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How to Get In-Kind and Contra Sponsorship

by | March 23, 2020

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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
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In-kind sponsorships are often looked at as being less valuable than cash sponsorships. However, when you find the right in-kind sponsorships, they can make a huge difference in the overall success level of your event. Sponsors provide goods or services designed to add value to your attendees.

After all, who doesn’t love free stuff? And the good news is, often in-kind sponsors don’t expect much in return so it saves you time and money on effective activation (although there are still ways you can screw up activation, which we’ll discuss below). Often, in-kind and contra sponsorships are easier to find, which means less time forcing it down your prospects pipeline. So how do you tap into this seemingly low-lying fruit? Here’s what we recommend.

Examples of In-Kind and Contra Sponsorships

The exciting thing about in-kind sponsorships is there is a lot of different things sponsors can contribute other than tangible products. Some examples:

  • Free TV, radio, and digital or print advertising
  • Free travel and accommodation for staff, speakers, VIPs but also prizes
  • Celebrities and keynote speakers
  • Printing services for collateral
  • Electronics to make properties more appealing

All these things help offset costs big time and can even increase the perceived value of your event, team or building to both your attendees and to potential cash sponsors.

Benefits of In-Kind Sponsorship

So why look for in-kind sponsors? Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Brands love the opportunity because it gives them exposure to their ideal customers
  • Attendees love it because they get free stuff
  • Brands have their name out there without forking out cash from their marketing budget
  • Brands can allow their ideal customers to experience their products or services firsthand
  • There is usually still logo and brand mention on marketing products, especially if the contra is of high perceived value
  • You can often acquire in-kind contributions you can leverage to increase paying sponsor’s sense of value, such as free media exposure, free accommodations, free sponsored contests for travel, higher quality tech for activations, a higher profile of speakers or celebrity
  • Improved attendee lures that increases numbers that can help attract more sponsors
  • Sponsors might be attracted to in-kind sponsor brands they would like to be aligned with
  • in-kind sponsors will promote your event for free on their social media feeds
  • in-kind sponsorships offer longer life for sponsor exposure as it continues to offer experiences for attendees who might mention their free gifts or services on their social media for higher ROI
  • Free samples can usually lead to additional purchases which also provides higher ROI

These are just some of the benefits that can vary greatly based on the contra and how sponsors allow you to use it.

Drawbacks of In-Kind Sponsorship

There are also some potential drawbacks to in-kind sponsorships. For example, you have to be careful about what you accept. Each brand paying for sponsorship could potentially take offense to in-kind sponsors you line up. For example, unbeknownst to you, the practices of a brand could be controversial due to things like unfair trade or poor working conditions.

As well, a brand might just be a free for all in-kind sponsor throwing free goods at any event just to get their name out there. Sometimes a paying sponsor might view free handouts as being too close to what they paid to do. In other cases, an electronics sponsor might be offloading crappy tech that no one will want to use. Because of all these issues, you probably need to research each in-kind sponsor to avoid badly chosen alignments.

Some brands you want to approach might not be interested, as they don’t feel they can measure effectiveness. This means you have to invest in some form of tracking measures as proof of activation and success. This takes time and money. In other cases, your attendees might not see the value and as a result, view your event as a low budget affair handing out crap that means nothing to them. So it does take some evaluation to determine where you will get the most value, where sponsors will get the best ROI and where paying sponsors will be certain to not feel offended by the brands you choose to align with your event.

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Things to Consider

Let’s start with what should be the obvious consideration. Do you really need it? As mentioned above, there can be all kinds of brands wanting to throw stuff your way, but does it really make sense for your brand and event? It is something that will be nice to have, or is it going to have a major impact that can either undermine or improve your efforts?

The in-kind sponsors that bring the most value to the table would look something like this:

  • A brand offering you something your paying sponsors will value. This could be a number of things, such as additional assets you can sell with your packages like seriously cool tech or free airtime on the radio.
  • Services that can impress your attendees like a free app to track what’s happening, or a media wall for real-time social posts.
  • Free stuff your sponsors with less tangible offerings could use as a prize, like a trip, or that you could use for door prizes.
  • Free things you can use to create really outstanding VIP packages like free hotel rooms, free alcohol for a cocktail lounge, or free spa massages.
  • Free things you can use to make your staff lives easier like hotel rooms they can use as operation central or go to relax in for a few hours, communication tech, apps, etc.
  • High demand items in the eyes of your attendees such as a free pair of Nikes (not likely) a free sample of expensive vitamins, or a free makeover.
  • Items that won’t inadvertently cost you money due to delivery challenges, or maybe free food which you then have to pay the conference venue to serve.

Basically, you want to make sure it won’t cost you money to receive or distribute the items. You also don’t want to invest too much time to prove success such as having to set up a landing page or some form of registration UNLESS the contra is well worth the additional effort. It’s all about checks and balances.

How to Get In-Kind Sponsors

Just like cash sponsorships, you still need to use sponsorship best practices to get what you want.

Identify your audience and their preferred brands

This is sponsorship 101. Choose brands that resonate with your attendees and brands that want to reach them.

Reach out to in-kind prospects

Find the right contact for the prospects on your list. Start with a search on LinkedIn but don’t forget to network too, attending events in the industry, especially the ones your competitors hold.

Do discovery

Set up discovery meetings or phone calls to establish if they are the right fit. What do they offer your audience wants? What does you audience offer them? What are their business goals? How will participation help them meet those goals? What other in-kind sponsorships have they done? How did it work? What would they change? These questions will help you know what to pitch to them, or even to decide not to pitch at all.

Create a custom package

Custom proposals help you show the prospect how you can provide exactly what they need based on the details you unravel at the discovery meeting. Once you send it out follow up often and get a feel for which way they are leaning. Update them on new sponsors and other news about the event that will help encourage them to participate. Pin down if they are interested in just a contra deal, or contra plus cash.

Deliver on the sponsorship

Understand what you are getting yourself into. How will this in-kind sponsorship work? How will goods and services be received and distributed? Do they understand what you are offering? What are your limits to distribution? Are their any exclusions to their participation, i.e. you can’t use it as prizes, or resell it to other sponsors? Without proper activation agreements, you could find yourself in deep water.

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Provide a fulfillment report

Fulfillment reports show sponsors how successful their sponsorship was with measurable results. This can be more difficult with in-kind sponsors. Because this type of sponsorship is activated a little differently, make sure you track how it is completed and also recorded in some way. Images of handouts with happy attendees. People signing up for their free service offers. Their products being used as a prize. Their tech in action with tons of people standing around. Social posts of happy people using their free stuff. A landing page set up to collect leads. It all depends on what you agreed on.

Create a chart with what you agreed to and what you delivered. Include as many stats as possible, which again might be more difficult for in-kind sponsors. Take tons of photos showing their contra in action. You just need to prove it was activated and was well received.

By providing a fulfillment report, they will see you take your role seriously and appreciate their contribution enough to pay attention to how it was handled. With people on your team dedicated to setting up hashtags, taking pictures, making sure the sponsor’s stuff was distributed, or even showing examples of how you leveraged their contra to improve relationships with high profile paying sponsors you demonstrate they made the right choice to participate. It’s “see you next year” time when they are happy with the results.

While there are some downsides to contra and in-kind sponsorships, when well-chosen and agreements are clearly defined, you can use them to increase the value of your event.