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Building Long-Term Relationships with Festival Sponsors

by | November 7, 2023

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  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

Before you dive in, if you are interested in festival sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for festivals” series:

Festivals are all about relationship-building with vendors, partners, and other parties. Naturally, you should extend that good faith to your sponsors, but how do you build solid professional relationships?

Here are some tips for building long-term festival sponsor relationships:

  • Be friendly
  • Take an interest in their problems
  • Stay in touch
  • Keep them posted
  • Ask for their opinions
  • Implement their feedback
  • Say thanks
  • Deliver objectives
  • Provide additional value

This guide will delve deep into these tips so you can begin strengthening your festival sponsorship relationships. Some of these tips come in handy for any professional relationship, so don’t miss it!

9 Tips for Stronger Working Relationships with Festival Sponsors

1. Be Friendly

I know this first tip sounds so obvious that you might not think it’s worth mentioning, but you’d be surprised. Sponsorship seekers sometimes fall into a subservient role toward their sponsors, especially if they’re new to sponsorship.

However, that’s not what sponsors want. They prefer an equal, so there’s no need to bow down.

Instead, take a casual, cool, friendly approach. Sponsors are people too and appreciate a cordial interaction as much as anybody. Keep the relationship friendly throughout your working arrangement.

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How do you do it? Get to know your sponsors as people a little bit. Icebreakers like asking whether they have pets or enjoy a popular television series can help you two warm up to each other and give you something else to talk about besides business.

However, you should keep your interactions primarily focused on the issue at hand, your burgeoning sponsorship opportunity. That’s why you two are working together, not to be buddies.

You don’t even have to be the sponsor’s friend to foster a long-term relationship. There is a difference between being friendly and being friends.

Being friendly is asking how the sponsor’s family or pet is, then diving into your latest festival plans. Being friends is going on at length about how season 4 of your favorite show doesn’t hold a candle to season 2.

You’re not talking enough business in that scenario, which only hurts you in the end. You’re the one who’s left scrambling to put your festival together last-minute, not your sponsor.

2. Take an Interest in Their Problems

The next strategy for building a long-term festival sponsorship relationship is going above and beyond to understand your sponsor’s challenges.

Imagine a friend had a problem and went to you to talk about it. You would bend over backwards to help them out because you care, right? Treat your sponsor with the same regard, even if you two are only friendly and not friends, per se.

Ask thoughtful questions during the discovery meeting. Follow up on vague or unclear answers, digging deeper to understand the sponsor’s viewpoints and perspectives. Ditch the sales talk, as a friendly relationship isn’t concerned about making a buck but helping.

I would recommend these strategies for any festival sponsor, even your shorter-term partnerships. Taking a vested interest in a sponsor’s issues through discovery helps you think of targeted solutions.

3. Stay in Touch

This is another of those tips that I know sounds super obvious. You might think you’d never forget to contact your sponsor about how your festival is going until you get slammed with deadlines or have a vendor suddenly pull out and need to focus all your energy on finding a replacement.

Before you know it, weeks have passed, and your sponsor hasn’t heard from you.

You’re not contractually obligated to contact them, but it’s the right thing to do, especially because you’re interested in building a better professional relationship.

How often should you reach out? Make it a point to communicate at least weekly during the first half of your festival planning. 

As the festival draws nearer, expect to ramp up communication. You might even chat with the sponsor daily.

You can communicate using whatever method you like, such as phone, email, or in-person meetings if that’s convenient. You might end up doing the bulk of the reaching out, or they might drop a line to you some weeks.

It doesn’t matter who initiates it, just that you’re keeping in touch.

4. Keep Them Posted on Your Progress

What should you and the sponsor talk about when you connect? Let them know how your festival is coming along.

If you read my guide on planning a festival, you’ll see that you’re constantly busy from the moment your festival ends through to the start of the next one.

There’s always something to do, and the earlier you start, the longer you have to seek suitable sponsors and vendors who will make your festival even more successful.

Sponsors want to be kept in the loop, even in things they aren’t directly involved in. They’re sponsoring your festival, so they prefer to know how it’s going.

You don’t have to send them formal progress reports every week, but a verbal description of what you achieved or a writeup of your benchmarks inspires confidence in the sponsor’s decision to work with you.

You’ll also build a better working relationship. The sponsor feels involved in the festival, not like an outsider who’s throwing money toward something they don’t fully understand because they’re not privy to what’s happening until it does.

5. Ask for Their Opinions and Help

As your festival gets further into fruition and you begin planning how to implement assets and activations, don’t be surprised if your sponsor shares their thoughts and opinions during some of your weekly check-ins.

However, if your sponsor has remained mum, you should ask them to volunteer their insights. All you have to do is say, “what do you think about that?” That should get them talking.

Of course, when sharing opinions, there’s always the possibility you two could clash on certain points. That’s going to happen, as you have different levels of expertise and experience.

Here’s what I recommend. Let the sponsor speak their piece, then later, look through their lens into the world. Their opinions might open your worldview, allowing you to see a matter from a unique perspective.

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That said, you don’t have to acquiesce to a sponsor’s every thought or request. You’re the one running your festival. You also know your audience best, so you can definitively say whether your audience will enjoy the ideas your sponsor proposes.

If they won’t, you must mention that. Here’s what you might say: “I appreciate you sharing your idea, and while I’ll consider it for another event, based on [X data], I think my audience might like this more…”

If you go about it respectfully, you can shoot down a sponsor’s idea without causing ill feelings. Use gentle language when you can, and never make a sponsor feel stupid for sharing their ideas.

I also suggest asking your sponsor for help throughout the festival-planning process. Unload some of your long to-do list onto them, requesting their assistance with tasks they can reasonably complete.

This is a fantastic way to get your sponsor more involved in your festival and help them feel like they’re contributing.

6. Implement Their Feedback

Did your sponsor give you valuable feedback that can make your festival even better? Don’t just say you’ll use it – actually do so.

I’m not suggesting you throw your festival-planning timeline out of whack to accommodate an outrageous request. Rather, if they recommend something you can do and it’s within your means, timeline, and budget, do it.

You’ll make your festival better, which will benefit your attendees, and foster more goodwill between you and your sponsor.

Getting into a habit of implementing their feedback will also help you two renegotiate. You have a track record of improving your sponsorship property based on the sponsor’s recommendations, enhancing your value in the process.

Your sponsor can rely on you to continue fortifying your sponsorship property, so they’ll feel comfortable penning an extended deal. You can also use your track record of feedback to request more money, making the longer-term relationship fruitful for your festival.

7. Say Thanks

A little bit of kindness can go a long way, especially if you’re authentic. 

You should thank them after your festival goes off without a hitch, but why wait until then? If your sponsor does something that warrants thanks, show your gratitude.

For example, perhaps they introduce you to a vendor that hadn’t been on your radar. You just had an interview with the vendor and think they’ll be an amazing fit for your festival. 

You can call up your sponsor or send them an email thanking them kindly for their recommendation.

Your sponsor might be more inclined to oblige themselves to you if they get such a feel-good reaction, but even if not, you know you’re doing your best to be a good, thoughtful, and cordial working partner.

8. Deliver Objectives

By far, the best way to build a long-term relationship with a sponsor is deliver objectives.

I know what you’re going to say, “but Chris, that has nothing to do with social interactions!” You’re right, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Sponsors want marketing outcomes, and delivering the activations and assets you promised is key to driving those outcomes.

Relationship-building, as I wrote about in this post, can be a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s valuable, especially in the festival sphere, but should not usurp everything else.

Allow me to explain. Some sponsorship seekers approach sponsor relationships assuming that all the niceties in the world will make up for weak audience data, low-value sponsorship offerings, and poor delivery rate.

That simply isn’t true. You can be the nicest, most pleasant person in the world, but if you can’t give a sponsor what they need, you will fail to hold onto them.

It’s the same case in nonprofit and charitable sponsorship. These sponsorship seekers can get so caught up in their causes, assuming those are the end-all, be-all, when really, one’s cause plays such a small role in sponsorship because it’s not directly increasing outcomes.

So by all means, be friendly and keep the lines of communication open with a sponsor. That will help you build a long-term relationship, but nothing will keep the relationship going more than giving the sponsor what you two discussed.

Having an exploratory meeting and learning about the sponsor’s pain points, plus customizing your assets and activations will go a long way toward helping you deliver. On that note, so will keeping the sponsor updated about your festival planning.

If you hit any snags that could impede your delivery, the sponsor will know in advance. They might be more lenient because you’re not surprising them in the eleventh hour.

9. Provide Additional Value

Although festival planning never stops if you run an annual event, you will eventually hit lulls. These are graciously slow times that only occur because you’ve planned and organized so meticulously to this point.

Don’t become a ghost during slow times. You don’t have to update the sponsor on your festival if there’s not too much happening on the western front, so use quiet moments to provide value in other ways.

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For example, you might recommend them partners they could be interested in. Perhaps you found a new software solution you’ve gotten a lot of use out of, and you decide to share it with the sponsor in the hopes they’ll find it valuable.

You could even share industry reports, fresh audience data, ticketing trends, or any other valuable content you think the sponsor will care about.

It’s a small gesture but one that keeps you on each other’s radar and further builds the professional relationship between you two.

Launch Your Festival Sponsorship Property

Long-term festival sponsors are your strongest supporters and among your biggest attractions. 

Having a reliable sponsor to work with year after year reduces your time spent on seeking sponsors, helps you plan your budget, and increases the value of your festival in the eyes of your audience.

Building a good professional relationship with your sponsor is important, but delivering on the objectives you promised will always be paramount. 

That matters more than any niceties and cannot take a sponsor’s focus away from the fact that your sponsorship property is lacking in fundamental ways.

Do you want to build up your sponsorship chops before approaching a sponsor for an upcoming festival? Book a call with me today.