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15 Things Your Boss Wishes You Knew about Sponsorship 

by | March 4, 2021

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Your boss has asked you and a small team of colleagues to find a sponsor for your upcoming event. Easy-peasy, right? Until you begin digging into what a sponsorship program is supposed to entail. Now you’re wondering if you’re in over your head. What does your boss expect you to know walking into the sponsorship procurement process?

Here are 15 things your boss wishes you knew about sponsorship:

  • Sponsorship is for companies of all sizes and industries 
  • It’s not an overnight process, so you have to start early
  • There are no guaranteed yesses in sponsorship
  • But objections can be overturned if you know what you’re doing 
  • Several smaller sponsors are often equivalent to one big sponsor
  • Money is not the only offer your company should accept
  • You must have a finger on the pulse of your audience
  • Evaluating your assets is one of the most important parts of the process
  • Using tiered sponsorship packages can kill a deal early
  • You have to come up with activation ideas
  • Finding someone you know at the sponsorship company is best
  • Foisting your sponsorship proposal on the sponsor too early is a no-no
  • The first meeting is just about sniffing each other out
  • Following up is okay, but there’s an art to it
  • Without a sponsorship renewal plan, you might not work with the sponsor again

If you’re in the early stages of pursuing sponsorship for your company, good. You’ll definitely want to read through all 15 points I’m going to cover ahead. By learning these things now, you can avoid the rookie mistakes that companies make when seeking sponsorship even if you are still a rookie. You’ll also win some major brownie points with your boss! 

15 Things to Learn about Sponsorship to Impress Your Boss

Sponsorship Is for Companies of All Sizes and Industries 

This is something I see all the time: companies fall into a self-defeating trap before they even begin chasing sponsorship by thinking they’re inadequate. “Oh, my company only has 15 employees, so why would a sponsor want to work with me?” 

Sponsorship happens at all levels, for small businesses, mid-sized companies, not-for-profits, and other organizations. All industries, niches, and areas use sponsorship, including sports (and motorsports), townships and cities, and so many more. 

Unless your company hasn’t harmed puppies or done something equally as horrific, there’s no reason a sponsor wouldn’t want to work with you. That doesn’t mean sponsorship is automatic, as I’ll talk about in a little while, but sponsors accept companies like yours all the time. With the right preparation, rather than accepting companies like yours, a sponsor could accept your company.

That said, as much as it can be a self-defeating line of thinking to begin asking “why would a sponsor want to work with me?” it’s not the worst question in the world to ask. 

What does your company bring to the table? What are your valuable assets? It’s never too early to start thinking about it. I’ll come back to this point later, so put on your thinking cap in the meantime!

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It’s Not an Overnight Process, So You Have to Start Early

I’m assuming your boss gave you a sponsorship assignment with at least a month to go until your event. If they didn’t, then that’s definitely on them. 

However, if you had weeks or even months to work on procuring sponsorship but you decided to wait until the last minute, then I’m just going to be upfront with you: it’s too late. There is far too much you’d have to do and not nearly enough time to do it. 

To briefly summarize the anatomy of a sponsorship program, you first have to define the goals you want to achieve through your event. Do you want more revenue? Increased publicity? New customers? You have to know.

Then you need to create an assets list, evaluate your assets, come up with activation opportunities, add this all into your sponsorship package, create a sponsorship proposal, pitch the proposal, and hope the sponsor says yes. 

I’m glossing over a lot of the details at the moment because this will all come up throughout the rest of this article. That said, you should definitely go back and give my post on the anatomy of a sponsorship program a thorough read. Here’s the link for you again.

You can see how a week or two doesn’t afford you nearly enough time to adequately prep for a sponsorship. Even if you somehow pulled off a miracle and got all your legwork done in a week’s time, at one point of the process, it’s out of your hands. The sponsor has to respond, and that can happen in a few hours, a day, a week, or never.

Okay, so let’s say you managed to pique a sponsor’s interest. They’re going to feel blindsided with a week’s deadline and likely pass on working with you with so little time to go. 

Would it have ended that way if you had reached out with more time before your event? It’s hard to say, but possibly! 

There Are No Guaranteed Yesses in Sponsorship

One reason that sponsorship beginners sometimes wait until the last minute to start reaching out to target sponsors is that they assume they’re a shoo-in for being accepted. Your company is trying to hold a children’s cancer rally, so of course any sponsor with a soul is going to say yes.

Except the subject of your event isn’t a make or break point for a sponsor. Sure, any sponsor would, in a perfect world, love to attach themselves to such a valiant cause. However, if you’re asking for too much money, you’re coming at them with too little time until the event, or it’s clear that you have nothing to offer the sponsor, then a sponsor will say no.

I mentioned in the first section how you should have started thinking of what you can offer a sponsor. Hopefully, in the time between planning your event timeline and now, you’ve done a bit more thinking on that point. Having something that the sponsor values is really the best way to get them to say yes.

Yesses are never automatic things though. Even if you asked your friend at a fellow company to sponsor you, if they’re not the key decision maker, your friend’s hands could be tied. 

Past sponsors might not work with you again because they’ve shrunk their budget or downsized or aren’t sponsoring at this time. That’s why a sponsorship renewal plan is so important, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself yet. 

If a sponsor agrees to work with you, it’s a big deal. When they say yes, it’s often because you’ve earned it. You’ll revel that much more in your sponsorship approval if you’ve done all the hard work to reach that point. 

But Objections Can be Overturned If You Know What You’re Doing 

Knowing when to fold is a valuable skill in anything. That includes sponsorship. By the way, when I say knowing when to fold, I don’t mean giving up the first time a sponsor tells you no. Well, unless “no” is the exact verbiage they use.

Pursuing sponsorship will force you to sharpen your listening skills, as you have to keep your ears wide open anytime you speak to your sponsor. Most importantly, when they say something, don’t attach your own meaning to it.

For example, if a target sponsor tells you “let me think about it,” I know what your first inclination is going to be. You’re thinking they’ve told you no, correct? Just that they’re doing it in a really nice way.

Yet that’s you putting your meaning on it. The sponsor never said the word “no,” only that they had to think about it. That’s all it means, that they have to think about it. Give them the time to do so before you jump to any conclusions. Make sure you ask when they think they’ll have a decision ready so you’re not waiting around forever. 

Okay, but what if the client says something like “we don’t have the budget right now”? That’s a no too, right?

Except it isn’t. It’s leaning towards no, but it isn’t a guaranteed disapproval. As I recommend in this post, by getting a bit creative, you could turn the target sponsor’s answer into a resounding yes!

How? In the case of a sponsor saying they don’t have the budget, suggest something like split payments so the sponsor doesn’t have to give you the full value of the event upfront. Of course, if you do go this route, you have to make sure you have the funding for your event. Otherwise, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot to make the target sponsor happy.

This advice is not free reign to harass a sponsor or keep pushing them after they say no. Like I said, once you hear that word, it’s game over. Sometimes a vague answer firms up later, but you have to be ready to accept that the answer isn’t always going to be what you want. If it isn’t, then you have to move on to the next sponsor on your list if your event is going to happen. 

Several Smaller Sponsors Are Often Equivalent to One Big Sponsor

When I talk about sponsorship on this blog, I typically do so singularly, not plural. In other words, you’re pursuing sponsorship, not sponsorships

What happens when everyone fishes at the same pond for the big fish? That’s right, those big fishes get snatched up, leaving only the little ones. Except no one wants the little fish because they’re not as impressive.

If you have that same attitude when it comes to sponsorship, you’re missing out.  

There are plenty of scenarios in which the large sponsor might not work out for you. You can expect they’ll be far more inundated with sponsorship requests. Even if the sponsor wanted to accept every request, they don’t have the time nor funds to do so. They have to be selective. 

What their selective criteria is, you don’t know and may never. Perhaps the sponsor only accepts those companies they’ve worked with before or those that are in a certain industry or niche. Either way, if you don’t fit into this very narrow little box, you’re out.

Smaller sponsors get fewer bites, using the fishing analogy again, so when someone viable comes by, this sponsor is more likely to pay attention. This still doesn’t mean it’s a done deal just because a sponsor is smaller. Yet in an unsaturated market, you have a much greater chance of standing out. 

Bigger sponsors have deeper pockets, and I’m not disputing that. You will have to work with twice, maybe thrice the number of smaller sponsors as you would one larger sponsor to pull together the same amount of money. 

If your boss just wants sponsorship funding and isn’t so picky about where he or she gets it from, then I’m sure they won’t mind that you have three smaller sponsors instead of one bigger one. If anything, it’s impressive that you successfully pulled off the sponsorship process not once, not twice, but three times! 

Money Is Not the Only Offer Your Company Should Accept

Let’s say you get decently far into the sponsorship process to the point where you’re sitting down and discussing your sponsorship package with the target sponsor. The sponsor sees that you’re requesting X amount of money and says point-blank that they can’t give you that much.

What they can give you is an in-kind service such as event brochure printing. Maybe they can help your social media accounts grow or boost your website traffic. They could provide branding instead of cash for your event. Perhaps the sponsor suggests some volunteers to help out at your event or even some of their most trusted vendors. They could even recommend other sponsors like them that may have deeper pockets.

If this is your first swing at sponsorship, you’re going to feel like you’re at a crossroads once you get a response like this. Your boss asked specifically for funding for your event, so money is all you can accept, right?

Turning down a sponsor’s non-cash offer is one of the worst mistakes you can make.

Cash only has a finite value. In other words, if I give you $10,000, once you spend that $10,000, it’s gone forever. Other offerings from a sponsor can have far more value.

For example, let’s say the sponsor offers you access to their vendors list. You could get a discount hiring these vendors because of your ties to the sponsor, so already you’re saving money. Plus, since these are good, hard-working people, you’ll come to count on them again and again for your events. The time and vetting you don’t have to do and the extra money you don’t have to spend on vendors goes much further. By this point, that $10k I gave you is a long-distant memory.

If your boss says that the only thing they’ll accept is cash, I recommend showing them this section of the article! 

I know at first that a non-cash deal can be disappointing because it’s not what you had expected. Once you take some time to think about the sponsor’s offer, you’ll realize there are things in life more valuable than money. At least, I hope you will. 

You Must Have a Finger on the Pulse of Your Audience

Okay, you’ve had some time to think about it. What is something of value you can give the sponsor to incentivize them to say yes?

While there are many, many ways you can answer this question, the best answer by far is your audience.

Yes, that’s right, your audience. Unless you’re a very small business or startup, then you have thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people who buy your products and services and stay up to date on what’s going on with your company. You get new leads all the time that you convert into customers.

Okay, but wouldn’t a sponsor company have a much larger audience than yours? Sure, but think about it. When you reached 100,000 customers, I’m sure you didn’t say “wow, that’s a big number. I guess I’ll just stop generating leads now.” That would be crazy. 

Your sponsor is in the same boat as you. They want to continue growing their business, attracting new leads and converting them into buying customers. They’re using the same led gen methods as you, but they have one leg up.

By accepting a sponsorship request from you, they have a huge audience to tap into and they had to do very little work to earn that access.

Is lead gen the only reason companies offer sponsorship? Certainly not. As I wrote about here, sponsors also want to increase their sales, get more media exposure, strengthen their brand, stand out from the competition, and try a new role. Most of those goals can be achieved through a larger, more diverse audience.

You can’t use your audience as the golden carrot that makes a sponsor bite if you don’t know anything about them. Since you’re a business, I assume you do audience research semi-regularly, but if you haven’t, it’s high time you do. 

An audience survey you email to your customer segments can keep you up to date on their occupation, job title, geography, income, marital status, and shopping behavior. Having this data then allows you to draw parallels between your audience and your target sponsor’s.

A similar audience group draws the most positive reaction since this cherry-picked audience will be the most receptive to the sponsor’s offers. That said, if your audiences are similar enough but unique in a few ways, that can still appeal to the sponsor.

Just look at that article on sponsorship goals to see why. Sponsors that want to accept a new role can do so through a unique audience segment.  

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Evaluating Your Assets Is One of the Most Important Parts of the Process

Your audience is the crown jewel of your assets, but they’re not the only asset you want to shop around to your target sponsor. 

Okay, but what is an asset, you ask? Assets are tangible and intangible valuables you sell to the target sponsor. They go into your sponsorship package. An asset can be just about anything you think a sponsor would like. 

The first part of evaluating your assets is simply coming up with a robust assets list. I always recommended meeting with a few members of your company to throw things at the wall. You’re not focused on what sticks, at least not yet. Just throw as much at the wall as you can come up with. No asset is off-limits during this stage.

The valuation process will tell you what sticks. When you valuate your assets, you assign a monetary value to each asset that’s determined by factors such as your competition and current market value. That means your assets could be worth bank right now but six months from now may lose value. The opposite can also be true. 

Try to get inventive as you put together your list of assets. The everyday, boring assets like logos are not going to be enough to secure the sponsorship you’re looking for. I recommend assets like physical space naming rights, product giveaways and samples, exhibiting or speaking opportunities, pass-through benefits, and paid media.

These are the kinds of beefy assets that will get a sponsor salivating! 

Using Tiered Sponsorship Packages Can Kill a Deal Early

Once you have all your awesome assets, you want to put them into your sponsorship package, as mentioned. This is a part of your larger sponsorship proposal. 

I can say with complete confidence that if there’s one thing your boss doesn’t want you to do throughout the whole sponsorship process, it’s using the gold, silver, and bronze tiers in your sponsorship package. If you’ve ever visited this blog even once and read a post or two, then I’m sure you’ve seen me talk about tiered sponsorship packages before.

The reason I always bring this topic up is because it’s such a damaging mistake to make. If your sponsor feels like you’ve taken them for a ride because your only truly valuable assets are in the gold package, they’ll begrudgingly pay, but that will be the last time you hear from them. 

Customizing your sponsorship package is the way to go. Collaborate with the target sponsor to see which assets of yours excite them the most versus those that don’t really hit the mark. Be willing to discard the less valuable assets to focus on those the sponsor deems more viable. 

This approach can make all the difference. Imagine going to a restaurant and being able to freely pick what you want from the menu. You won’t mind paying the full price because you know you’ll enjoy what you’re going to get. Now compare that to visiting a restaurant and not being able to order. Someone just gives you whatever food they think is the best.

Yet what if you don’t like that food? Or what if it’s not up to par? That’s the risk you run if you use a tiered sponsorship package, that perhaps the sponsor won’t like your gold-level assets or think they’re all that valuable. It’s too big of a chance to take. 

You Have to Come up with Activation Ideas

I’m not quite finished talking about assets yet. Another hugely valuable asset to sell to a sponsor is activation ideas, or interactive experiences that make your event worth attending. If you’ve ever attended any kind of event in your life, then surely, you’ve seen activation ideas in person. From the radio station giving away free t-shirts at the last concert your attended to a tech company’s VR booth at the conference you went to in the spring, these are all activation ideas. 

It’s a misconception among the more inexperienced companies seeking sponsorship that the target sponsor will come up with the activation ideas. That’s not exactly false, as the sponsor might have a couple of good ideas up their sleeve. Yet you must have the bulk of the ideas.

Why? It’s your event, silly! If you’re planning a birthday party, you don’t expect the birthday girl or boy to do all the hard work, right? No! So why would you expect your sponsor to do the same?

Ideally, you and the target sponsor will collaborate on activation ideas, but to reiterate, you must bring most of them to the table. 

Since you’re new to sponsorship and may be totally stumped on how to come up with activation ideas, allow me to help. Here is a list of digital activation ideas to get you started. Since more and more events are still happening in the digital sphere, you can stay current and wow your target sponsor with your activation idea creativity. 

Finding Someone You Know at the Sponsorship Company Is Best

It’s been weeks of prep and research, but the time has finally come for you to contact the target sponsor. You found their phone number through an Internet search or maybe on LinkedIn. Perhaps all you have is an email address. 

Putting on a brave face, you pick up the phone and call. You don’t have the name of anyone at the company, so when you get put through to the front desk secretary and they ask who you want to talk to, you’re at a loss. 

Every company has red tape, and whether you can cut through it depends on who you know. In the example before, with no contacts at the sponsorship company, it’s hard to get put through to someone’s direct line. 

If you have a point of contact within the sponsorship company, that all changes. This person doesn’t have to be someone you know directly, but maybe someone a colleague is familiar with someone or even your boss is. The person also doesn’t have to be in the sponsorship department; as long as they’re part of the same company, that’s fine. They’ll be more inclined to redirect you to who you want to talk to.

Having a contact in the sponsorship company does not guarantee that the sponsor will want to work with you, I just want to say that. The point of contact just makes it easier to get the ball rolling.  

Foisting Your Sponsorship Proposal on the Sponsor Too Early Is a No-No

Okay, but why call the sponsor when you can email them? After all, you can’t send your sponsorship proposal over the phone. That’s true, you can’t, and you shouldn’t want to send it via email (or physical mail) yet either.

I know, I know, the sponsorship proposal is the culmination of all your weeks or months of hard work. It’s got your audience research, your assets in a customized sponsorship package, it’s got everything. You even followed my sample sponsorship proposal outline (link in the paragraph above) to write out all six pages of the proposal exactly the way they’re supposed to be.

You can’t wait to send this bad boy out into the world. Ah, but wait you’ll have to. 

I’ve already talked about how sponsors aren’t such a huge fan of cold calling or cold emailing. Now imagine some stranger is emailing you, asking for money and expecting you to read their giant PDF file with sponsorship information. Fat chance! 

It’s far too much too soon. Instead, you have to wait until the target sponsor asks to see the proposal. That could be after your first meeting, but it more than likely will not be. In the meantime, you need to sit on the document and wait until that magic moment when they sponsor actually wants to see it.

It’s only then that they’ll pore over the information you worked so hard to put together and make their decision. 

The First Meeting Is Just about Sniffing Each Other Out

If you can’t bring your sponsorship proposal to the first meeting, then what the heck are you supposed to do with that time? The answer is simple. Familiarize yourself with the sponsor and have them do the same of you. 

To that end, discovery questions will come in handy. As the name suggests, these are questions you ask during the discovery phase, which you’re in now. That link will take you to a post with nearly 40 inspiring discovery questions.

I never recommend you pelt the target sponsor with question after question. Pick five of your favorite discovery questions from my list or–even better–come up with five of your own questions. Try to memorize them but feel free to jot them down if need be.

Then, when you’re at the meeting, ask away! The point of discovery questions is to ascertain whether the target sponsor is a good match for you just as they’re assessing if you’re a good match for them.

Following up Is Okay, but There’s an Art to It

The first meeting with the target sponsor has come to an end. Now what, you ask? Well, if it’s not clear by the time you’re shaking hands, make sure you mention it. The target sponsor might request a loose outline of your sponsorship proposal or they may not want any documentation at all. Whatever they ask you for, listen and do it.

Once you two hammer out the details of the second meeting and subsequent meetings, as mentioned, you will eventually send your sponsorship proposal. This is the time when the sponsor will go dark for a bit. They have to look over all your information and make their final choice about whether they want to work with you. Give them a few days for this monumental decision. 

What if a week goes by and it’s been radio silence? Then it’s time to follow up. There’s never anything wrong with following up at least twice, but after that, you’re pushing your luck. That’s why I said there’s an art to following up.

I always recommend using the same medium to communicate that you two have relied on primarily. In other words, if you’ve mostly spoken by phone, give them a call. If you two have chatted through email, then send them an email. 

If you get a response after your first nudge, great! If again they target sponsor has gone quiet, wait a week and try poking them again. You’d hope they’d be about ready with their decision by now.

What if you never hear back? Silence is an answer, and that answer is no. Since you have an event to host and time is of the essence, you can’t spend too much time wallowing. It’s time to hop back on the horse and start the sponsorship process all over. 

Without a Sponsorship Renewal Plan, You Might Not Work with the Sponsor Again

Phew! You got a sponsor in time for your event. The event was flawless and you’re so thrilled you chose that sponsor. You’d love to pair up with them next year. 

Please recall what I said earlier. No sponsorship is guaranteed, even if you two have a past working relationship. With a sponsorship renewal plan that uses custom proposals, you can ensure you hold onto your sponsor for next time. You’ve come this far, so don’t forget this last crucial step! 

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If you want your boss to be a happy man or woman, learn these key areas of sponsorship. Yes, it’s a lot, but each step of the process is critical. Best of luck with your event!