This is the first article in the Get Your Event Sponsored Article Series.
This is the first in a series I will be writing about how to identify potential sponsors, prepare your media kit, contact said sponsors, present your pitch, build after-event sponsor reports, and how to continually cultivate the relationship to ensure multi-year comments. As always I encourage any and all feedback good or bad. Our goal here is to not only create a resource event promoters and organizers can continually reference, but also stimulate a conversation of what works and what doesn’t among like-minded people.
Events come in all shapes and sizes, but whether you are promoting a weekly gig at a nightclub or organizing a multi-day festival there is a good chance you need (or want) sponsors to be involved. Before we begin it’s important that you clearly understand exactly what a sponsor is. A sponsor is simply an individual or company that will provide your event with money, products or services free of charge. I use the word free loosely, because as we all know nothing in life is truly free and while sponsors don’t ask for cash compensation they are looking to leverage your event to increase their revenue. This is an important aspect of sponsorships that many events overlook so I want to reiterate it. A sponsorship is not a charity; it is an investment, and it is purchased with the expectation that they (the sponsor) will receive a return on that investment. Understanding this simple fact will go a long way into helping you narrow down who to contact and ensuring you don’t waste time pursuing cold leads.
Some might argue this point stating that sponsors may choose to get involved with an event (mainly non-profit functions) simply for the “Goodwill” factor. For example, if you are producing a charitable event aimed at bettering your community or society in general a sponsor may see value in extending their brand recognition by attaching their name to your event without the ulterior motive of profits. While this may be perceived by many (including the sponsor) to be a sponsorship IEG, a global authority on sponsorship consulting and research, defines sponsorship as a means to exploit commercial potential and is done with the expectation of a commercial return. Even if your event falls into this category the process for finding sponsors is basically the same,however, we suggest reading our future article Ask Don’t Sell - A Guide to Raising Money For Nonprofits rather than following the standard method of pitching a potential sponsor.
Know what you're selling!
Signs, banners, corporate passes and the like are great tools for a sponsor to use, but that is not what they are buying. Too many events focus on selling sponsors the tools they get with a sponsorship package and not on what they are actually buying. They are buying your audience! They don’t care about how many banners they get. They care about how many targeted people acknowledge those banners and ultimately how many of those acknowledgements will turn into a sale. Understanding this point now will make everything down the road a whole lot easier.
Analyze your audience
Now that you have defined your product as your audience you need to learn everything you can about it. The more points you know about your audience the better. This will come in handy when writing your proposal or answering questions later. For the purpose of this article I will assume you know your target audience. However, if you need a crash lesson on analyzing your audience just follow the AUDIENCE acronym.
- Analysis - Who is your target audience?
- Understanding - What is your target audiences overall understanding about your event’s concept?
- Demographics - What is their age, gender, education background, etc.?
- Interest - Obviously they share in the interest of your event concept, but are there other similar interests they share?
- Environment - Are your attendees enjoying a summer day outside, or sitting through a mandatory trade conference?
- Needs - They share interests, do they also share any of the same needs?
- Communication - How do your attendees prefer to communicate? Socially, via telephone, through emails or texts? The technology crowd communicates much differently than the country western crowd.
- Expectations - What does the audience expect to gain from your event? Education, thrills, quality family time, etc.
It is also important to note, that your audience is not only your attendees. In fact, your attendees make-up only a percentage of your audience. Your audience is that group of people you plan to market to. Your potential attendees. Let’s say you are organizing a beer festival, you may only have 1500 people attend your festival on event day, but your audience is anyone who has heard about your event. For example, if you didn’t attend or even watch the Fiesta Bowl, Tostitos still benefits from the fact that you know about the Fiesta Bowl.
Create a List
Once you understand your audience you can begin to create a list of potential sponsors. I like to start this process broad and then drill it down to a more actionable size. Start with your audience's interests and then move to their needs. If you're promoting a sporting event you might start with a search for interests such as “Activewear Manufacturers” or “Sports Drinks” then move on to their needs like restaurants around your venue or “Deodorant Brands.” Remember you are creating a broad list of potential sponsors at this point. Even though you may not think your event is ready to approach a sponsor like Under Armour your audience still shows an interest in them so don’t rule them out yet. I’ll list a few resources below to that can help you with your list and then I will go into how to refine your list in the next section.
- Talk to Your Colleagues
- Hands down the best way to find potential sponsors is to ask people who have already found them. Perhaps there is a similar event in the next state over. A friendly call or email to the organizer could net you direct contact information for corporate sponsors that have already sponsored a similar event type. Even if their corporate sponsors are not in your area it could introduce you to other business types or sponsorship angles you might not have previously thought of. Best of all they already have a relationship with the sponsor; not only will this make your initial call a little less cold, but now you have a much better understanding about what that sponsors individual goals are as well. This can help tremendously when preparing your presentation.
- Web Search
- A web search is a quick way to identify the big players in the industry. Search for phrases that relate to your audience's interests and needs. Be sure to explore the additional pages when doing so. While page five won’t have as big of players as page one, it might still contain a hidden gem with an aggressive marketing campaign looking to spend money in your industry. Remember, don’t shy away from the “Big Guys” just yet. We will refine our list a little later.
- Local Web Search
- Repeat the same searches you just did. This time on Google Maps, but now put the city and state of your event after the search term i.e. “Activewear Manufacturers Denver, CO.” The map feature will help you target potential sponsors that are located around your events venue.
- Industry Publications
- Almost every industry out there has one or more specialized publications. Thumbing through one of these will supply you with a plethora of leads. If you are unsure about a publication in your industry, Wikipedia has done a good job of compiling and categorizing a fairly comprehensive list of all United States Magazines here. If you are not able to find a copy locally try requesting a media kit from them online or over the phone. These almost always include a semi-current issue. Perfect for your needs.
- The Yellow Pages
- This is an often overlooked resource that is packed full of potential local sponsors you won’t find online. As a bonus you know companies that placed large ads in the phone book are willing to spend money to get there name out there.
- Twitter Search
- Putting a hashtag “#” in front of your search term on Twitter is a great way to find brands and businesses trying to actively engage with their customers. In addition Twitter will also show you related searches you may not have thought of. Side note: if your event will be selling booth space this is also a great way to find leads for that.
- Local Newspaper
- While this isn't as targeted as some of the other methods. It does provided you with a quick reference to who is actively trying to get their message out locally.
- The Radio
- Turn on any radio station that your audience listens to and you will hear a list of all kinds of advertisers big and small. It might also be worth a trip down to their office to chat with them about trade out sponsorships. Making them the official radio station of your event and allowing them to resell the back of your admission tickets or printed coupons to their advertisers in exchange for promoting your event on the air is one of my favorite plays with radio stations. You get free publicity and they get a new revenue stream to upsell their clients. It’s a win win!
- Two heads are always better than one. Ask your friends and relatives if they have any ideas on potential sponsors.
- Your Competition
- Unless you are the only event of your type this month someone has already done some local research for you. I put this as a last resort, because often times local sponsors tend to be pretty loyal to the event they are sponsoring and don't want to get involved with the competition even if they are a few weeks apart. However it might be worth a trip to their website to see if any of their sponsors would be a good match for you.
Organize your list
At this point you should have a pretty large list of potential sponsors. Now we need to prioritize things and drill down that list so you don’t spend the next year of your life pitching sponsors. So first things first. If your first prospect says yes (here’s hoping) you don’t want to waste your time calling their competitors so let’s break up the list in industry categories. Then organize your list so the largest companies or brands are at the top and while you're at it separate out the local businesses.
Refine your prospects
Depending on the size and age of your event you may determine that those that top your list are “Out of your league.” While that may be true for some companies many have a local retailers, dealers or outlet stores that could very well be right in your neck of the woods. In addition, some companies will even offer to pay for part or all of any marketing a retailer does where their product is the primary focus. More on this in the upcoming issue where I will discuss how to pitch a sponsor. Revisiting our “Activewear Manufacturers” example Under Armour tops my list. If I take a quick look at the “Find Stores Near You” section of their website I can easily search all authorized dealers near my venue.
In this example it pulls up 59 locations that sell Under Armour Products. These 59 local retailers are much more accessible than Under Armour Corporate and already have a relationship with Under Armour (my number one pick) so I am going to put them at the top of my call list. With a good pitch they just might contact Under Armour for me and structure a title sponsorship. If not you can always ask them for the contact information to their rep at Under Armour and start working your way up the food chain. You should be able to repeat this process for every major player on your list. By the time you're finished you should have a very targeted list of local businesses sorted by category and ordered by size/popularity with maybe one or two solid contacts for a “Major Player.”
In the next article I will show you how to define your sponsorship packages and prepare your media kit.