12 Steps to Sponsorship Success

Sylvia Allen

Sylvia will be presenting an expanded version of the topic "12 Steps to Sponsorship Success" at the Florida Festivals & Events Association Convention & Tradeshow on Wednesday, August 10th from 1:30pm - 2:45pm at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, FL. For more information, click here.

Selling sponsorships is not a matter of buying a mailing list of potential buyers, writing a direct mail letter, putting together a “package”, mailing everything out and waiting for the telephone to ring with people offering you money.  It’s a nice dream but the reality is much more complicated (and time consuming) than that.

Before getting started you should have a definition of sponsorship.  The following definition is by no means perfect; however, there are some choice words that help you purse your sponsorship sales with a good foundation.      

Sponsorship is an investment, in cash or in kind, in return for access to exploitable business potential associated with an event or highly publicized entity.

         The key words in this definition are “investment”, “access to”, and “exploitable”.  First, investment.  By constantly looking at sponsorship as an investment opportunity, where there is a viable payback, no longer are you talking to someone about a payment of cash or money.  Rather, use the word investment which automatically implies that value will be returned to the investor.  Second, access to which means they ability to be associated with a particular offering (trade show, seminars, networking meetings, association get-togethers, etc.).  Lastly, exploitable, a positive word which means “to take the greatest advantage of” the relationship.  In other words, allowing the sponsor to make the greatest use of their investment and capitalize on their relationship.

         Don’t underestimate the value of your association’s opportunities.  Your read so much about the multi-million dollar deals you forget that there are many more small deals … $500, $2,500, $5,000.  These can be as simple as banners at a trade show to title sponsorship of your annual conference.  Once you have gone through the 12 steps you will have a better understanding of how to put together sponsorship offerings, what words to use, and how to not only price but evaluate, on a post-event basis, what you provided to the sponsor.

         If you take these basic 12 steps you will be assured of greater success in your sponsorship endeavors. 

Step 1 … Take inventory

         What are you selling?  You have a number of elements in your event that have value to the sponsor.  The include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Radio, TV and print partners
  • Collateral material … posters, flyers, brochures
  • Tickets:  quantity for giving to sponsor plus ticket backs for redemption
  • Association mailing list
  • VIP seating
  • VIP parking
  • Hospitality
  • On-site banner exposure
  • Booth
  • Audio announcements
  • Product sales/product displays
  • Celebrity appearances/interviews
  • Internet exposure


         And, you can think of more.  Look at your association activities as a store and take inventory of the many things that will have value to your sponsors, whether it be for the marketing value or hospitality value.  Take your time in making up this list … time spent at the beginning will be rewarded by more effective sponsorships when you get into the selling process.

Step 2 …Develop your media partners

         Next, approach your media partners. They should be treated the same way as all other sponsors, with the same rights and benefits.  You want to negotiate for air time, with radio and television, and for print coverage with newspapers and magazines.  (You can always try for money but be happy to settle just for barter … you really need this inventory to be competitive with other people seeking sponsorship money from the same sponsors you will be approaching.) This inventory of media can then be included in your total sponsorship offerings to prospective sponsors. 

In fact, after taking your inventory steps 2 and 3 are done almost simultaneously as you must have something to give to your potential media partners that describes the sponsorship.  Briefly, here’s what is important to your media partners.

Your association activity offers the media an opportunity to increase their non traditional revenue (NTR).  You have an audience, sampling opportunities, sales opportunities and multiple media exposure that the media people can offer to their own advertisers.  Many times an advertiser asks for additional merchandising opportunities from the media.  Your event offers them that opportunity.  You can let them sell a sponsorship for you in return for the air time or print coverage.  Just make sure it is always coordinated through you so they are not approaching your sponsors and you are not approaching their advertisers.  From radio and TV you want air time that can then be included in your sponsorship offerings.  From print you want ad space and/or an advertorial (a special section).  In both instances you are getting valuable media to include in your sponsorship offerings to your potential sponsors.

Treat your media just like your other sponsors.  Give them the attendant benefits that go with the value of their sponsorship.  When the event is over, they should provide you with proof of performance (radio and TV an affidavit of performance; print should give you tear sheets) and, conversely, you should provide them with a post event report

Step 3 … Develop your sponsorship offerings

         Now you can put together the various components of your sponsorship offerings so you are prepared to offer valuable sponsorships.  Try to avoid too many levels and too “cutesy” headings.  Don’t use gold, silver and bronze.  Don’t use industry-specific terms your buyer might not understand.  (If the buyer doesn’t understand the words they probably won’t take a look at the offering!).  Simply, you can have title, presenting, associate, or product specific categories.  They are easy to understand and easy to sell.  Of course, title is the most expensive and most effective.  The minute the name of your association activity is “married” to the sponsor’s name the media have to give the whole title.  Great exposure for your title sponsor. 

         The first step in preparing for your initial sponsor contact is to prepare a one page fact sheet that lists the various opportunities available for marketing as well as date, time, and location of your activity.

Step 4 … Research your sponsors

         Learn about your potential sponsors.  Get on the Internet, read the annual reports, do a data search on the company, use the various sourcebooks available to you  … find out what the companies are currently sponsoring, what their branding strategies are, what their business objectives are.  Become an expert on your prospects … the more you know abut them the better prepared you will be for their questions and the easier it will be for you to craft a sponsorship offering that meets their specific needs.

         Be prepared to discuss the sponsor’s individual marketing strategies with them when making the sales call.  KNOW YOUR SPONSOR’S BUSINESS BETTER THAN THEY DO THEMSELVES!  You will have to answer questions quickly and intelligently during the sales process … know everything about their brands, their sales goals, their sponsorship strategies.

         Know and understand that there are different departments, with different budgets, that can spend money on sponsorships.  These departments include, but are not restricted to, advertising, marketing, public relations, product management, brand managers, human relations directors, multi-cultural marketing managers, office of the President and even a sponsorship director!  Look for different opportunities within the same company.

Step 5 … Do initial sponsor contact

         Then, pick up the telephone. When you reach the correct person, don’t launch right into a sales pitch.  Rather, ask them several questions about their business that will indicate to you whether or not they are a viable sponsor for you project.  Questions could be “Based on what I have read on your company, it appears ____________________________ (fill in the blank with your knowledge.)  Is that true?  Are you interested in maintaining/increasing your profitability?  Are you interested in creating a better environment for your employees (or attracting new employees, or rewarding current employees)?   Make sure you ask questions that can be answered with yes.

         Also, make sure you are talking with the decision maker.  How do you know if they are the decision maker?  During the questioning process, ask “Is there anyone else you want involved in this discussion?”  That way they can give you another name without being intimidated that they are not the final decision maker.

One of the questions is always “How do I get past the gatekeeper?”  If you can’t get through the gatekeeper, make the gatekeeper your friend and ally.  Explain the program, explain the benefits of participation and get him/her to make the appointment for you

         Another concern?  How to get through voice mail.  Don’t leave long, boring messages.  Never leave more than three messages.  Dial around … try to get a real person … talk to the operator … have the person paged … get their e-mail address and send a note … call early in the morning … late in the day.  In other words?  Be creative!

Step 6 … Go for the appointment

         Once you have had a brief discussion, try to get the appointment.  If they say, “Send me a ‘package’” respond with “I’ll do even better than that.  I’ve prepared a succinct one page Fact Sheet that highlights the various marketing and promotion components of my event.  May I fax or e-mail it to you?”.  Then, ask for the fax number and e-mail address, send it to them right away and then call back shortly to make sure they received it.  If they have received it go for the appointment.  Explain that the fact sheet is merely a one-dimensional outline that cannot begin to describe the total event and you would like to meet with them, at their convenience, to show them pictures, previous press coverage, a video … whatever you have.  Follow the basic sales techniques of choices  .. Monday or Friday, morning of afternoon.  Don’t give them a chance to say they can’t see you.

         If it is a company that is too far for you to meet with face-to-face, make an appointment for a telephone interview.  Have them write that appointment in their book, just as if it were an in-person conversation.  Send them a package of information that they can have in front of them when you are speaking with them so they can follow along with your discussion and presentation.

Step 7 … Be creative

         Once in front of the sponsor, be prepared.  Demonstrate your knowledge of their business by offering a sponsorship that meets their specific needs.  Help them come up with a new and unique way to enhance their sponsorship beyond the event.  For example, if it’s a bank, how can they benefit from association with your event.  What kind of promotion could you design for them?  Or, devise a contest where people have to fill out an entry form to win something.  Think about hospitality opportunities … rewards for leading salespeople, special customer rewards, incentives for the trade.  Be prepared to offer these ideas, and more, to help the sponsor understand how this sponsorship offers him/her great benefit.

In many instances, it is up to you to lead the discussion.  Often a potential sponsor will turn to you and say “I don’t know how to make this work.”  This is where your knowledge and research will prove invaluable since you will have given thought, beforehand, to how they can maximize their participation in your event.

Step 8 … Make the sale

         The moment of truth … you have to ask for the sale.  You can’t wait for the sponsor to offer; rather you have to ask “Will we be working together on this project?” or something like that.  You will have to develop your own closing questions.  Hopefully, as you went through the sales process, you determined their needs and developed a program to meet those needs.  And, you certainly should have done enough questioning to determine what their level of participation would be.  Keep in mind that different personality styles buy differently which means you must select from a variety of closing techniques to ensure the right “fit” with the different personalities. 

         As with any sale, once you have concluded the sale, follow up with a detailed contract that outlines each party’s obligations.  A handshake is nice but if the various elements aren’t spelled out there can be a bad case of “but you said” when people sometimes hear what they want to hear, not necessarily what was spoken. Make sure you include a payment schedule that ensures you receive all your money before your event.  If not, you could suffer from the “call girl principle”.  The only exception to this rule?  If you are working with a Fortune 500 company they will want to hold back 10% until after the event as insurance against not getting full delivery.  It’s a normal practice and, if you’ve done your job, nothing to worry about.

Step 9 … Keep the sponsor in the loop

         Once you have gone through the sales process you will want to keep your sponsor involved up to, and through, your event.  See if their public relations department will put out a press release on their involvement.  If they do, make sure you have approval rights before it is sent you.  (You want to make sure that your event is being presented in the proper light, just as you want to assure your sponsors, with your releases that their marketing message is being presented properly.)  Show them collateral as it is being developed – posters, flyers, invitations, etc. – to make sure they are happy with their logo placement.  (With fax and e-mail this is now a very simple process.)  Make sure they are kept up-to-date on new sponsors, new activities … whatever is happening.  Discuss their marketing needs with them … make sure the contest or other activity they are doing is being followed through on.  The more you involve them in the process the more involved (and committed) they become.

Step 10 … Involve the sponsor in the event

         Involve your sponsor in the event.  Don’t let a sponsor hand you a check and say “Let me know what happens”.  You are doomed to failure.  Get them to participate by being on site … walk around with them … discuss their various banner locations, the traffic at their booth, the attendance at the luncheon they sponsored, whatever is appropriate to their participation.   Take time to participate in the various hospitality offerings with them.  Introduce them to other sponsors … talk to their representatives.  Do everything possible to ensure positive participation and, of course, reinforce this participation as a prelude to renewal!

Step 11 … Provide sponsors with a post-event report

         There’s a very old saying regarding presentations:  “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”  The post-event report is the last segment of this saying.  Provide your sponsors with complete documentation of their participation.  This should include copies of all collateral material, affidavit of performance from your radio and TV partners, tear sheets, tickets, banners, press stories… whatever has their company name and/or logo prominently mentioned or displayed.  This should all be included in a kit, with a written post-event report that lists the valuation of the various components, and presented to the sponsor with a certificate of appreciation for their participation.  Use a formula that encompasses Cost Per Thousand (CPM) because that is language your sponsors understand from their media buys.  If you have done your pricing properly, you can use those same figures in your post-event report.  Be consistent and be honest.  If you are doing it the right way, you will deliver at three three times their investment, just in marketing value.  And, a 3:1 ROI is great … certainly assurance of renewal!

Step 12 … Renew for next year

         Now, if you’ve followed these 12 steps carefully, renewal is easy.  In fact, you can get your sponsor to give you a verbal renewal during your event (if it is going well) and certainly after you have provided that sponsor with a post-event report that documents the value of all the marketing components he/she received.  You should try for a three to one return on their investment.  In many instances it will be even more than that if you have delivered as promised!


         Selling isn’t easy; however, if you follow these 12 steps it will be easier because you will have done your homework and will be prepared to discuss the sponsorship intelligently.  These 12 steps make selling fun!


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