Every year, as the current year is about to end and a new one is underway, you sit down with other decision-makers in your company or organization and plan for the next 365 days (give or take).
If part of that planning involves sponsorship, then you may wonder when the best time of year is to reach out to prospects and engage with potential sponsors.
Should it be at the end of the year? Maybe the start of the year? Is it okay to begin planning sponsorship midway through the year, or have you already missed the boat?
In today’s post, that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss, so make sure you check it out!
When Is the Best Time of Year for Sponsorship?
Indeed, there is a certain time of the year when your company or organization wants to prioritize your sponsorship agenda for either the remainder of the current year or into next year.
What time is that time? It’s between the middle of September until the end of November and no later than the middle of December.
If I had to put specific dates on this timeframe, then I would say from September 15th until roughly December 15th.
You don’t want to go any later than December 15th because let’s be real, the second half of December is usually a wash.
Everyone is traveling or taking extended time off for the holidays and usually doesn’t return until either late December or after the New Year.
Now, I’m not expecting you to put together an entire sponsorship program, prospect, hold discovery sessions, select your sponsors, put on an event, evaluate the event, and produce a fulfillment report in three months.
That’s just crazy.
This time is for budgeting and prospecting for the year to come. After all, next year’s shade will come from a tree planted today.
By planting the seed, your tree will bear fruit both this year and as next year gets underway.
Why This Specific Window Exactly?
No matter what time of year you’re reading this post–whether September is right around the corner or it’s the middle of June–you may be wondering if you can push things off a few months.
To that, I say no, and here’s why.
Most Companies Are Budgeting Between September and December
Is there room for you in a company’s sponsorship budget? Part of that answer depends on when you approach the company.
From September through the middle of December, many companies are planning for how much cashflow they’ll have for the year ahead.
Even if this timeframe doesn’t necessarily match with how a fiscal year is organized, it’s still what happens.
So imagine you come in hot in January and you have a great sponsorship opportunity. Well, the company you’re talking to already wrapped up its budgeting and there’s no extra wiggle room.
Now you’re left out in the cold simply because you were too late.
Discovery and Proposal Submissions Are at Their Highest Value in This Window
In my experience, because your sponsorship prospecting coincides with when many companies are setting their respective budgets, both your discovery and proposal submissions are extremely high-value between September and December.
Exactly how high-value am I talking here? Sometimes up to 5x the usual value, and sometimes even more than that. It varies by the sponsorship opportunity.
Let me put it to you this way. Between September and mid-December, every discovery call you have is worth five discovery calls any other time of the year.
There’s Still Cash Available Now
You already know that most companies are in budgeting and financial planning mode for the next year, but what about this current year?
Well, the company already budgeted how much money they’d have available, and some of those funds remain.
The window is closing though the closer you get to the holidays.
That said, don’t expect the cash to come until next year. You might not get the firmest answer when prospecting at this time because the company is still in the midst of budgeting.
What will happen, if the sponsor is really excited about working with you, is that you’ll get a loose agreement now. The company will allocate the funds for your sponsorship while still planning the budget, and then the cash flow transfer will happen in January.
What If I’m Not Ready to Prospect?
There’s a saying by Amelia Earhart that I like. It goes, “always think with your stick forward.”
In other words, you want to generate forward momentum and then keep it going. Then it’s a lot easier to carry through with other areas of your sponsorship program.
It’s a lot like incorporating running into your morning routine. When you’re all cozy and warm in your bed, you never want to get up.
When you finally push yourself to get up, get dressed, eat something, and get out there on the trail, you’re building and building that momentum.
It results in you finally running.
In sponsorship, the forward momentum will result in you sitting down with prospects, having a discovery session, and hopefully, negotiating deals.
If you’re reading this and it’s August or Labor Day has just passed, you cannot afford to wait. Now is prime time for your sponsorship program, and such a golden opportunity will not come around again.
I think I already made it clear in the last section that if you wait until January to begin prospecting for sponsors, the companies you’re going to talk to likely won’t be able to help you.
They made their financial decisions weeks or months ago and cannot produce extra funds out of thin air.
I know you might not be ready, but sometimes, that’s okay. I wrote a whole post on the blog about starting before you’re ready, and I’d recommend giving that a read if you find yourself proceeding with your sponsorship program before you feel totally prepared for it.
Trust me, now is as good a time as ever.
Time is not going to magically present itself someday. You know those home improvement projects you have lying on the backburner because you’re waiting for extra time? How long have those been on your to-do list? Exactly.
You’re not going to suddenly find the time one day either. Don’t tell yourself that, “once XYZ is over, then I will,” because you and I both know that you’ll get swept up in another project.
You have to move now unless you’re 100 percent okay (and so is the rest of your company or organization) without having any sponsorship funding or promotions for the next year.
For many of you reading this, that’s simply not acceptable.
And if it’s already October or November and you just found this article, then you need to move in double-time. The clock has long since already started ticking, but it’s not too late yet!
How to Get Ready for Sponsorship Prospecting
Listen, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You will work exceptionally hard for the next six weeks only to get a loosey-goosey answer from your prospects until next year. That’s just the nature of it.
If you’re ready to give your sponsorship program the kick in the pants it so desperately needs, here’s how you get started.
Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse
If you’re hyperventilating reading this article because you need X, Y, and Z before you can prospect but you don’t even have X, relax a little.
Many first-time sponsorship seekers assume that you need everything but the kitchen sink by the time you sit down and research potential sponsors.
Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s not true.
If you don’t have a business case yet, guess what? You don’t have to cram and spend long hours to produce one. You don’t need a business case right now.
Have you not compiled your assets? Maybe you have assets, but you haven’t valued them? That’s also fine, you don’t have to at this point.
You needn’t even brainstorm activations quite yet.
I’m telling you this so you don’t unnecessarily waste your time. It’s not that these parts of your sponsorship program won’t come down the line–of course, they will–but when they do, you can put more time into them because you won’t feel rushed.
Gather Your Audience Data
I have some good news for you. Prospecting for sponsors doesn’t have to be difficult.
Now here’s the flip side. You need audience data for easy prospecting.
I have a guide on the blog about how to create four circles of sponsorship prospects, but you can’t do any of that unless you know about your audience.
What kinds of brands do they use in every area of their lives? Which brands are the competitors of those brands? Which brands might be interested in your audience based on everything you know so far?
Who are the competitors of those brands?
Your audience data is the key to successful sponsorship prospecting.
The prospecting process is not about Googling random companies and choosing whichever ones sound interesting. It’s also not about picking brands solely based on name recognition and household status.
Instead, it’s about determining which kinds of brands your audience likes and then working either with those brands or with brands like them.
If 75 percent of your audience likes pizza and you can get a pizza brand as a sponsor, then guess what? Your audience is going to be jazzed for your event, first and foremost.
That sponsor is also going to look great in the eyes of your audience. The sponsor’s booth or activation will perform better because you know your audience is interested in pizza.
Now imagine that 75 percent of your audience was dieting but you still had a pizza brand as a sponsor. Your audience will largely ignore your sponsor, impeding your ability to solve the sponsor’s problems. The arrangement will fail, and you won’t have a sponsor next year.
Plan Your Discovery Questions
The goal in reaching out to a prospect is to schedule a discovery session, which is a first meeting where you get to know a prospect’s pain points, challenges, and goals.
You already researched your prospects before you chose them, but even you’ll admit that you don’t know everything. Through the discovery session, you’ll get to know more information so you have a full picture of the sponsor company.
I’ll refer you to my list of 37 sponsorship discovery questions. I don’t recommend that you ask all 37 (more like 10 at most), nor do I recommend you take the first 10 questions and ask them.
You want questions that are tailored to what your prospect is telling you. Thus, while you might have a list of questions in front of you (or in your head if you memorized them), don’t be afraid to go off-script, so to speak, and ask questions based on the information your prospect has given you.
What to Expect as You Get Underway
I mentioned before that you have a lot of work on your plate over the next six weeks. It’s more than that. Some uncomfortable moments can crop up as well. Here is what I recommend you prepare yourself for as you’re on the road to sponsorship.
Prospects Will Ask for Things You Don’t Have
During a meeting, your prospect might say something like, “well, where’s your sponsorship proposal?” or “where are your valuations?”
You’re going to feel like a deer in the headlights when you hear a question like this.
My advice? Expect that the prospect will ask for materials that you don’t necessarily have ready right now.
Your prospect is trying to force an action, so you need to be ready to take some time right then and there to produce that sponsorship proposal or do your valuations.
You’ll Have to Do Cold Calls and Send Cold Emails
Cold calls are the bane of anyone’s existence, but sometimes, prospecting and setting up discovery meetings do require you to pick up the phone or send an email to a complete stranger.
I would recommend setting up a cadence. Perhaps after you call, after a day or two of no response, you’d send an email. Then you’d follow up with a call if need be.
You ideally want several contacts within a company so you can start the cadence with the next one down the line if the first person isn’t responding to you.
Barring that, then you want to put an unresponsive prospect on a separate list that you can return to later.
You don’t have time to wait forever for a response, so be ready to move on down the line to the next prospect.
The best time of year for sponsorship is between September and the middle of December. No matter what time of year you’re reading this post, you can begin preparing your sponsorship program so you can get right within that sweet spot!
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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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