As another year nearly draws to a close, it’s become evident to me that sponsorship will continue to be an integral part of a business’s attempts to broaden its horizons, grow its audience, and spread its brand.
It doesn’t matter so much whether you’re a festival host, a race car driver, a business owner, or a nonprofit manager. Sponsorship can propel your business, brand, or organization to new heights.
There’s a million-dollar question sponsorship seekers ask me: how and where to start?
I’ve published a lot of great insights across the year answering those questions. If you’re short on time or looking for a path to sponsorship as the year gets underway and the next begins, this guide will provide you with lots of great strategies for finding sponsorship prospects.
8 Proven Ways to Find Sponsors in 2023-2024
This might be a quick guide to launching your sponsorship aspirations for the year, but it’s not a cheat sheet.
The most reliable way to find sponsors is and will always be through your audience.
I know, that’s probably not the answer you were hoping for, but it’s what has worked for hundreds of my clients and thousands of more sponsorship seekers out there.
Even others in the sponsorship space who I haven’t worked with directly but have gotten to know through my line of work have used audience data.
I push it so hard because it works.
Ask your audience about the brands they use. It’s really that simple. Enter them into a giveaway for taking the time to answer your questions or give them a discount code. Whatever works to get them responsive is what you should do.
The reason gathering audience data works for finding sponsors is because of what sponsorship boils down to.
It’s not about how much money a company can give you. It’s about how well you can connect your audience to another brand or company.
When you think of it like that, it seems crazy to use any other way to prospect for sponsors, right? So, go ahead and ask your audience what they like. I guarantee you, they will have a lot to say!
This is another strategy that proves there is no fast and easy path to sponsorship. It takes work, but understanding what you want is key to sponsorship success.
I know what you want is money, but you have to go deeper than that.
What do you need the money for? To secure a bigger venue for your yearly festival? To expand your racing career or get new listeners for your podcast?
The next question to ask yourself is, how much money do you need? This is a working estimate, and it could evolve as you plan your sponsorship further. That’s okay.
Once you’ve gotten those answers, ask yourself one more question (for now). How many sponsors do you need to achieve your goals? Is one okay, or is several more realistic?
The higher the sum you seek, the more it makes sense to diversify. So often, sponsorship seekers fall into the trap of thinking all their cashflow must come from one sponsor when really, that’s not the case.
This causes the erroneous belief that the only way to secure sponsors is to go after the biggest brands on the planet. You know, the same brands everyone else wants.
Rather than setting your sights sky-high, focus on keeping them attainable.
Unsurprisingly, social media remains a strong means of tracking down prospective sponsors. According to data from Forbes, 4.9 billion people use social media globally in 2023. That number will surely surpass 5 billion by 2024.
Please don’t use your personal Facebook or Twitter to reach out to a prospective sponsor. Do it under your business account.
Social media DMs are best. Commenting on a company’s public posts asking for sponsorship is a major faux pas. Instead, keep it private.
More than likely, you’ll send a cold message to your prospect. You could always use a platform like LinkedIn to determine if you have any common connections, and if you do, mention them in your message.
Sending a cold DM isn’t any different than cold emailing, except you don’t have the pressure of coming up with a good subject line hanging over you (Hallelujah!).
You should keep your message short, sweet, and simple. Briefly mention your event and what you’re all about.
The goal of contacting a sponsor is to schedule a discovery session, not to ask for money outright. After introducing yourself, ask the sponsor for 30 minutes of their time, proposing a date and time to chat.
Here are some great templates you can retool from email to social media when contacting prospects.
One of the best pieces of advice I can offer you when seeking sponsors is to start internally. Your network might have more connections than you think.
If you’re a race car driver, ask your fellow teammates or the motorsport organization owner. Companies or organizations planning an event: check in with your staff.
The larger your internal network, the greater the chances of someone having the connection you seek. You might be able to bypass the general company email or telephone line and call or email someone directly.
At least then, you can rest assured that your email gets to the right person. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a response or that the contact guarantees a sponsorship deal, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Oh, and if you’re a company or organization that doesn’t have a sponsorship division, make one. Even if it’s just you and another person, you can organize your sponsorship planning much more efficiently for this upcoming event, program, and opportunity and those to come.
Vendor or Partner Referrals
Here’s one of my top methods for finding sponsors. Ask around outside of your company or organization, targeting partners and vendors.
For example, the lighting guy who rigged up your last music festival may know someone at a company who could be a good prospect. Your delivery driver can hook you up with your next sponsor.
You never can say, and the only way to be sure is to ask around.
Expanding your network like this but keeping it semi-internal will be more fruitful if your business connections within the office don’t come up with much.
Referrals are advantageous, as your vendor or partner could put in a good word with you. That can increase the sponsor’s interest right off the bat.
It still doesn’t guarantee a deal or anything of the sort, and you still must prove your value through audience data, but you’re in a much better position.
On that note, don’t forget to ask your former sponsors! If you two ended your working relationship on a good note, they should have no qualms about digging through their virtual Rolodex and suggesting someone you could work with, especially if they themselves are unavailable.
If you have a vendor, partner, or sponsor help you out, make sure you repay the favor. You don’t have to do it immediately, but if they come to you asking for contacts or if you find resources you believe will benefit them, make sure you do your part.
If your network is sparse, build it bigger.
You will naturally increase your contacts and connections once you have a sponsor, as the increased publicity will lead to more media mentions, social media followers, email subscribers, and website traffic.
However, you’re sort of in a Catch-22 in the meantime. You can’t gain that level of acclaim until you get a sponsor, but without acclaim, it’s hard to have a network large enough to find one.
You should always expand your business network anyway, even if you aren’t seeking sponsorship at the moment. Attend industry events, especially virtual events that don’t require you to leave the office.
Shake hands with people. Rub elbows. Maybe hand out a few business cards (yes, people still use business cards in 2023) and receive plenty in return.
You might not find the sponsor at your industry event, but at the very least, you now have a valuable contact who could help you find them.
If you’re a business owner or work closely with one, you know how you must always keep an eagle eye on your competition to see what they’re up to. That applies to sponsorship as well.
The goal here isn’t to steal your competitor’s sponsors. That’s a bad practice, and it won’t work as well as you think it might. Those companies are already busy with your competition, so they have less time and income to put toward your sponsorship request.
You’re only using your competitors’ sponsors to get an idea of what kinds of sponsors to pursue in your industry or niche. This is especially great practice for a first-time sponsorship seeker, like a racecar driver or festival/event host.
You could get some good ideas this way, perhaps even brands or companies you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
I must stress that this is only for curating ideas. For instance, if your competitor has a sponsorship with Pepsi, you shouldn’t automatically go to Coca-Cola because the two are similar.
You must consider that your audience isn’t identical to your competitor’s, even if you two share the same industry or niche. They must have slightly different products or services than yours to survive in the market.
Therefore, even if you have some ideas for directions to take your sponsorship search, you must use your audience as your true north. If they wouldn’t like a brand, you shouldn’t seek a sponsorship arrangement with them.
The companies you come up with in your competitor research are warm at best because they didn’t come directly from your audience. They’re a valuable addition to your prospects list, but not as valuable as the brands your audience mentioned directly.
I saved the best for last. Renegotiating with your sponsors remains the top way to find sponsorship opportunities. That’s true for 2023, 2024, and I suspect it will be the case into 2025 and beyond.
Let me tell you about all the ways working with a sponsor long-term benefits you. You don’t have to search for a new sponsor, as you have your current one right there. That will win you back lots of time to put toward your event, program, or opportunity.
Besides that, you already know this sponsor. You have a good idea of what kinds of audience they’re trying to attract and the assets and activations they appreciate.
However–and this is a big however–you can’t assume the sponsor’s needs haven’t changed from one season or year to another. Companies and organizations always grow.
Besides, if you helped them generate enough social media followers, it doesn’t make sense to offer them assets and activations geared toward increasing their social media audience.
You should have another meeting with the sponsor to discuss their current goals and challenges. Then, brainstorm your assets and activations from scratch, bearing in mind what worked already.
However, you don’t want to give your sponsor the same old dog and pony show. You want to drive even more results than last time.
Did I mention the best part about renegotiating with sponsors? There’s often more money in it for you. You’re offering higher-caliber activations and assets this time around, which are worth more.
Securing a multi-year deal also feels great. You won’t have to search for a sponsor for a while, especially if the one you work with long-term supplies the bulk of promotions or financial needs for your event.
While this year was full of twists, turns, and surprises, sponsorship remains a reliable way for businesses and organizations of all niches to expand their goals and draw more attention to their brand.
I hope this post gave you some excellent ideas for increasing your sponsors into 2024 and beyond!
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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