Here on the Sponsorship Collective blog, I mostly talk about offering sponsorship services in exchange for cash.
There’s yet a different type of sponsorship that I don’t cover nearly as often.
I’m talking about in-kind or contra sponsorship.
If you’re interested in pursuing in-kind or contra sponsorship as part of your next sponsorship program, I highly recommend you read today’s post!
What Is In-Kind Sponsorship, Anyway?
To reiterate my point from the intro, in-kind sponsorship, also known as contra sponsorship, is not something I cover very extensively here.
To refresh everyone’s memories and get us all on the same page, I thought I’d take this section for a definition.
In-kind sponsorship is when a sponsor provides freebies in lieu of money. What those freebies entail depends on the type of sponsor as well as your sponsorship event, program, or opportunity.
One of the most classic examples of in-kind sponsorship is free food. Instead of having to hire a caterer to make your event come together, your sponsor would take care of your food and/or drink (possibly one or the other) needs for the event.
Of course, free food is one example of many. Perhaps your sponsor provides free t-shirts for attendees as part of a goodie bag.
Some contra sponsors might even offer free accommodations and travel for VIPs, speakers, and staff.
That can be hugely valuable, as you might be able to get a more star-studded list of speakers to agree to come to your event or opportunity since they don’t have to pay for their own lodging or travel.
If you’re doing a big contest to market your upcoming event, perhaps the in-kind sponsor can provide the prize. It’d be more than a gift basket or a gift certificate but something substantial.
Free media technically counts as contra sponsorship, so an in-kind sponsor can help you promote your events in a different way than merely providing a contest prize. You can also get exposure.
Those are just some examples of what in-kind sponsorship can look like to give you a better idea of how this form of sponsorship operates in the big, wide world of sponsorship.
How to Get Contra Sponsorship
Now, I’ll admit it, in-kind sponsorship doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation. Some people think it’s rather useless.
I agree that it can be, especially if you don’t know what you’re asking for or if you’re willing to accept whatever the sponsor gives you. But when done right, in-kind sponsorship can be just as valuable as cash sponsorship in many instances.
That’s where I come in. I want to help you get contra sponsorship right so you can achieve more of your goals and use freebies and gifts to the fullest! Here’s how.
Know Your Audience
You shouldn’t be surprised that I’m starting with audience research, as it’s such an integral part of any sponsorship program.
Sponsors are giving you items or services for free, but these products and services still cost them money. Thus, a sponsor is still investing in you, even if they are spending less money to do it.
Money is still money at the end of the day, and to most businesses, every dollar counts.
A sponsor wants to make a wise investment, and that means selecting a partner (you) that has customers that fit into the sponsor’s target audience.
You can’t possibly know whether your customers fit into the sponsor’s target audience without current audience research.
If you don’t have audience data, then you need to issue a survey asking your audience about all sorts of things, including their location, marital status, whether they have children (and how many), their industry, occupation, income, brands they like and use, their purchasing motivations, and what they like and dislike about your company or organization.
This data makes it easy to split off your large audience groups into smaller and smaller groups until eventually, you can’t niche down anymore.
That’s how a sponsor–contra, cash, or otherwise–can take one look at your audience data and deduce whether this arrangement is a good fit.
Do Prospect Research
How do you even find in-kind sponsorship opportunities? The same way you would find a cash sponsor opportunity: by prospecting.
This is where your audience data is especially beneficial, as you can use the brands and companies they mentioned reading/buying/using/consuming and start with those.
As you would when selecting cash sponsorship prospects, you want to be discerning when choosing which contra sponsors you might work with.
If your audience doesn’t like or care about the contra sponsor you chose, then they certainly won’t care about a bunch of free stuff from that sponsor. It will be junk in their opinion.
Have a Discovery Session
When you make first contact with a contra sponsor, the goal is to set up an initial meeting known as the discovery session.
Those who have read even a few posts on this blog know what I’m talking about, as I tout the value of the discovery session all the time.
For those who don’t know, the discovery session is a meeting (virtual or in person, whichever is more convenient) where you get to learn about the sponsor’s problems to gauge whether your solutions are a fit.
As an example, if a contra sponsorship prospect had a new product they were trying to build awareness for and you know your upcoming event will have 5,000 people, then you can agree to give out samples of the sponsor’s product.
That solves their problem!
Put Together a Sponsorship Proposal
Your sponsorship proposal puts everything in writing for you and the in-kind sponsor to review before you negotiate terms and make your sponsorship arrangement official.
You want to include your audience data, what you’re promising to deliver to the sponsor, and what it’s valued at. You also get to talk a little bit about your event, program, or opportunity, but it’s a very little bit.
Here is my handy, dandy sponsorship proposal template if this is the first proposal you’re putting together.
Produce a Fulfillment Report
When your event ends and you’ve given out all the samples or all the free food has been enjoyed, it’s time to sit down and write your sponsorship fulfillment report.
In the report, you go over all the benefits you promised to your in-kind sponsor as well as whether you delivered on them and just how well.
A post-event report can also open the door to a future working relationship if both you and your sponsor are interested in that, so the report is always worth producing.
I have a sponsorship fulfillment report template that will help you write a great report in a timely manner.
The Benefits of In-Kind Sponsorship
Like any form of sponsorship, contra sponsorship can pay back dividends if you’re willing to take the time to foster relationships with your sponsors.
Here are some of the perks you can enjoy throughout the life of your sponsorship program.
Going back to what I mentioned earlier, if your in-kind sponsor provides free food and drink, then you don’t have to hire a caterer.
If they give you free promotion, then you don’t need to court media partners. You can also shrink your marketing and advertising budgets (although don’t stop marketing altogether) since right now, you’re receiving a steady stream of free press.
Perhaps your in-kind sponsor is a team of lighting professionals or sound people, so they rig up the lights or PA for your event for free. You’re saving thousands of dollars there alone.
The more money in your pocket at the end of your sponsorship program, the better!
It May Be Easier to Get Sponsors
Have you struggled to get even one sponsorship prospect to respond to your initial email or call you back?
Well, first of all, I suggest you check out the blog, as I have all sorts of handy resources no matter your sponsorship problem.
I also recommend that you switch to in-kind sponsorship for a while.
Brands and companies like contra sponsorship almost as much as you do because it doesn’t cost them as much money as cash sponsorship would.
Thus, if money is part of the reason why your sponsorship prospects have turned you down time and again, pursuing an in-kind arrangement with the same prospects or different ones might yield an outcome you weren’t expecting.
You’ll find that sponsors are generally more agreeable and could even want to partner up again next year.
Your Audience Will Love It
Freebies as offered in a contra sponsorship deal tend to trickle down to your audience as well. They love free stuff just as much as anyone, after all!
That said, there has to be an alignment between the interests and purchasing behaviors of your audience and the in-kind sponsor, as I talked about earlier.
I’ll use an example I’m quite fond of. If you’re throwing a vegetarian or veganism convention and your sponsor is giving out free samples of meatballs, those things better be plant-based or no one is going to go near the sponsor’s booth.
Could Increase the Value of Other Sponsors
Even if you have several in-kind sponsors, you probably can’t put on a sponsorship event, program, or opportunity as you envisioned it without some cash sponsors as well.
This means more work for you to secure sponsors, but it all pays off in the end when your contra sponsor elevates the value of your cash sponsors.
Well, let’s say your in-kind sponsor offers free media. In talking about your event, program, or opportunity, your other sponsor’s names will inevitably come up. That’s doubly true if you granted a cash sponsor naming rights.
You can add this additional promotion to your assets and value the cost. Even though you didn’t pay anything for the promotion, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the rewards in every way possible.
To Increase the Success of Your In-Kind Sponsorship Program, Avoid These Mistakes
Part of the reason that in-kind sponsorship isn’t as highly-favored as cash sponsorship is that there are a lot of traps you can fall into.
Since many sponsorship seekers are pursuing contra sponsorship for the first time, they often don’t realize they’re even making a mistake until they’ve already done it.
To wrap up, here are some big red flags to avoid as you proceed with an in-kind sponsorship arrangement.
Don’t Accept Just Anything the Sponsor Throws at You
This goes back to what I said before about sponsorship seekers being inexperienced when it comes to in-kind sponsorship.
You might feel like you have to accept whatever the sponsor gives you because if you don’t, they might not want to offer you any freebies.
Listen, contra sponsorship is a sponsorship arrangement just as cash sponsorship is. In other words, it’s a partnership, a professional relationship between two parties.
There must be room for negotiation there.
If a cash sponsor tried giving you $1,000 and you know your sponsorship opportunity is worth at least five times that, you wouldn’t just accept the $1,000 because you think it will jeopardize the relationship.
It should be the same way with in-kind sponsorship.
You don’t want just any freebies. That’s when contra sponsorship becomes useless. Don’t be afraid to speak up and reiterate to the sponsor what you’re looking for and how what they’re offering isn’t it.
It’s Still a Sponsorship Arrangement and Must Be Treated as Such
Some sponsorship seekers think that because in-kind sponsorship is all about the freebies that they can skate by and do the bare minimum when it comes to their sponsorship program.
Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s not true.
In-kind sponsorship is no different than any other sponsorship in that you still have to put in the work. You need audience data, you still have to research your prospects, and you still must have a discovery meeting.
Trying to skip all these things because you’re getting freebies in return will cause the deal to fall apart.
In-kind or contra sponsorship often gets a bad rap, but freebies–be it free travel, free products, free services, or free promotion–can be highly beneficial if you know how to find quality sponsors.
I hope this guide gave you a starting point to pursue a contra sponsorship arrangement!
If you need some extra help, be sure to check out my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program.
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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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