Many event professionals understand the importance of putting on an event with sponsorships but still struggle with developing a strategic approach to securing sponsors. This guide shares tips, tricks, and best practices for finding and securing the right partnerships for your next event.
For an organization, good events are good culture and good business. This is a statement of truth. Sponsorships are the most effective and mutually beneficial way to provide events with a powerful return on investment and positive culture. At their best, sponsorships raise the brand value of both parties and reinforce their heritage and visions for the future.
Good businesses, the kind that you want to partner with these days, are profitable for certain, but for many people, where culture matters most, they are also likable, creative, innovative, energetic, purpose-driven, responsible, and sustainable. The kinds of places you would want to work for. These days money alone is not enough. There is an iceberg effect created from all of these intangibles that can give all of that which sits above the water stability. Get it wrong, and it runs the risk of sinking the ship.
Far too often, event organizers are applying a spray-and-pray strategy, meaning trying to chase any opportunity to find sponsors for their in-person, virtual, or hybrid events. They neglect the importance of having in-depth knowledge about what their potential sponsors are looking for and what drives them to get involved in an event, or in the worst case what turns them off. Building a solid partnership between the organizer and the sponsor requires serious groundwork and a clear understanding of factors that matter to sponsors.
What is an Event Sponsorship?
Event sponsorship is when an organization provides financial assistance to an event to achieve promotional advantages. Sponsorships can come in the form of a cash exchange for assets or a barter exchange involving products or services.
This guide will focus on the importance of building a solid partnership between the event organizer and sponsors. It starts with building relationships, showing value, giving them an unbelievable offer, and teaching them how to engage with attendees.
- Learn what matters to your sponsors
- How to adapt your sponsorship packages to their needs
- Event sponsorship best practices
- How to become a reliable partner that seeks to establish a win-win situation
- How to create virtual event sponsorship opportunities
Pitfalls that Turn Sponsors Off
The success of a majority of events depends on sponsorships. Yet it’s surprising how often event organizers make crucial mistakes when attracting sponsors. Dozens of events are reviewed by sponsors every day and many are sent back or denied because they are not a good fit. And many of their drawbacks could have been easily avoided. Here are some common mistakes event organizers make again and again when reaching out to sponsors.
Missing Sponsor Focus
Reaching out to sponsors isn't the same thing as reaching out to attendees. You need to provide tailor-made information for sponsors. Sponsorship packages with descriptions that are clearly copied and pasted from an event profile are a major turnoff for sponsors. The sponsor is not interested in attending your event; they want to know how much visibility they will get at your event, and that’s fundamentally different from what attendees are interested in. Organizers need to think of their event from a sponsor's perspective, which means looking at the audience and not as a member of it.
All the elements of a sponsorship package need to be revised and oriented towards the sponsor, paying particular attention to the visibility and added value the sponsor can expect while getting involved in the event.
Continuing with sponsorship packages, many organizers make the mistake of only having one or two-sentence descriptions in their packages. With a lack of information, sponsors will struggle to think of event organizers as reliable and professional business partners (because sponsorship is B2B). Of course, the description texts should remain reasonably short and concise, but the organizer shouldn't forget to clearly highlight why businesses should sponsor the event, instead of just providing basic event information. It's one of the most crucial points in the whole package.
Sponsors are business people and therefore are striving to generate a solid ROI or ROO through sponsorships. That means that they want to bring their brand, product, or service in front of the right audience. In this case, the right audience means the sponsor's exact target group. The most fundamental demographics that every event organizer should have ready for their event are gender, age, income situation, and education level. Additional information about marital or employment status, as well as regional demographics, might also be crucial depending on the type of event.
Seasoned event organizers will not have any problems when it comes to providing this information to sponsors, but newer professionals may not always think to be prepared. Always assume that the sponsor will ask for these demographics. An event organizer who’s unable to answer these questions will not be a happy camper throughout the sponsor negotiation process.
Boring Sponsorship Packages
Sponsorship has a boring history - and it is still often boring today. Luckily this is changing with a shift in mindset towards interactive sponsorship techniques. An increasing number of sponsors have become aware that they need to be seen as added value for an event instead of being a necessary evil. But how can you avoid boring while organizers still proudly put “logo on the flyer” as an option in their sponsorship packages? Organizers have an obligation to come up with compelling proposals of how to include sponsors and how to add value to their events, while sponsors today have to contribute to the success of the event. This can only happen if the organizers involve the sponsors early on in the event planning process and give them a certain amount of space to develop creative ideas. Coming up with interesting ideas means a lot of brainstorming, as well as the willingness to disrupt tradition and follow new paths.
It's surprising how many event organizers are missing out on the opportunity to sell their events to sponsors by messing up the sales follow-up instead of learning how to apply proven sales techniques. Of course, it is time-consuming to follow up on every contact, but organizers should not make the mistake to hope for a quick sale after the first contact has been established. The bigger the sponsorship is, the longer it will probably take to close the deal. The way to go is to establish a working sales funnel. There are plenty of great tutorials on how to build a sales funnel. Setting milestones and a clear schedule for follow-up activities is an obvious choice - yet many organizers neglect these basic rules.
Event Sponsorship Negotiation Best Practices
The search for the right event sponsor can be a long, difficult, or even grueling task, and the process is unique for every planner and for each type of event. You don’t simply want to accept any sponsors you can find, but rather carefully consider the evaluative steps that will help you in your search. Working these considerations into your event strategy will have a lasting effect on how well each sponsor will fit into your event, how long it will take to establish the sponsorship, and how effective the sponsor will be in terms of partnership engagement and quality.
Money, of course, plays a crucial role in sponsorship and its potential delays. Generally, the larger the sponsor (along with the costs associated with it), the longer the onboarding process will be. In fact, higher budgets can easily take a couple of months of negotiation before the sponsor will commit and transfer the money. To help speed up the process, planners need to be able to calculate event ROI and justify it to their sponsors. For event planners looking to ensure a more reliable budget, especially those who plan annual events, it could be worth investing in session-tracking event technology to prove to your sponsors your ROI in a measurable way.
Keep an Eye on Company Size
Smaller companies and larger corporations bring different strengths to the table. In a small company, typically the owner of one of the partners decides whether to sponsor an event or not. This essentially speeds up the process and facilitates the negotiations. Getting to know these leaders, what their company stands for, and what they can bring to your event, are all important facets of the event sponsorship decision-making process.
Bigger companies—on the other hand—typically follow a hierarchy and workflow for approval, and quite often your contact person might not have the power to decide over a budget alone. Depending on the number of involved persons, this can take a few days, up to even a couple of weeks in the worst case. Additionally, there are far more opportunities for plans to fall through. Do your best to evaluate which type of sponsor is best for your event, and always have a backup plan.
Perfect Your Pitch
Taking time to really personalize your pitch will pay off in the long run. The more complete the pitch is, the more streamlined the negotiations will be. Be sure to include these key elements for your pitch:
- A careful and comprehensive description of the event, to ensure you and the sponsor can focus on really relevant questions instead of wasting time later trying to figure out the basics.
- The reasons why the sponsor should get involved, include attendee demographics (gender, age, industry, title, etc.) and examples of the visibility the sponsor can expect at the event. Additional information about marital or employment status, as well as regional demographics, might also be crucial depending on the type of event.
- Engaging sponsorship packages and any other details that may be deemed relevant.
Event planners have an obligation to come up with compelling proposals of how to include sponsors and how to add value to their events, while sponsors today have to contribute to the success of the event. It is always extremely helpful to put yourself in the position of the sponsor to anticipate the questions they will ask you. This will speed up the process and avoid unnecessary pitfalls and roadblocks. It can be helpful to see the sponsor as someone who is investing in your mission and event, rather than simply considering them a cash cow.
Do you have everything ready in advance like contracts, invoices, asset lists, etc.? The sponsor might ask you to provide these things even before anything is signed, and if no one has them prepared, it can considerably slow down the process. It not only puts you in a stressful situation, but you will make a very unprofessional impression on the sponsor. CRMs provide great ways to streamline sponsor outreach and handle the entire deal flow. They might include tasks, to-do lists, document management, tracking emails, and many more things that help event planners get things done. Starting early and being efficient pays off. It is time-consuming to follow up on every point of contact, but event planners should not make the mistake to hope for a quick sale after the first contact has been established. Set milestones and deadlines, and stay on top of them often.
Attracting Event Sponsors with ROI
Organizers have an obligation to make sponsorships compelling and they shouldn't dare come up with any outdated proposals that sponsors no longer respond to. Today’s organizers need to understand the objectives sponsors are interested in and they need to make sure that the expectations of the sponsors are fulfilled.
Everything starts with a simple statement: "Dear Sponsors, My Event is Your Event". Sponsors are companies and companies that want to sell more. Therefore, they are looking for solid ROI or, more often today, ROO (return on objectives) to measure the success of their sponsorship.
The math is quite simple. Let’s suppose the following:
- 500 people attend your event
- The sponsor expects they will eventually convert 10% of your attendees to paying clients
- The CLTV (customer lifetime value) of the sponsor's clients is $500
- The sponsor expects to make a total of $25,000 out of your event: = (10% conversion rate x 500 attendees) x 500$ CLTV)
If the sponsor will invest $12,500 in one of your sponsorship packages, then the expected ROI is 100%. That’s as simple as it is, and yet it's so often forgotten by event organizers when they reach out to sponsors.
As an event organizer, you can make a couple of tweaks that can make your sponsorship proposal more attractive to sponsors.
As an event organizer, you can make a couple of tweaks that can make your sponsorship proposal more attractive for sponsors, such as:
- Overall Attractiveness
These factors are hard to quantify in numbers (except for the price of course). It requires excellent sales skills, pristine preparation, and a solid foundation of relevant data to make sure sponsors will trust you.
The price is the most determining element of every sale and it needs to fulfill two conditions:
- You need to cover your expenses
- The sponsor needs to be able to get a positive ROI out of it
The interesting thing about any set pricing is the subjective component: everyone is ready to pay a premium as long as they feel the premium is justified. When applied to sponsorship it simply means that sponsors will pay a premium if the event is compelling and they feel the need to be there. Lesser-known events will obviously have a hard time justifying a premium price.
Everything around sponsorship is about visibility, period! No sponsor will buy if they don’t get the visibility they need. That’s a no-brainer for seasoned event organizers, but it's sometimes a surprise for first-timers. But even seasoned organizers sometimes tend to over-evaluate the visibility they can give sponsors at their event. My advice: keep expectations grounded. Assess the potential in a very neutral and realistic way without trying to pretend some things aren't attainable.
This goes hand in hand with visibility but sits on top of the specific visibility you are able to grant sponsors. It’s about how compelling your event is and how you are able to attract a large number or the right kind of audience. One of the most critical factors is your ability to execute marketing and communication surrounding your event. Definitely keep in mind that sponsors will closely follow how you perform and will be more than happy to receive regular updates from you before the event.
Again this one goes hand in hand with visibility but extends beyond pure visibility. Unfortunately, “engagement” is often neglected by organizers even though it's one of the most important factors to win over a sponsor. It’s all about enabling your sponsors to engage with your audience. Are they going to be able to have direct contact with your audience to showcase their products and services? What can be done from your side as well as from the sponsor side to create true added value for sponsors and attendees? These are the questions you need to ask and answer before reaching out to sponsors. Keep in mind that sponsorship moves from passive to (inter)active and that it’s your duty to create a flexible framework for this interactivity.
Sponsorship doesn’t end with the event. Sponsorship needs to extend with the audience beyond the boundaries of an event. I’m preaching this every time I consult organizers or sponsors, urging them to use sponsorship opportunities to build a whole environment that satisfies the desire of many attendees to get more information and perks beyond the event itself. More and more sponsors consider events to be the kick-off for long-lasting relationships between them and attendees, and you can give them a head-start by helping them out before and after the event.
Effective Ways to Engage with Sponsors
Surprisingly often, event organizers consider their sponsors as cash cows instead of what they actually are: partners who contribute to the success of their events.
Partnerships are not built on advertising space rates, bed nights, ‘money can’t buy experiences, good washing, greenwashing, merchandise, signage, and brand activations; partnerships are built on getting under the skin of what it means to be connected.
Organizers must go the extra mile to make sponsorship compelling and communicate this right from the first contact to the sponsor. Attracting sponsors to your event has to do with not only sharing brand values and purposes but also creating unique opportunities for sponsors that enhance the attendee experience.
Understand Their Needs
Potential sponsors are choosing to be a part of your event because they are expecting to see some kind of return on investment, hopefully, a big one. While you can’t guarantee a big return, you can give them a little peace of mind by letting them know the buying power of your event audience. If you let potential sponsors know that your audience is capable of buying and that there will be big decision-makers in attendance, it may put their sponsorship contract on the fast track.
Once you have the attention of some companies, you need to create your sponsorship proposals. Skip the usual sponsorship packages and create packages that are targeted to the needs of these companies. The key is to listen to what they want, without compromising your bottom-line goal.
When you reach out to potential sponsors, see if they have any great ideas that will bring more innovation to your event and help them to meet their marketing goals. Then, create a sponsorship package together that has your event goals in mind, but also meets the needs of your sponsor. Teamwork is very important and your sponsors will remember that you took the time to make sure that their needs were met.
Have Goals Aligned
Another idea when it comes to engaging with sponsors is to think about what the sponsor is trying to accomplish this year. What are their big goals for what they're trying to do? Instead of saying to them, 'Oh, yeah. We'd love to do this crazy, thing and just slap your name on it” instead say, “What's your brand all about this year?”
For example, let's say a software company says “our big initiative is related to sustainability this year. We're trying to encourage people to be more sustainable, to use less paper.”
If you say to a sponsor, 'Hey, we're trying to do that, what you're trying to do that. What if we made it so that the sustainability element of the event was brought to you by your brand?' Now you're associated with this sustainable movement, the sustained effort that's trying to be made. Also, again it enhances your event and helps you accomplish and find ways you can align your goals together.
Treat Them Like Partners
Teamwork is important and you need to stand together with a common goal in mind – to have a successful event. Sometimes in order to get sponsors on your side, you need to show them that they are a part of your team and not just funding your event. This may mean offering them a little something extra to give them brand awareness or a bigger ROI.
- The small plus: a demo table during lunch, an email blast the week before, or an interview onsite.
- Include them in the event debrief after the event to get their feedback.
- Allow them the opportunity to have some positive buzz when you partner with a charity for the event or give them the opportunity to co-create content to be published before or after the event.
Find the Right Speech and Timing
Understand that for different sponsors and contacts, you are going to need to approach things in a different way. What might appeal to one person, may not to the next. For example, a salesperson is going to respond positively to leads. When you speak with them, make sure that you mention the big decision-makers that will be at your event and the number of attendees. On the other hand, when you work with a marketer you are going to need to show them concrete data – results from last year, differentiation, added value, and opportunities. They will also care a great deal about the price of the sponsorship.
Everyone has objectives that they need to hit in order to achieve their goals, so educate yourself. Show people that your event is the right event for them. That means you need to know your target audience, the behavior of the target (will they buy), results from last year, potential reach, market size, and more. Seriously, do your research - you will get asked these questions. Would you buy a house without looking at the market value and having an official inspection? No, it is too risky. Don’t make the decision to invest in your event risky for your sponsors.
Finally, make sure you know when to pitch your event. Most businesses make their sponsorship decisions in the last quarter of the year, so plan accordingly! It will take several months to get approval on sponsorships from the right people, so make sure you have your pitches out months before that.
Where to Find Event Sponsors
Now that you have a plan on how to get your sponsors, you need to know where to find them. You can’t just type into Google, “sponsors for a technology event.” You need to do your research. See what companies make sense for you to have onboard and if you can get referrals from others. Here are our tips on where to look:
- Social media, specifically LinkedIn is a great way to find the right sponsors by searching through groups. You can see what their interests are, their company, and where they have done business before.
- Create an advisory board with previous sponsors to help attract future sponsors. Your past sponsors can give feedback on sponsorship incentives/ideas/targets.
- Create a referral program with other sponsors, so they can recommend key people in the industry and act as references to share what they gained.
Creative Event Sponsorship Ideas
You don’t want to be ordinary. Anyone can do that! It’s easy to do the “same old same old” and just let the sponsorship machine chug along the same old track. OR you can leave your comfort zone, add new value and experience to the event and improve the ROO and ROI for your sponsor. This will bring your sponsor back year after year, engaging with your customers and investing in your bottom line which makes for a happy event manager! Nothing is better than when a sponsor thanks you profusely for allowing them to invest in your event! We know the proof is in the pudding so below are a few examples of how you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary when it comes to event sponsorship.
Belly Band on the Event Directory
We all know customers buy them and we also know they often end up on the floor, torn up, and spilling out of the garbage cans near registration. However, you can easily resolve this by putting your sponsor's ad on the belly band, which wraps around the event guide but with a call to action that entices attendees to fill out their name and info on the inside of the belly band. They would then bring it to your sponsor's booth to enter their name to win a prize also creating a qualified lead.
Wonder why nobody buys them. Because of the status quo, they don’t provide real value to the sponsor! Traditionally you would add the organization's name on napkins with an easel sign recognizing the sponsor. A more creative way to attract attendees to these stations would be to provide the hot cup coffee wrap on each cup, plus napkins and a special giveaway that prompts the attendee to go to the booth to qualify to win a prize!
We know they are fun, but do they really drive value? Floor decals are a great place to increase revenue by including monetization options such as premium listings. It can be used as an add-on for sponsorship packages, as the increased visibility will help drive traffic to those booths. When going this route use creative graphics and adhere them to the floor with a “wow” factor in the image. Even better, you can use the same adhesives on tabletops and put personalized “placemats” on the top of every table where everyone will be eating lunch. Same product, same production costs, much better impact!
Because almost all events have Wi-Fi and attendees have come to expect events to have free Wi-Fi, this technology provides a great opportunity for organizers to sell Wi-Fi sponsorships.
Think about the Wi-Fi setup. You can give your sponsorship some brand recognition that costs you zero money and it's super-duper easy to do. For example, you can sponsor the network name of the Wi-Fi your attendees will connect to at your event. So instead of just calling it 'My Event Wi-Fi,' think about how you can use this opportunity to engage with a sponsor.
The second portion of that is you also have the password for the Wi-Fi. This is almost where you can hit two sponsors in one. Let's say you name your Wi-Fi Drift, but you make the password Demandbase. Boom! You have two opportunities where there's brand recognition.
Now let's look at the two other options you can use Wi-Fi for. Again, it's just an example of something that you probably already have but has so many faceted options for sponsorship.
Let's say, for example, you want to do what's called a captive portal. That's when you connect to the Wi-Fi at let’s say a coffee shop and it says, “click here to connect” or maybe you have to give your email address or for a hotel, you have to put your room number. That's also an opportunity for branding. You can put some logos on there, some graphics, use it to promote next year's event, can collect email addresses, and then the sponsor can email attendees afterward. The best part is that technology doesn't cost any money.
Wi-Fi Password Posters
Lastly, you should also think about how people are always going to be wondering how they connect to the Wi-Fi. You can post posters everywhere with the Wi-Fi password. This is again a sponsorship opportunity. On the poster, you can write “Wi-Fi brought to you by Aventri”. This costs you almost no money to do and we all know sponsors who love to have their name all over the Wi-Fi because they know every attendee is going to want to use it.
So, that's an example of how you can think about the technologies you are bringing in for your event and how you can integrate sponsorships with them. Because a lot of technologies include screen time or some interactivity element, you can brand these things, you can throw logos on them, can use them for lead capture, etc.
Reuse Sponsorship Content After Your Event
Create new opportunities for your sponsors by applying the motto, "work smarter, not harder" to your events. Specifically, extending the length of your event sponsorships by repurposing sponsorship event content.
The other big major portion of sponsorship opportunities relates to thinking about your event as a media house. Far too often, especially at conferences and conventions, there are tons of breakout rooms and general sessions where you bring in these big A-list celebrity speakers. Why are you not filming these and then turning them into assets for later? Always try to think about how you can take all the stuff you making at an event and reuse it, repurpose it, and continue to use that all day long.
Within this guide, we educated you on the importance of building solid partnerships with your sponsors. The techniques covered in this guide seek to establish a win-win situation and are valuable for events and the brands that enable them.
Sponsorship should always be a win, win situation. It is a good way for you to enhance your event financially and add new services, entertainment, or learning for your attendees.
On the other hand, it is good for the sponsors because they have the chance to create new business, have more brand awareness, and hopefully have a good ROI.
When you are in the process of attracting sponsors, creating packages, and convincing people to invest in your event, think of it as a journey of discovery. Prepare to engage in lengthy and sometimes frustrating negotiations that may fail at any moment.
Finding sponsors is more like running a marathon: the strategy and preparation matter just as much as the execution. You are embarking on a new relationship with an organization and get the chance to collaborate - it is more than just a hunt for money!