With more than 36,000 food trucks on the road in the United States in 2023, and 10 percent more than the year prior, food trucks are a growing trend. As they’ve become more of a commodity, sponsorship opportunities have arisen.
This is an area of sponsorship I have yet to cover on the blog, so I’m quite excited about today’s post.
Since it’s a new beast to many of you reading this, this introductory guide will go way in-depth, explaining the ins and outs of prospecting, valuation, discovery, and activations for food truck sponsorship.
Types of Food Truck Sponsorships
Many new to the sponsorship sphere assume there’s only one type of sponsorship – cash. While that remains the most popular type, it’s a disservice to the other types to not explain them.
You might decide that one or a combination of sponsorship types best suits your food truck business.
Just as the name implies, a cash sponsor provides funds for your food truck. You can use the money to upgrade your vehicle, add more staff, invest in higher-quality equipment, or book an appearance at a major event.
Cash sponsors are not donors. They don’t hand money out like chocolate kisses.
Think of sponsorship as less philanthropy (which it absolutely isn’t) or a loan and begin thinking of it more like marketing, and you’re on the right track.
Sponsors are more than happy to pay for services they know will be advantageous to their audience. That’s the goal of sponsorship: achieving marketing and sales outcomes for your sponsor.
By the way, that’s true of all types of sponsorship, so keep that in mind as you continue reading this section.
A contra or in-kind sponsor provides tangible goods for your food truck. While you usually hear of this type of sponsorship used in nonprofits, contra sponsorship has bled over to other areas like events.
While in-kind sponsorship can be a mixed bag, it all depends on the sponsorship property in question. For example, I can see contra sponsorship benefitting food trucks if you get ingredients or free merch to hand out to customers.
Media partners include all members of the press, from television and radio stations to magazine and newspaper owners and online influencers. Partnering with these media groups allows you to spread awareness of your food truck and increase your sales.
A common misconception among those new to sponsorship is that media partners hand out press and expect nothing in return. That isn’t true. These partners have business needs that require attending to, so ensure you provide outcomes for them.
The fourth type of sponsor food trucks can seek is promotional sponsors. These can include media organizations but are companies or individuals who can offer any type of promotion, from social media posts to billboards.
Between a media and promotional sponsor, your food truck will be hotter than Hades, with customers lining up around the block (or maybe even several blocks) to get a taste.
Benefits of Food Truck Sponsorship
Food truck sponsorship is an advantageous choice for many reasons, whether you’re a new or more established business. Let’s review the expected perks.
If you’re struggling behind your local competition in social media followers and website traffic, that won’t be the case after you get a sponsor or several. Your name will suddenly be everywhere, introducing large swathes of potential customers to your business and reminding others about your high-quality menu.
Helps You Expand Your Business
The funding you can receive from a cash sponsor can be used to directly benefit your food truck business, as mentioned. You can grow your business to the scope you’ve always wanted now that you have the extra capital.
If you opt for another type of sponsor besides one that offers cash, the increased awareness and sales you’ll accumulate will help you achieve your business objectives.
Businesses of all types need a steady stream of leads to keep afloat. After all, customers drop out of the sales funnel all the time for reasons often unbeknownst to you. Leads fill in the gaps, so you don’t begin hemorrhaging sales.
Food truck sponsorship will allow you to generate a sufficient and consistent influx of leads.
Once more people in your community become aware of your food truck, they’ll have to try you out. If they have an excellent dining experience–which I’m certain they will–they’ll tell their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about you, driving more business your way.
Helps Entrench You in Your Local Community
A food truck can go just about anywhere, but most have a home base. Building yourself as a strong presence in your local community will keep the invites to all sorts of events coming in, allowing you to continue building your audience.
The Best Ways to Find Food Truck Sponsorship
You’re ready to pursue your first food truck sponsorship opportunity. That’s great!
Sponsors will not bang down your figurative door, at least not right away. As you build a successful reputation of sponsorship work, you might have other businesses interested in working with you.
Until that day, you have to find your own sponsors, so how do you do it?
That’s a great question! You have several methods at your disposal, so let’s take a closer look.
By and away, I most advise using your audience to find your next sponsor(s). How? Send them a survey.
If you don’t have the email addresses of your customers, make it a point to get them, because you will need them. For the time being, you can hand out cards for customers to fill out and hand back.
Keep the form short and sweet to increase participation and throw in a great prize for filling it out, like free food for a month. I’ll let you use your discretion on what you give out.
Once you learn about the brands your audience prefers, add them to a list. These prospects are your hottest because of the direct audience connection.
By the way, the brands don’t have to be connected to food to be viable sponsors! They can be in any industry you want to work with.
After building your list, research the prospects you’ve generated. Although it’s tempting to work with any ol’ sponsor that’s willing to, I don’t recommend it. All it takes is one corporate mistake to damage your reputation for a while.
Researching helps you confirm the brand’s values to ensure they’re a match.
With the number of food trucks growing all the time, it’s safe to say you have some healthy competition in your neighborhood. Look into the kinds of sponsors your competitors are working with.
This could give you some great ideas for industries and business types to target.
If you want to keep your sponsorship local, at least initially, researching businesses and brands in your area is a good way to start. However, keep in mind that these are usually the coldest leads on your list, unless you know of an audience association.
I always recommend generating a list of several dozen sponsors. Even if you get really excited about a prospect, sometimes they don’t respond, or the deal otherwise falls through. You don’t want to be left scrambling at the last minute for a sponsor.
That’s why having a decently-sized prospect list is so important. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world if one prospect doesn’t respond because you’ll have another on standby.
Epic Food Truck Sponsorship Activation and Asset Ideas
One of the most important parts of sponsorship is tailoring your assets and activations to your sponsor’s needs. They should also be designed to fulfill an audience’s need, so consider your activations especially carefully.
Still stumped on where to start? I’ve got you! Here is a list of great food truck sponsorship activation ideas.
Printing the Sponsor’s Name on Food
Food technology is insanely good these days, allowing you to take your sponsorship aspirations to another level. You can print the sponsor’s name and/or logo on the food you make, such as on a chocolate you insert into a cupcake or on a donut or even on the bun of a big, juicy cheeseburger.
People will see the sponsor’s name all day, and they’ll associate their brand with your yummy food, inspiring curiosity.
Contests and Giveaways with Your Sponsor’s Products as the Prize
Giveaways and contests as activations transcend industry. You can always fall back on these reliable ideas because they easily fulfill needs.
Your audience gets to potentially win a great prize, and your sponsor gets their products in the hands of your customers by giving away their products as the prize.
Raffles are always popular at fairs, music fests, street art shows, and other events where food trucks pop up.
No matter what kind of contest you decide on, ensure the entry is simple. The more complicated it is to participate, the less willing people will be to spend the time.
Who doesn’t love to save money? Your sponsor will be the hero of the day if they provide coupons for half-off or a free side at your food truck. You can drive email list signups for the sponsor if you require sharing an email to get access to the coupon.
Naming a Menu Item After a Sponsor
Here’s another smart, fun food truck sponsorship activation. Change the name of a menu item for a day, or, better yet, create a brand new menu item named in the sponsor’s honor.
People will have the sponsor’s name on their lips all day, and when they enjoy their delectable meal, they should feel inspired to look further into the sponsor.
Drinkware, Plates, and Napkins with the Sponsor’s Name on It
If you want to drive that brand awareness home, you can always use specially-printed napkins, plates, and drinkware with the sponsor’s logo and name brandished all over it. Better yet, use eco-friendly drinkware and dining ware.
Although logos are a low-value asset, they are still an asset, nonetheless. You can get logos printed on promotional materials, signage around your food truck, clothing, and banners.
Doorbusters with Your Sponsor’s Products
Give attendees a door prize that includes products from your sponsor. Since it’s one of the first things your customers receive, they’ll be ultra-curious about it.
How to Secure Food Truck Sponsorship: A Full Overview
You’ve got prospects and activation ideas. Now, you’re ready to put it all together and pursue food truck sponsorship in earnest. Here’s how.
Determine Your Goals
Why is your food truck business seeking a sponsor? What do you hope to achieve? Do you want more funds for business expansion? Are you interested in promotions to increase awareness because you just opened your food truck business?
You must know what you want before you proceed. That includes specifics like how much funding you need (a ballpark estimate is fine at this early stage) and the level of promotion you’re interested in.
Obtain Audience Data
Next, you need to know as much about your audience as humanly possible.
I recognize this can be tricky as a food truck business. Your customers come and go. Some are regulars, and others, you never see them again.
However, if you’re not already digitizing parts of your business, you need to start. You can’t build an email list without signups, and email is a great way to distribute an audience survey.
The survey should touch on demographic, psychographic, and geographic questions. The psychographic questions are the most important. You should ask about the brands your audience uses, as mentioned, but take it further than that.
Ask about the events they’ve attended, restaurants they’ve dined at, and the last major purchase they’ve made.
Once you have this data, create audience groups. It’s okay if they’re broad segments at first, as you’ll whittle them down like you’re carving a wood sculpture.
Break down geographic data by borough and neighborhood; you know your own backyard well enough for that. Segment your audience by job title, income by $5,000 increments, and age by year.
You will end up with a lot of ultra-small groups, but that’s what you want! Your sponsors want to see this kind of detailed data, as they’re interested in converting your audience to their products.
They can’t do that with generalized customer data.
With audience data and brand preferences handy, prospecting is easy. Review the earlier section about how to find food truck sponsors to begin prospecting. You can also dig through my sponsorship prospecting archives to learn more.
Set up the Discovery Session
Discovery is a crucial part of the sponsorship process that many sponsorship seekers try to gloss over or bypass. Well, either that, or they treat it as a sales meeting, which is the incorrect approach.
Instead, discovery is an opportunity to learn more about the prospect. You should have already researched them by this point, but you’re only getting the public image they want you to receive.
If you want to learn more about their challenges, you need to ask behind closed doors.
When you initially make contact with your prospect–be it through email, direct message, or phone–your goal is to set up the discovery session. You don’t have to call it that specifically. Requesting a meeting is fine.
During the discovery session, you should ask thoughtful questions geared toward gleaning the information you need.
If you have no idea what kinds of questions to ask, or how to run a meeting, this article will be your saving grace.
May I also recommend that you set up another meeting before you and the sponsor say goodbye? They will get busy and so will you, so there’s no better time to lock it in than right now.
Create Tailored Assets and Activations
After returning from the discovery meeting, you will be brimming with activation and asset ideas. That’s wonderful! Jot them all down.
When you’re finished brainstorming, discard ideas unrelated to the sponsor’s needs. Your assets and activations must fulfill their needs, but don’t forget your audience’s needs in all this.
Value Your Assets
You’ve worked tirelessly on your list of assets and activations. You’re ready to move on, right? Not so fast.
You next have to value everything. In other words, determine the value of your sponsorship opportunity.
Allow me to explain the basics of valuation. Start with your first asset and research what it’s worth on the market.
For example, how much do other brands sell food printed with a custom logo on it?
Once you know that number, determine if your food is worth the same value, slightly more, or slightly less. This requires brutal honesty, which is why some sponsorship seekers struggle.
You should increase the price if your product is far better than the norm, such as using organic or unique ingredients. You can leave the price as is if it’s about average to the market and decrease the price if you believe this is a weaker point.
Then, it’s rinse, wash, repeat for every asset and activation on your list.
Negotiate with the Sponsor
As you continue having meetings with the sponsor, you’ll reach the point where both parties are ready to negotiate terms. This will involve drawing up a contract outlining the responsibilities and expectations of the parties.
The only thing left now is to deliver on the promises detailed in the contract. You might not have a 100 percent delivery rate, and that’s okay, but you should deliver to the best of your abilities.
Produce a Fulfillment Report
The final responsibility you owe the sponsor as their partner is to generate a fulfillment or wrap-up report. This six-page report details all parts of your working arrangement, from the promises you made, how well you delivered on them, to your audience data and images of your event.
This template covers the contents of your wrap-up report. You can follow along as you write your own.
I recommend meeting with the sponsor after sending them the fulfillment report and discussing how adequately you met their needs. If you’re interested in extending your working relationship, this is also a great springboard for having that discussion.
Food truck sponsorship is a rising trend I anticipate I’ll discuss lots on this blog as the 2020s continue. Your food truck can grow exponentially by working with sponsors, so I hope you’re ready to make it a primary goal in 2024.
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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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