Sponsorship collective logo

Dealbreakers: 7 Festival Sponsorship Mistakes to Avoid

I’m all for a bit of trial and error, but not with a pricy sponsorship deal on the line and a looming festival on the calendar. In that kind of scenario, you must be cognizant that dealbreakers could cost you a sponsor at the last minute. What gaffes should you avoid?

Here are 7 festival sponsorship dealbreakers you don’t want to replicate:

  • Waiting too long to approach a sponsor 
  • Sending your proposal early
  • Assuming it’s all about the $
  • Skipping audience data
  • Not having discovery session
  • Not knowing your value
  • Failing to produce a fulfillment report

In this article, I am to prove to you why these mistakes are so egregious and tell you what to do instead so you don’t follow in the foolhardy footsteps of past sponsorship seekers. Make sure you keep reading, especially if you have a festival planned!

Waiting Too Long to Approach a Sponsor About Your Festival

Here’s a multiple-choice question to start us off. What’s the best time to look for a sponsor for a festival?

  1. Immediately after your current festival ends
  2. Six months before your next festival
  3. Two weeks before your next festival

Go on and ponder the question for a moment. 

Okay, so what did you answer? If you answered 3, two weeks before your festival, it’s no wonder that you’ll come up short. 

Two weeks is no time to put together a sponsorship deal. 

You can’t possibly prospect for a sponsor, reach out, hear back, learn about the sponsor’s challenges, come up with targeted assets and activations, negotiate a contract, order all the materials to put together the sponsor’s activation, and have everything ready to go in two weeks with the cash in hand. 

Even if you thought you could because you’re Superman or Superwoman, there’s lots of red tape that will hold you back. 

The representative in the sponsorship department you’re speaking to has someone over them who makes decisions, so the time alone that you have to wait to get approval for some parts of your sponsorship can hold you up.

If you answered 2, that’s a close answer, but it’s not correct either. It’s better to have six months than two weeks, but it’s still not a lot of time. 

I mean, if you had absolutely no other choice, you could possibly make it work, but you’d be in for a lot of long days and long nights. You’d have no choice but to make sponsorship your second full-time job until your festival. 

By the time your festival happens, you’d feel so burned out that you wouldn’t even be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Instead, the correct answer to my question is 1. You should begin seeking sponsors as soon as your current festival ends in preparation for next year.

I’ve always had sponsorship seekers tell me that that’s way too long of a timeframe. Then they try to secure a sponsor for a festival or event in only a couple of months and run out of time.

Maybe a year is too much time, but isn’t it always better to have time on your side? I think so!

When you begin prepping for sponsorship the day after your festival, you’re giving yourself more than enough time to thoughtfully and thoroughly prospect, selecting potential sponsors your audience has an interest in.

You can also reach out with enough advance time that if you don’t hear back right away, you don’t have to bombard the prospect’s email inbox or phone. 

I’m not saying the entire process will be stress-free throughout, but you’ll certainly have less stress on your shoulders when you search for a sponsor early versus doing so late. 

New call-to-action

Sending Your Sponsorship Proposal Early

Another dealbreaker that kills any sponsorship deal in a jiffy is sending your sponsorship proposal right away. 

Many sponsorship seekers use their proposal like a resume. They talk and talk about what they achieved in the proposal. By focusing more on that, they miss the opportunity to share detailed audience data and rich activations and assets.

If you could land a sponsorship deal for a festival (or any type of event, for that matter) by cold-emailing prospects and sending a proposal, I wouldn’t have a job. Sponsorship seekers wouldn’t need me, as they’d have figured it all out on their own.

That’s not how it works. Whether you attach your proposal as part of a sponsor’s web form or drop it as an attachment in an email, the sponsorship proposal doesn’t get you sponsorship.

I’ll tell you what it does get you – sent straight to the trash or–worse yet–the spam filter.

Why doesn’t a prospective sponsor want to see your proposal? It’s full of so much good information!

No, it isn’t, and that’s why. I know you think a five-page history of your festival and a six-page history of your cause is must-read material, but a sponsor disagrees. 

They want to know how you can help them. They want to see assets and activations. They want audience data. 

They want custom solutions tailored to their needs, and you can only do that by having a discovery session with the prospect first. 

Pushing generic assets and writing 10 pages as a bio reeks of genericness. A sponsor knows you sent the same proposal to 15, maybe 20 or 30 other prospects and that they received carbon copies.

Here’s what I recommend as far as the sponsorship proposal is concerned. Hold off. Hold way off.

When a prospect asks to see the proposal, only then should you give it to them. That can take quite a long time, sometimes several meetings, and in some instances, it doesn’t happen at all.

Sponsorship seekers always look at me like I’ve sprouted three heads when I tell them that I’ve closed sponsorship deals without a single proposal changing hands. I have, and I’ve had clients who have done the same, so it can be done. 

You’ll probably end up putting together a proposal at some point, and that’s fine. When that time comes, I recommend you check out my festival sponsorship proposal template. You’ll find it super helpful for structuring your information! 

Assuming It’s All About the Benjamins

Sponsorship seekers confuse sponsorship all the time for things it isn’t. 

For example, a sponsor isn’t a donor. They’re not giving money to your festival because they’re feeling generous. If you want donors for your festival, that’s one thing, but I can’t really help you there. It’s not my M.O.

A sponsor also isn’t an investor. Unlike a donor, who gives money out of the goodness of their heart, an investor gives money because they want to see your festival succeed.

Instead, a sponsor gives money transactionally. 

Sponsorship is more marketing than philanthropy. A sponsor agreeing to fund your event expects something out of the arrangement. And no, a boring logo or announcement from the stage before the festival begins won’t cut it. 

You need assets and activations, as I’ve talked about throughout this guide. More than just any assets and activations (after all, a logo is technically an asset), you need customized solutions.

A good activation incorporates the needs of your audience. Both parties win when you create activations that connect your audience and sponsor

Your audience will engage with the sponsor, increasing their email signups, trying free samples, or achieving whatever goal they’re striving for with the activation. Your sponsor gets more signups, conversions, or sales out of the deal. 

You have to deliver these things to get the funding or promotions your festival needs. Sponsorship is a two-way street, and the sooner you know that, the fewer lucrative deals you’ll blow. 

Skipping Audience Data

Speaking of your audience, what kind of information do you have on them? Do you have at least 35 data points? 

What do I mean by a data point? I’m talking about things like the customer’s location, age, gender, occupation, industry, income earned, marital status, number of children, and brand preferences.

Yeah, okay, but I didn’t even list 35 data points. I know! For each of the above demographics, geographics, and psychographics, you can dig deeper and extricate 35 data points that way.

Let’s use location as a very easy example. 

If your festival attendee lives in New York City, that’s not detailed enough. New York City has five boroughs, so which of those boroughs does your attendee live in?

Here’s another example. Let’s say the same attendee is into tech. What’s their favorite smartphone brand? What’s their favorite tech podcast? What was the last piece of tech they bought and how long ago was it?

Let me guess, your next question to me is this – how in the world do you collect this information? That’s easy!

New call-to-action

You need to send your audience a survey. In the survey, ask a series of simple, to-the-point questions where your attendees can fill in the blanks. 

Make it easy for them to complete the survey. I would recommend Google Forms or a similar service, but something your audience can do online. 

If you’re not getting the responses you want, consider offering some sort of incentive, like a giveaway for free passes or entry onto an early-bird ticket list. Even a free-shirt might motivate your audience. 

Once you have this audience data, add it to your sponsorship proposal. Put it into charts, graphs, or tables. You want the data to look good, sure, but you also want your prospect to be able to parse through it all without going cross-eyed by all those numbers.  

Not Having a Discovery Session

I’ve already mentioned the discovery session a few times, but only in passing. I know that not everyone reading this is aware of what the heck I’m talking about when I mention a discovery session, so allow me to explain. 

The discovery session is a physical or virtual meeting with a sponsorship prospect. During the meeting, you ask the prospect various questions to determine your eligibility to work with them.

For example, you’ll quiz them on their current sales and marketing challenges, what they’ve tried, where they’ve succeeded, and where they’ve failed.

This information clues you in on which assets and activations would work the best for this sponsor. 

For instance, if the sponsor company can’t make a splash on social media but you have a lot of expertise, you could offer your services.

Will you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you can’t help the sponsor? I won’t lie, it can happen. Typically, that’s from choosing any ol’ sponsor available rather than prospecting for good sponsors.

You should use those companies your audience mentioned in their survey as the basis of your prospects list, then look for competitors and even competitors of competitors. If you do that, then there should be far less disconnect between the prospects you select and your audience.

If you aren’t sure what kinds of questions to ask to make a discovery session worth your time, here’s a list I compiled. 

That list includes 37 questions in all. You won’t ask half of those, but maybe seven or 10 questions at most. You don’t want to interrogate the poor prospect, just have a real, informative conversation with them.

That’s all there is to the discovery session. It’s not a sales meeting, so you don’t have to bring your sponsorship proposal or any other sales material. 

You can write down your questions, but I find it’s best to memorize them ahead of the meeting. You look more on the ball.  

Not Knowing Your Value

If you have a good discovery session with the prospect, then eventually, you two will get to the point where you begin negotiating the cost of assets and activations. 

How in the world do you price these services? 

Too many times, I see sponsorship seekers kill what could have been an awesome deal by messing up in the pricing department. 

There’s definitely a right and wrong way to determine the value of your assets. 

Well, several wrong ways, actually. For example, guessing is about the worst thing you can do. Using the value of your competitors as your own value also isn’t great. 

The right way to determine your asset value is through a valuation. 

A valuation involves researching the market value of each asset on your list and then adjusting the value based on what you bring to the table.

You will sometimes adjust the value up and other times, adjust it down. You have to be honest about the quality of your services.

New call-to-action

I know what you’re thinking. If you increase a few assets, will the sponsor really notice? Yes, of course, they will. They’re not stupid.

Sponsors have worked with other sponsorship seekers before. They’re good at sniffing out overly high asset prices just as they’re good at sniffing out low ones.

Here’s the thing though – high or low, a sponsor won’t tell you. Well, they might tell you if you overinflated the prices, but not always.

Most people don’t like confrontation and laughing you out of the room because your assets are ridiculously high could cause offense. A prospect might tell you they’ll get back to you on your assets and then never contact you again. 

As for assets that are too low, a sponsor will not pass up a chance to get quality assets for a lower value than what they’re worth.

That’s like when you find something really valuable at a thrift shop for a steal. Do you tell the cashier, or do you just quietly buy it? A lot of people quietly buy it. 

In the meantime, you lose out on a lot of money. What’s worse is that this can happen again and again until you learn how to properly valuate your assets. 

Failing to Produce a Fulfillment Report 

The last festival sponsorship dealbreaker is skipping the fulfillment report.

Listen, I understand that you’re exhausted after putting on a festival. You’ve planned for months, executed things until the very end, and now your festival has finally ended. You’ll want to take a break. 

Well, I already told you that you have to begin looking for sponsors for your next event immediately after the festival wraps, and I meant that. However, with a fulfillment report, you might find yourself seeking fewer sponsors.

A fulfillment report, also known as a wrap-up report, details your festival’s pertinent aspects. You’ll include your attendance data, photos of your event, audience data, and promised assets and activations.

You’ll also detail whether you were successful in delivering those assets. 

Then you can sit down and have a meeting with your sponsor where you present all this data. 

If you did an awesome job, extending a deal with the sponsor for next year seems only natural. During the meeting where you discuss the fulfillment report, you can mention renegotiating with a sponsor. 


Festival sponsorship is fraught with dealbreakers. These minefields can blow up in your face if you’re not careful, derailing a carefully curated sponsorship deal.

I hope this list of mistakes helps you learn what not to do so you can achieve more of your sponsorship goals! 


Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.