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How Anissa Cooke Left Old Sponsorship Mistakes Behind and Rose to New Heights with Her Synthetic Biotech Event

by | June 12, 2023

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Anissa Cooke’s Road to Success

Recently, we looked at Chris Norwood’s journey to sponsorship as the marketing director for an Arizona music festival. 

Today, we’re diving into a completely different field, synthetic biotech, and how Anissa Cooke, the Director of Operations at SynBioBeta, utilized sponsorship to grow her company’s event. 

Anissa’s company hosts a synthetic biology conference. Like many businesses, it went remote-only during COVID-19, but because the very industry itself is sort of COVID-proof, business didn’t slow to a crawl like it did for other industries.

That meant SynBioBeta continued to host events virtually. Anissa found the transition from in-person to virtual events difficult at first, telling me that the audiences that attend her company’s events love the serendipity of it all, such as reconnecting with old colleagues.

Anissa didn’t want to eliminate that quality from SynBioBeta’s events, which meant crafting activations that fostered connections. 

She ultimately selected Speakeasy, a 3D platform that creates a virtual “world” where you can move around a board and still enjoy those meaningful interactions.

During our enlightening conversation, Anissa told me that her favorite in-person activation is mixers for the same reason. 

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It’s not necessarily all for the reconnecting and warm, fuzzy feelings of seeing someone again after years. SynBioBeta’s events help people find jobs and grow in their fields, so the social aspect is a major component. 

That’s why Anissa sought to maximize the company’s sponsorship activations, and why, even when her company was forced to go virtual due to the raging pandemic, SynBioBeta didn’t stop hosting events.

Interestingly, Anissa told me that sponsors “eat up” these kinds of social opportunities and that the slots usually go the fastest when SynBioBeta opens the door to sponsorship deals

Unlike many of the sponsorship seekers I work with and those that I’ve shared case studies on, Anissa didn’t come to me with zero sponsorship experience. 

She knew her way around sponsorship but wanted to maximize her company’s opportunities, especially as the pandemic roared and it became clear that SynBioBeta would have to switch gears.

However, she admits she didn’t know everything to do with sponsorship, and that’s another reason she was happy with our services at the Sponsorship Collective.

For example, Anissa committed one of the cardinal sins of sponsorship: offering sponsors gold, silver, and bronze tier packages. Why did she do it? Well, because as she told me, she simply didn’t know any better. 

That’s not her fault at all – many sponsorship seekers don’t!

Once I told her that, Anissa said it all clicked. She had years in sales and knew that cookie-cutter experiences didn’t fly. She soon dropped the gold, silver, and bronze packages and hasn’t looked back since.

Anissa explained to me during our interview that she also had a very generic business case. Her proposals were full of mistakes, as they didn’t highlight audience data enough and were too self-serving. She also said her audience data was vague.  

Another nugget of knowledge Anissa picked up was recording sponsorship calls and meetings (with their permission, of course). 

Since her job involves a lot of technical and scientific jargon, something Anissa said she doesn’t personally specialize in, she found that being able to go back and redigest the material later helped her understand it better.

More so than that, she could take the language the sponsors used and directly inject it into her sponsorship materials like proposals. 

Applying the Principles Anissa Cooke Learned to Your Own Sponsorship Program

Anissa shared a lot of insights into her original sponsorship perception and how it changed once she joined the Sponsorship Collective. 

Let’s take a closer look at the principles she mentioned during our discussion so you can use them for your own sponsorship properties. 

Knowing What Your Audience Needs Is Important

Anissa had enough foresight to understand that when SynBioBeta had to host remote events during the pandemic, the company couldn’t sacrifice the element of human closeness and interactivity. 

She knew her audience innately well and so strove to recreate those connections even on a virtual scale, something Anissa certainly succeeded at!

You too must understand your audience’s needs and let that be your true north. Even if the circumstances of your sponsorship program change–which may sometimes happen–you must always keep in mind those needs.

What if you don’t know your audience well enough to gauge its needs? You can’t guess. That will assuredly result in disappointed attendees and lower numbers next year. Your sponsorship arrangements can also fail or underperform with a disengaged audience. 

You must get to know your audience. I recommend surveying them, as a full-bodied audience survey will sample an audience in key areas like demographics, psychographics, and geographics. 

This post contains a bulleted list of talking points you can use as you put together your survey.

Understanding your audience is very beneficial even outside of the sponsorship sphere. You can continue to serve your audience well through the products and services you sell, deepening their loyalty and longevity. 

Connection Always Matters

Whether you share a similar industry to Anissa’s or work in a completely unrelated field, connection is at the core of sponsorship. 

At the very least, you connect your audience to your sponsor to drive outcomes. 

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Sometimes, sponsorship seekers can lose the plot. They assume that activations and assets that increase connections are too simple, but I disagree! As Anissa told me, mixers remain her favorite activation for in-person events.

Not only that, but you’ll recall how sponsors are always eager to attach their names to these social events where old friends can rekindle their relationship, new business connections can be made, and job opportunities can arise. 

I’m not saying your event, program, or opportunity needs a mixer, per se, but you should always keep connectivity in the back of your mind as you pitch a sponsor activations and assets. 

You Must Learn to Adapt on the Fly

COVID-19 rocked the world in 2020. A company like SynBioBeta, which specializes in in-person events, could have very easily folded in the ensuing uncertainty that lasted for years. If not that, they could have had to majorly change the landscape of what they did.

However, the company did neither. Instead, through Anissa’s sponsorship leadership, SynBioBeta found a way through the changes. 

Anissa poured tireless hours into researching solutions and software that would allow her audience to connect, even in a virtual environment, and her hard work paid off.

We’re now (thankfully) living in a post-COVID age. However, now is no time to get complacent. Bumps in the road are all but guaranteed. Maybe they won’t be as intense and life-changing as a global pandemic, but you never know!

You must be prepared for anything, and your sponsorship property must be adaptable in kind. 

Does your company or organization have a plan for how you’d handle a return to virtual events? Do you have a blueprint for withstanding other seismic shifts?

It’s never a bad idea to have a Plan B or C in your back pocket. I wouldn’t suggest dedicating too much time to mapping out your backup plans, but you should give it some consideration in the overall grand scheme of your sponsorship program.

This way, if the worst happened and you had to suddenly pivot, you wouldn’t be left so awestruck at the state of things that you couldn’t act expediently. 

Cookie Cutter Doesn’t Work

Anissa came from a sales background, as I mentioned. Through her experience, she learned that genericness is not the recipe for success. 

This is something all sponsorship seekers understand eventually, but it can take time and trial and error, the former of which not everyone has in abundance due to deadlines and other pressure. The sooner you can learn this, the better off your sponsorship program will be. 

Anissa was guilty of sending generic business cases and using broad audience data. Her proposals were as cookie-cutter as it gets, and they were unfocused because she was not yet following my sponsorship proposal template

She also used gold, silver, and bronze tiers, one of the worst mistakes a sponsorship seeker can make and possibly the worst. 

Think of your role as a consumer. Do you buy generic products at the grocery store? Do you drive a cookie-cutter vehicle, or did you buy one that stood out? 

Consumers don’t want generic. Your sponsor’s target audience is full of consumers who want what’s on the cutting edge. 

As you go through your assets and activations, set aside the ones that don’t inspire much uniqueness. You might decide to include a few if they’re of some value (after performing a valuation), but it’s fine to discard the others. 

They’re diluting the quality of your sponsorship property and could impede you from earning the sponsorship opportunities you seek.  

Niched Audience Data Is a Must 

Getting back to Anissa’s mistake of using generic audience data, this is a common error I see among my clients. 

Remember, a sponsor has a target audience. They took the time to define that audience and divide it into specific segments. When they meet with a sponsor who has broad audience data, a sponsor can’t say for sure which parts of its target audience those customers would fit into.

Your audience data shouldn’t be like a puzzle where a sponsor has to put together 500 pieces to only begin to see some of the picture. They want the information front and center, already done and ready to go.

It’s on you to niche down your audience. It’s not a quick process, but it’s ultra-rewarding. As I said before, when you know what your audience wants, you can serve them better outside of sponsored events, including when promoting your products and services. 

The aforementioned audience survey will help you divide your audience into smaller groups. Look at the demographic, geographic, and psychographic data you have and run it through a sieve of sorts to take those large groups and make them smaller.

This requires you to divide job fields by title and cities by neighborhood, but that’s what your sponsor did to build its target audience. 

The sponsor ultimately wants to see a match between your audience segments and its target audience. All the segments don’t have to match, but if some of them do, a sponsor will want to access that audience, which usually means they’ll want to work with you. 

Use a Sponsor’s Own Words

The last takeaway is this. Anissa told me that she’d record her meetings with sponsors. This began out of necessity, as she had a hard time following along with the scientific jargon and liked to listen back at her own pace later. 

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She soon discovered that recording sponsor meetings had other benefits. She could hear a sponsor discuss their challenges and strengths in their own words. When she later used their words in her proposals and other sponsorship copy, sponsors reacted favorably.

Anissa told me this is because echoing their sentiments makes them feel heard and appreciated. It also shows that you’re paying attention to what your sponsor says.  


Anissa Cooke proved that understanding your audience and being able to change as a situation calls for are critical components to a successful sponsorship program. She also showed that even if you know a little bit about sponsorship, you could still be making crucial errors that drive sponsors away.

Anissa knew no better than to use gold, silver, and bronze tiers. She also didn’t think twice about generic business cases and broad audience data. 

If you’ve made similar mistakes with your sponsorship program, I hope this post helped you realize what you might have been doing wrong. If you’re concerned you’re making other sponsorship mistakes without realizing it, why not hop on a call with me?

Whether you have a sponsorship background or are brand new to it, I can help your sponsorship property like I did Anissa’s!