ve got a large, established and well-respected event you can start to get a little choosier about working only with your dream sponsors, but if you’re just starting out and looking for your first sponsors to make your event viable, then you shouldn’t be too picky.
Get a long list of potential sponsors, and move through them one by one.
Where possible, be direct; yes you are looking for ‘partners’ to help make your event a success, but you are also looking for financial support, so try to make that clear as early as possible. Confusing brands and setting out expectations that no sponsorship fee will be involved isn’t a good strategy, particularly if you’re on a time limit and don’t have months to softly-softly develop a relationship.
Remember this: ‘no’ is the second best answer after ‘yes.’ What you want to avoid is a really long, drawn out process where a potential sponsor umms and errs, but never commits. This ultimately wastes your time, because the longer it goes on for, the less likely it is to close. This is especially true if you’re talking relatively small money. Of course if you’re asking for 6 or 7 figures then negotiations are likely to take longer, but if you’re asking for a few hundred pounds or even a few thousand, it’s likely they know if they can (and will) sponsor or not pretty quickly.
So push for a ‘no’ if you can’t get a ‘yes’, don’t take it personally, and move on until you get the answer you’re looking for. Sponsorship is a numbers game.
Rule #2: Understand value before talking price
Another common mistake with pitching sponsorships is that organisers treat them, and present them, as commodities.
Rather than thinking about each sponsorship as a custom, specially tailored chance for a brand to enjoy a high engagement, long-form interaction with pre-qualified prospects, it’s sold like cheap and easy fast food, asking potential sponsors to pick off a pre-set menu.
Try to avoid this temptation, as sending a pre-written sponsorship rate card is actually just lazy, and will earn you a lot more ‘nos’ that are necessary.
Instead, once a potential sponsor has shown some interest in your event, insist on having a call with them first to understand their objectives.
Once you’ve established what it is they want from the event, what kind of deal size they would get from winning customers there, and hopefully more info on their budget and decision making process…then you can write a completely bespoke proposal for them.
This makes you look more professional, and gives them something they’re much more likely to say ‘yes’ to because it’s based on what they value.
Rule #3: Ego or ROI?
During that initial conversion, also try to establish early on if their intention to sponsor is being driven by ego, or ROI.
Some companies will sponsor things just because they want their name associated with it (or the senior executive controlling the budget wants their name associated with it). Often these are things like sporting and cultural events, but they don’t have to be.
This type of sponsorship is a way of showing the world they’re on top and doing well. It’s primarily driven by ego, and their focus on ROI will probably be limited.
More and more though, sponsorship decisions are driven by ROI and the budget holder’s need to prove the economic value of that sponsorship to their boss.
If they’re more concerned about this, it’s also good to understand, so that you can tailor your pitch appropriately.
When negotiating a sponsorship driven by ego, you should focus on imagery. How their brand and their name will look at and around the event; how often it will be shouted from the rooftops, and how being associated with your event will elevate them in the eyes of their peers (and potential customers).
To help close these deals faster, play on scarcity, and the fact their closest competitors are also interested.
When negotiating a more ROI-driven sponsorship, you’ll want to focus more on metrics, how you’ll help them measure their return, and what you’ll do to support them achieving their goals.
To help close these deals faster, explain the value of their sponsorship compounds over time, so the earlier they commit, the better the ROI they’ll enjoy.
Rule #4: Timing is everything
It’s no secret that budgets are tight these days. Trying to pitch a budget holder mid-way through their financial year, if your event isn’t already factored into their plans, will often be futile. Even if they want to do it, they probably won’t be able to.
The best times to speak with potential sponsors are when they’re setting their budgets (which is often around Q4 for those who work to calendar year budgets, or Q1 for those working on a financial year). This may be months and months in advance of your event, so bear that in mind.
Another reason Q4 (and Q1 for those on the financial year budgeting cycle) is a great time to approach sponsors is by then they’ll probably know if they’re likely to have excess budget that needs spending.
Most budget holders don’t like to come in under budget any more than they like being over budget, because it can signal they didn’t need the money and so they may face a reduction in their budget for the following year, (or a much harder fight to get any additional money).
This means they’ll be keen to commit their remaining spend for the year before it ends, and of course this could be great news if you’re speaking to them about sponsorship at that time.
Rule #5: Stand by your event with a guarantee
Events, and particularly new ones, are an unknown quantity, even to the organiser!
So asking a brand to commit £££ with no guarantee, other than your best intentions and good word to back up their investment, can easily be a deal blocker.
Why should they believe you can get 100 senior decision makers in a room? Or 2000 interested buyers? If there’s no evidence you’ve done it before, you might need to consider some kind of guarantee.
Of course as an organiser, this can present financial issues if you’re in a situation post-event where you spent the budget, and are then asked for money back.
To manage this, your guarantees could be done on a sliding scale, so you’re never in a situation of giving all the money back (and you can manage your costs to ensure you have some contingency budget left over); or better yet, they could be based on providing free, additional value against the next event so it doesn’t affect the financials of your current one.
Another very successful tactic is to simply factor in the risk up front, by providing a discount off your original pitch price to allow for risk (with no claw back), which can be a win-win as they feel they have negotiated a great price, and you know exactly what money you have to work with.
Rule #6: Understand the message
It’s important to remember that sponsors want to convey a message, so find out what it is and how you can help them tell it without being disruptive to the attendee experience.
If a sponsor can’t quickly explain what message it is they want to convey, this should set off alarm bells. Because if they have nothing to say, it’s unlikely they’re going to pay you for the privilege of not saying it!
Often sponsorships will be easier to clinch with companies that have recently rebranded, launched a new product, got new senior leadership, or have some other significant shift in brand/strategy they want to show to the world.
Once you understand what it is they want to tell the world, you can then help shape your sponsorship proposal around that core message, and how it will be best articulated to your audience.
Rule #7: Gather data to paint a picture
Stories are more persuasive that dry facts and figures.
Even for decision makers who care about ROI and metrics, painting them a picture will help persuade them more than just statistics.
For example, rather than saying “We’re going to have 100 marketing directors,” try “9 in every 10 handshakes you’ll make this evening is going to be with a verified decision maker at one of your prospective customers,” or “Together our attendees are in charge of over £10 million in IT budgets, and over 70% are actively looking for a new solution this year.”
Of course, to paint a really compelling picture, you’ll need to gather that data.
For newer events, the best way to do this is by asking your attendees key questions at the point of registration (which is easy to do on Eventbrite using our custom questions feature).
You can ask them if they’re actively looking for new solutions, if they’re a decision maker or influencer, what their annual budgets are etc. and then use their answers to persuade potential sponsors that you have their prospective customers all together in one room.
And for events that have run before, it’s even easier. If you’re using apps like Poken or DoubleDutch you can get a wealth of data about how many connections were made at your event, how many conversations took place etc. and use this information to prove the value of your event to new sponsors.
Even without specialist event tech, social media can yield a wealth of useful data about the reach of your event and how much your attendees interacted with one another and your brand.
Plus, once you’ve run the event once, you’ll be able to credibly show sponsors that you’ve delivered a successful event before, and if you can grab some testimonials, that will go a long way too.
Rule #8: Don’t forget about those ‘nos’ you accumulated
Too often, organisers can take a short-term view of their events.
However if you’re in it for the long-haul, and plan on running your event many more times in the future, then it’s worth keeping all of your potential sponsors engaged, even if they said ‘no’ to you this time.
In fact, you shouldn’t just forget about them until you’re planning your next event and start the whole process again. You should actively encourage them to attend your upcoming event, and wow them with what a great job you’ve done.
There’s no better proof that you can deliver on your promises (and that they’re missing out) than by having them there to witness it.
Of course, you don’t want them to think they can just attend for free every event and reap the benefits, so you should also make that clear too; however as a one-time offer, it could be the key to sealing a deal for your next event.
Rule #9: Sponsorship value extends beyond the physical event
Everyone is looking for scale when considering how to deploy their marketing budgets.
For just £10 you can reach thousands of highly targeted Facebook users. So how will your event compete with this?
The key is to offer your sponsors both a highly engaged, curated audience on the day; and access to your digital footprint pre-, at- and post-event to maximise the value of their investment and their exposure.
Think about how to feature them on your blog, across your social media accounts (consider an account take-over even), videos, executive interviews, joint PR, pre-event webinars, taster sessions…the only limit is your imagination!
Pitch them a fully integrated digital and physical campaign, and you’re much more likely to get a favourable response than just offering them their logo on a banner at the event.
Rule #10: Go the extra mile in fulfilment
Once you’ve gone through the hard work of winning a sponsor, don’t lose them!
Turn them into long-term strategic partners of your event. And the surest way of achieving this kind of relationship is over delivering on what your promised.
Here’s one example. Don’t just leave them to find their target customers once at your event. Find out who their top 5 or 10 prospects are, and when they arrive at check-in, introduce them to your sponsor. If it’s not convenient for the prospect to meet right away, find out when it would be, and arrange for them to meet at that time.
This is the kind of hands-on, pro-active approach that will help your sponsors achieve the ROI they’re looking for, and set you apart from the competition.
Sponsorship success is a tricky business, because ultimately you’re selling to people, and people can be fickle, busy, distracted or influenced by external factors you’re not aware of. Sometimes this can change from one hour to the next!
This is why rule #1 is going to be the most important. Getting sponsors for your event will likely just involve getting as many ‘nos’ as quickly as possible until you get a ‘yes’ – particularly if your event is a new one. Sometimes it will just come down to timing and little bit of luck.
However by applying the other unwritten rules of event sponsorship, you should also enjoy more success, higher value sponsorships and better, long-term relationships with those sponsors you do bring on board.
Any other sponsorship questions that you’d like to ask? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you!