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5 steps to take prior to approaching sponsors

featured photo by  ALEXANDER LONDONO

 

Sponsorship is one of the most challenging and complex aspects for any event or festival to navigate. Many event and festival promoters think of sponsorship solely as a way to negate costs, acquire free supplies (referred to as in-kind sponsorship), and sometimes also as a mechanism to help finance certain aspects of the event or festival. 

This is the wrong way to approach sponsorship due to the fact that it is only beneficial for the event or festival itself. In order to be successful in acquiring sponsors, event and festival organizers need to think of not only how the sponsorship will benefit the festival financially but also how it will benefit the sponsor. One should also consider how the sponsor will add value for their audience as well. 

Looking at sponsorship in this aspect means it is a win-win-win for all of the above. The sponsor provides remuneration (referred to as cash or fiscal sponsorship) for the event or festival, the event or festival helps the sponsor reach their goals or objectives, and the attendees also get some sort of added value for the event or festival as a result of the sponsorship. 

Oftentimes events or festivals create a brand, create a community, grow their audience, grow their attendance, increase ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc., and then assume that they are prepared to approach sponsors. Some might even get to the point where they have corporate sponsors approaching them wanting to sponsor their event.

music festival with streamers
 PHOTO BY DANNY HOWE

 

Unfortunately, your event or festival might just look like another billboard for giant corporations to take advantage of. They are simply just slapping their logo everywhere for a nominal fee which doesn’t add much value for your event or festival and also doesn’t serve much value for the sponsor or your audience

Each sponsor is going to have different goals and objectives. Some might wish to increase awareness for their brand, service, or product. Some might be wishing to build brand affinity. Others might want to create advocates for their brand while some may simply wish to reach a certain target market or demographic. The ultimate goal of all brands is to increase what is referred to as brand lift. 

It doesn’t make a difference whether your event or festival has an attendance of 100, 1000, or 100,000. You should be setting yourself up to approach sponsors from the very beginning of building your event or festival brand. It can oftentimes take years before you successfully land your first cash sponsor and when done properly, sponsors can produce a higher profit margin than ticket, merch, F&B, and vending sales combined. The average sponsor's yearly marketing budget just for experiential or events can be higher than the total budget of the event or festival.

It’s imperative to take the appropriate steps to set yourself up to actively be approaching potential sponsors. Here are 5 steps to take prior to reaching out:

1.  Create a sponsorship policy

In order to meet a potential sponsor’s goals and objectives, you have to first identify the goals and objectives of your event and festival. A lot of events festivals might ask if they really need a sponsorship policy but it is always best to ask and answer the following questions before seeking out sponsors:

 

Background:

  • Why are you looking to engage in sponsorship?
  • Do you see sponsorship as a means of monetary gain or marketing activity? 
  • Are you looking at developing long-term relationships or do you simply care about short-term gains?
  • What are the overall principles of your approach to sponsorship?

Definitions: 

  • How does your team define sponsorship and how does it differ from philanthropy, cause-related marketing, and/or government support?
  • Who will be responsible for handling sponsorship? (outside marketing or sponsorship agency, internal sponsorship coordinator, internal marketing department, entire team)

It’s best to first clearly establish what sponsorship means to the various members of your team and who will be responsible for the various aspects of sponsorship. You’ll want to identify who will be responsible for developing targets and leads, who will be handling the approach, who will be handling virtual and in-person meetings, creating proposals and decks, valuating assets, collecting data, and setting up activations. 

meetingFEATURED PHOTO BY SCOTT GRAHAM

 

It’s also imperative to determine what resources will be allocated to those handling sponsorships. This could include resources that could include social media, promotions, publicity, merchandise, vendors, production, volunteers, web design, mobile apps, photography, VIP, artist hospitality, and much more. You want to consider everything at your disposal that can help accentuate a sponsor’s brand. 

The more assets you can offer, the more valuable it is for the sponsor, and the easier it is for you to convince those in charge to allocate more time and money to your event or festival. You want to make sure that you also have the time and funds available yourself in order to be able to offer these assets as well. You don’t want to make promises that you can’t keep.

In addition to all of the above, you’ll also want to clearly define the culture, ethos, and principles of your event or festival. There might be certain companies or corporations that you will refuse to work with whom you deem unethical or you don’t find socially responsible or purpose-driven. This can also determine how your team goes about selling sponsorship, makes sure that the sponsor doesn’t exert control over the event or festival, and protects your event or festival’s integrity and credibility. 

A lot of this might sound unnecessary when you are first growing your event or festival brand but it will certainly help for future endeavors. There are plenty of trade shows, non-profit, expo, and corporate events that have a well-defined niche audience that they have managed to prove are of high value to sponsors. There is no reason why this can’t translate to other types of events that are more for the general public. 

2. Determine the functional and emotional aspects of the event/festival brand

This can be referred to as creating a brand bullseye. It’s best if you perform this step with your entire team and have a brainstorming session. First, you’ll want to draw a bullseye with two circles that create the outer ring and middle ring. 

bullseye

Have everyone think of the last time they attended an event or festival and why they attended that event. Examples of functional aspects could be: 

  • Affordable
  • Quality Music
  • Quality Entertainment
  • Artistic
  • Creative
  • Family Oriented
  • Community Oriented
  • Local
  • International
  • Safe and Secure
  • Drug-free or Sober
  • Drug-prevalent 
  • Spiritual
  • Bohemian
  • Healthy or Vegan
  • Environmentally Sustainable or Green
  • Adventurous
  • Spontaneous
  • Mature Audience
  • Young Audience

Some examples of emotional aspects could be: 

  • Friendly
  • Humble
  • Eccentric
  • Inspiring
  • Quality Family Time
  • Aspirational / Dreamy
  • Educational
  • Eye-Opening
  • Peace of Mind

Now have everyone write down as many reasons as they can in one minute. Then vote on the most important one or two aspects of your event or festival. These will be the most important aspects of your event or festival brand and also help you determine how you what kind of sponsors you will approach. You want to match up the branding of your event or festival to the branding of potential sponsors. This will assure you are set up for success in approaching sponsorship. 

3. Acquire psychographic and behavioral analytical data


There is nothing more important when approaching sponsors than knowing and defining your audience or community. Contrary to popular belief, sponsors don’t really care much if you have 100,000 or a million followers across social media. They don’t even care much if you have a high level of engagement or that your event or festival attracts Generation X, Y, or Z. 

They may want to know whether your audience consists of more local or international attendees but that is pretty much the extent of it. They really couldn’t care less how many countries or cities or villages festivalgoers come from…

None of this is really important to a potential sponsor because it is now easier than ever to market to any demographic they wish in any part of the world. Aside from that, their social media marketing budget alone might be larger than the entire budget of your event or festival. If you think they have money to sponsor your event or festival, then they definitely have much more money and resources to reach your audience. 

When creating a proposal or deck, you want to focus on what is referred to as psychographic data rather than demographics. Demographics is age, gender, race, location while psychographics is more granular and consists of psychological information such as one’s hobbies, interests, and lifestyle. Brands care more about what your audience's motivations are for making a purchase rather than how old they are or where they are from. 

Let’s say you are organizing a camping festival and you offer campers the option to rent a tent or bring their own. You still charge a nominal fee for campers to bring their own tent but then also offer other options to “glamp” up their campsite. You can now possibly determine how many people own their own tent vs the need to rent a tent and what other potential products those that own a tent might not already own. This opens up the possibility for numerous brands to be involved that specialize in the outdoor market. 

group of people campingPHOTO BY DUNG ANH

 

Once the festival is over, you can then survey attendees on whether they are in the market for a new tent or any of the camping equipment that was provided. Now you have real-time data to approach outdoor brands and prove to them that the attendees of your festival are potential customers of their products. 

This can be the same scenario for brands that specialize in food and beverages with data from F&B sales or sales from vendors, etc. 

Instead of saying that the average attendee of your event or festival is a single white male, 25 to 35 years old, and makes $65k a year. It’s better to say the average attendee loves live music, loves the outdoors and is adventurous, reads, travels, is healthy, spiritual, does yoga, and works out 3 to 4 times per week. 

This data can be collected prior to the event or festival across social media, through blogs and various media outlets, through e-mail and newsletters, through ticket providers such as PromoTix, and through thorough market research and advertising agencies as well. It’s best to also have a system in place to collect and organize all this data before, during, and after the event or festival.

4. Segment your markets


It’s a fair assumption to make that a music festival’s target market is anyone who likes a certain genre of music. You book a stellar line-up of the most iconic DJs in electronic music and then market to people who like electronic music. Your brand is built on this and you’ve been organizing events for 20 years so you have built relationships with all the biggest agencies and have no problem getting first dibs on headliners for your music festival. 

Then your event sells out, you got Heineken or Coca-Cola to sponsor your event and everything is great right? 

But how much cash did they provide vs other events or festivals and how many other categories of sponsors did your festival procure? 

Let’s say, for example, Heineken is interested in pushing their latest product, Heineken Zero but also interested in pushing Heineken Dark. Coca-Cola is interested in presenting themselves as friendlier to the environment and wants to promote their plant-based bottles but they are also interested in promoting Vitamin Water. 

Many sponsors have multiple brands that represent multiple products and relate to a different market and audience. This is why it is essential to gain as much data as possible on your audience and then segment your audience into multiple categories.

For Heineken, you would want to determine what percentage of your audience are either sober or recovering alcoholics for their Heineken Zero brand. Then you’ll want to determine what percentage of the festival’s audience prefers dark beer for their Heineken Dark brand. The same would go for Coca-Cola, what segment of your audience cares about protecting and saving the environment and what segment is health-conscious and tends to avoid sugar. 

Coca-Cola and Heineken already assume that people drink beer and soda at your festival. They assume that a good majority of people in the world drink beer and soda. They are going to want to have a presence at your event or festival regardless but in order to convince them to invest more time and money in your festival, you’ll need to show them that there is a market for the products they are currently wanting to push. Then it is a win-win-win for your festival, these brands, and various segments of your audience. 

Creating multiple segments of your audience can also help with your own marketing efforts. It’s best to avoid creating a “one-size-fits-all” approach. You might offer yoga and a variety of activities at your event or festival but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will react favorably. Some of those who might be looking to or have attended your event or festival in the past might just come there for the music while others might be more for the spiritual vibe and some might be more into the production value and aesthetics. Not only will the content you create be varied based on these audience segments but the sponsors you approach can also wish to market to these various segments as well. 

5. Researching potential sponsors 


Once you have accomplished the steps above, you should be able to start researching potential sponsors. This can be handled by an outside agency but it’s best if it is also done internally as well. Don’t think that just because someone is not a “marketing person” that they can’t be involved in the sponsorship process. Your staff and team are your most valuable asset and sponsors want to market to them too.

When researching potential sponsors, the first point of contact should be your staff and team. There is always some new product or services out there to make someone’s life easier and your staff and team might be familiar with products or services that you aren’t familiar with. From bar equipment to sound equipment, there are 1000s of products and brands that you wouldn’t normally think of reaching out to sponsor an event. 

You’ll first want to make a list of possible categories of brands. Then break down each of these categories even further. So for F&B, you’ll want to segment it into Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic beverages and then further break it down into Coffee & Tea and Beer, Wine, Liquor, etc. then you can have categories of Sports & Outdoors, Travel, Event-Related, Music Related, etc. and then break each of those categories even further. 

people drinkingPHOTO BY FRED MOON

 

Then along with your staff and team, have them come up with as many brands they can think of that fall into those categories. Then you’ll want to research each company and brand and figure out the following: 

  • What new products they are looking to promote?
  • What are their current marketing efforts? 
  • Who are their competitors? 
  • Are they currently sponsoring any events or festivals? What kind of events and festivals?
  • Where are they located? Do they have multiple locations?

You’ll want to focus on local brands and companies first as they are much more likely to respond and will have smaller teams. They will also be much easier to get on board as they will be more inclined to support their local community. Of course, the chances of getting much cash out of them or anything more than in-kind sponsorship is much less.

Once you’ve determined the following, then you’ll want to either look at their website to find the appropriate contact or simply do a Google search or search on Linkedin Sales Navigator for the name of the company along with brand, sponsorship, or marketing manager or director. 

You actually want to avoid anyone with sponsorship in their title as much as possible due to the fact that those with these positions get overwhelmed with requests and proposals. They normally aren’t the best first point of contact and rarely accept inbound requests. It’s best to initially reach out to either the brand or marketing manager for larger organizations. 

Sponsorship is certainly a complex and tedious process and oftentimes promoters either don’t want to try to understand how it works or want to take the time to learn. The truth of the matter is that everyone has products and services they use. There are plenty of brands out there that want to use your event or festival as a catalyst to promote their products or services to your audience. Take the above steps into account and then start approaching potential sponsors now with this tool from Promotix:

Download tool

 

Saxe Coulson
Saxe Coulson
Saxe has a vast range of knowledge covering everything from marketing, talent buying, and PR to sponsorship and festival planning.

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