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Generating Activation Ideas

by | August 15, 2022

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It’s not enough to have meaningful, customized assets as you’re finalizing your sponsorship proposal. You also need activations.

A lot of sponsorship seekers tend to go wrong when planning activations. They assume that an activation has to be epically, unspeakably cool and that that’s what matters most. 

The activation also must be expensive so it impresses the sponsor. That’s another one I hear a lot.

If you struggle to come up with good activation ideas and feel like this is holding you back in your sponsorship aspirations, today’s article is for you. 

This post is based on a recent training I did in my private Facebook group. You can join other members of the Sponsorship Collective by requesting access to the group. We’re always welcoming new members at all stages of sponsorship who want to improve.

Okay, without further ado then, let’s get started! 

What Is an Activation?

I can’t get into activation ideas without first talking about what an activation is. 

If you define an activation by those preconceived notions in the intro, then you’re going about it all wrong.

An activation does not necessarily have to be “cool,” just engaging to your audience somehow. Activations certainly don’t have to be expensive for your sponsor to even be interested in what you have to offer.

So what exactly is an activation then? That’s simple.

An activation is how you connect your audience and your sponsor in meaningful ways. The goal of an activation is to create an experience that your audience loves and that also produces the outcomes your sponsor is looking for.

Here’s what an activation is not. An activation is not tiered sponsorship, aka gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship packages.

An activation is not a logo. A logo is an asset, and that asset is a very, very small part of your overall sponsorship package. 

An activation is not necessarily high-cost. I touched on that in the paragraphs above, but I want to dedicate a bit more space to it now.

Activations run the gamut in terms of cost. Go to any expo or convention and you’ll see that with your own two eyes.

The large, Fortune-500 brands that can shell out tens of thousands of dollars like it’s nothing will have a huge booth with the coolest innovations. A smaller company will have a smaller booth that’s more simplistic.

What matters more than the budget is whether you’re engaging your audience and fulfilling the needs of your sponsor. 

Maybe that does cost you $10,000 or perhaps it costs you $10. That will all depend on what your audience is into and what your sponsor needs. 

An activation is not complex either and it’s especially not convoluted. 

Let me show you what I mean with a very simple example. If your sponsor wanted brand awareness and your audience was thirsty because it’s 100 degrees outside, then handing out branded water could be an activation. 

It’s not a hard concept. Thirsty people want water. The sponsored beverages increase brand awareness.

It’s okay if some activations come to you easily. It doesn’t mean the idea is too basic and should be scrapped. 

How to Create Activation Ideas 

Now that you have a better idea of what activation ideas are, it’s time for that million-dollar question. How in the world do you come up with your own activation ideas?

In this section, that’s exactly what we’re going to explore. 

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Have a Discovery Session to Ascertain the Sponsor’s Goals

You can’t possibly craft effective activation ideas unless you know what your sponsors want.

How do you determine what your sponsors want? No, the answer isn’t to guess, of course. It’s to ask!

That’s right, you have to ask. The perfect setting for that is the discovery session, which is the introductory meeting between you and your sponsorship prospect.

During the discovery session, you’re trying to learn more about your prospect. You already did some research into them, reading their website, related press releases and news clippings, and combing through their social media.

However, all that information, while handy to have, doesn’t tell you what the sponsor’s goals and challenges are.

You can ask about those goals and challenges during the discovery session. 

The point of the discovery session is to glean what the sponsor’s challenges are and then determine whether your solutions are a suitable fix. 

Sometimes, getting to the meat of the matter requires you to ask a couple of follow-up questions. 

For example, a prospect might tell you that in the second quarter of this year, sales were poor.

That tells you something, but it doesn’t tell you enough. Why were sales poor? Feel free to follow up and ask a question in that vein.

The prospect will hopefully then explain that sales dropped because the company was forced to raise its prices or maybe its latest marketing campaign wasn’t quite as impactful as hoped for. 

Now you have information you can use. You know what your assets are, or you have a decent idea anyway, and can gauge whether those assets as well as potentially new assets could help the prospect and how. 

Take It One Goal at a Time

Your sponsor is likely to have not one goal but several. Activations can fulfill more than one need or goal, but you can only do one at a time.

Remember how I said in the last section that activations aren’t convoluted? Well, if you try to fulfill a sponsor’s need for lead generation as well as their need for more sales in one activation, you’re going to end up with something that’s convoluted.

That’s a best-case scenario, by the way. At worst, the activation will just be confusing and no one at your event, program, or opportunity will even bother with it.

Let me present an example to you from my Facebook training of how you can take it one goal at a time when creating activations.

Let’s say that your sponsor is a big automotive retailer. You had a discovery session, and you know that one of their goals–their primary goal, as a matter of fact–is to sell more cars. Every car dealer’s dream, right?

You’re also aware that your sponsor wants more lead gen, more conversions, more email signups, and better brand awareness.

Next, look at why your audience attends your events. Perhaps it’s simply for fun (there’s nothing wrong with that!), or to network. 

Maybe it’s for the delish food, to learn something new, to find a job, or perhaps it’s even to possibly find that special someone (you never know!).

If you have all the sponsor’s goals in Column A and all the audience’s goals in Column B, then it’s a matter of connecting one item from one column to an item in another column, but in a way that makes sense, of course. 

It’s this magical moment where the needs of your sponsor and the needs of your audience overlap. 

For example, you focus on the audience’s goal of having fun. You can come up with an activation for the sponsor that’s sure to provide so much fun for the audience that they won’t be able to wait to give out their email address to the sponsor company if they can have more fun like that in the future.

So maybe the fun activation is an indoor rock-climbing wall, a karaoke machine, or a ball pit for adults. I can’t tell you what the activation should be.

You’ll know what’s fun for your audience because you know them best of all. And you’ll also be able to pick a definition for the word fun that the sponsor can offer because you know them better than I do. 

Brainstorm with Your Sponsors

Since so much of your sponsorship proposal should be set in stone by the time you present it to a sponsor (or mostly set in stone, anyway) that many sponsorship seekers feel like they have to present fully fleshed-out activation ideas that are ready to be deployed tomorrow if need be.

That’s not the case.

Your sponsorship proposal needs activation ideas with the keyword there being ideas. An idea is just that. It’s not a fully executed plan. It’s just the beginning of a plan.

Now, this is not an excuse to present a half-baked list of activations to your sponsor. You still want to go through all the steps I’ve detailed to this point. 

What you don’t have to do is waste weeks sitting and agonizing over your activations, working and reworking them because they just don’t feel good enough.

If you have an event or program in the cards, then you can’t afford to waste too much time. You need to secure your sponsors and your funding by X date, and that date should be at least six months ahead of the event.

What I want you to do is aspire to come up with good activation ideas. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be good.

Then call up your sponsor or shoot them an email and ask if they’d like to discuss what you have. More than likely, the sponsor will always say yes. 

They want to get involved in the process as much as they can. Since the activation will be a reflection on them, they want it to be good. 

Don’t be married to the activation ideas you present, as they are likely to change. The sponsor might want to make a few minor alterations here and there or completely rework the idea of the activation.

I’m not saying you should be a doormat and let the sponsor do what they want but deferring to their judgment is wise here.

After all, even though you got a good idea of the sponsor’s challenges and goals, even with a discovery session under your belt, you don’t know everything about the sponsor company. 

You know who does? The sponsor themselves. They work at the company, so they face these problems day in and day out.

Thus, you might have an activation idea that solves most of the problem for the sponsor but not the entire problem. The sponsor can recommend a few tweaks to make the activation even more effective.

Voila, both parties are happy. 

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Remember Your Audience

Except that sponsorship activation involves not two parties but three.

There’s you, the one putting on the activation. There’s the sponsor, the one directly benefiting from the activation.

Then there’s your audience, the ones engaging with the activation and determining whether it’s a success or a failure.

The reason I said in the last section not to be a doormat is that while the sponsor will want to make their own suggestions when it comes to activations, you can’t let the activation veer too far from what your audience wants.

You know what your audience is into or isn’t into. You did your due diligence and recently surveyed your audience. You’ve looked at years of event data to determine what’s gelling and what isn’t.

If at any point, your sponsor begins bringing up an activation idea that you know your audience wouldn’t care for, please interject and say something.

The worst thing you can do in a situation like that is to stay quiet. Sure, you’re pleasing the sponsor at the moment, but do you know what’s not going to please them? 

Finding out three months from now that their activation was a dud and that you could have prevented it had you spoken up.

Your sponsor wants your audience to come to their activation(s) in droves. That’s how the sponsor achieves their goals. 

If you suspect that any current activation ideas you’re tossing around would repel your audience, say it right away. Your sponsor should thank you!


Generating activation ideas is usually the bane of sponsorship seeker’s existence. If you’re only offering your sponsors logos and calling those activations, then it makes sense that you haven’t gotten far with your activation ideas.

Activations should fulfill the needs of your sponsor and the needs of your audience, connecting the two in a meaningful way that leaves all parties happy. A logo will never get you those kinds of outcomes!