Before you dive in, if you are interested in festival sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for festivals” series:
How to Plan a Festival the Complete Guide to Starting Growing and Perfecting Your Festival
Festival Activations to Make Your Next Event Amazing
What Activities to Have at Your Festival
How to Promote a Festival: Event Branding, Marketing, and Social Media
What Companies That Sponsor Festivals Are Looking for in a Partnership
Festivals are big business these days. Tens of millions of people attend festivals every year. No matter which type of festival you’d like to host, you want it to make a huge splash. That means seeking sponsorship opportunities, but you’re not quite sure where to start. How do you obtain sponsorship for festivals?
Getting your festival sponsored involves five steps: asset building, valuations, audience segmenting, crafting your sponsorship proposal, and fulfillment. The activation opportunities associated with festivals have to stand out, so make sure you explore those to the fullest.
If your organization or business is in the serious planning stages of its first festival, this is one article you’re not going to want to miss. You can rely on this as your extensive guide for all things festival sponsorship. We’ll explain more about the five steps above as well as reasons to seek sponsorship and what kinds of valuation opportunities you might take advantage of.
Let’s get started!
Types of Festivals You Might Need Sponsorship For
A festival is a celebration, so any event you deem celebratory is reason enough to host your own festival. Depending on the scope, your festival can be a local event that generates a small, tight-knit audience or one that brings in thousands, even millions of people.
Here are some festival types for you to think about hosting for your own organization, township or municipality.
When you even say the word festival, some people might automatically assume you’re talking about a music festival. These events attract thousands upon thousands of people as they get to party, hang out, and enjoy some great live music. Their popularity often makes it relatively easy to find music festival sponsors.
According to travel resource Latitude, here are some of the biggest music festivals in existence:
- Donauinselfest in Austria – 3.3 million people attended in 2015, making them the Guinness World Record holder for the highest attendance at a music festival in one location.
- Mawazine in Morocco – 2,750,000 people in attendance in 2019
- Summerfest in Wisconsin – 1,000,563 people attended in 2001
- Rock in Rio in Brazil – An impressive 1.38 million people attended in 1985, but more recently, 700,000 people attended per day in 2019 (totaling 2.1 million over three days).
- Coachella in California – 225,000 people attended in 2012
- New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans – 475,000 people attended in both 2019 and 2022
- Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas – 520,000 people attended over three days in 2023
- Lollapalooza in Chicago – 385,000 people in attendance in 2021
If your organization is sporty rather than musically inclined, then a sports festival might be your forte. This is a broad category that encompasses all sorts of events, from hot-air balloon festivals to dance festivals and motorcycle rallies.
Some examples of sports festivals in the US include:
- Tall Ships Challenge in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Great Lakes, a sailing event
- Sea Otter Classic, a Monterey, California outdoor sports exposition and festival with bike races
- Blossom Kite Festival, a Washington, D.C. kite event
- Scottish Games in North Carolina, an event honoring the Scots
- Arnold Sports Festival in Ohio, a bodybuilding event named after Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival, which has its own version of the Highland Games
- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which features balloon races
Whether you call it a tech festival, a tech conference, or a tech event, what’s clear is that more than ever, people like gathering around to examine, explore, and celebrate technology’s latest advancements. Here are some of the biggest tech festivals on the planet:
- Consumer Electronics & Technology or CES in Las Vegas, which had 175,212 people in attendance in 2019
- Silicon Valley Innovation Summit, which once showcased Twitter, YouTube, MySQL, and Skype when these companies were in their infancy. Sadly, this festival hasn’t run since 2012, but its legacy lives on.
- InfoShare in Gdansk, Poland, a festival for startups and investors in Eastern and Central Europe
- Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, a newer tech event that started in 2011
- Techfest in Bombay, India, an aptly-named event that’s among the biggest for tech in Asia
Music, tech, and sports festivals are the three big ones, but outside of those, you still have plenty of options. For example, you can attract all sorts of visitors to an arts festival. Whether you host one on a smaller scale (sticking to your neighborhood or community only) or you wish to put on a massive art event, either is possible.
Worldwide, some of the better-known art festivals to use for inspiration include:
- Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China
- Vivid Sydney in Australia, which celebrates light displays
- Hong Kong International Art Fair
- Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain or FIAC in France
Is there a holiday coming up on the calendar? Then you should throw a festival! From Easter to May Day, Christmas to Holi, New Year’s to Independence Day, there’s always something to celebrate all year long.
A film festival is less of a party and more of a place to witness the future of filmmaking. As populous as music festivals but slightly more exclusive, the number of annual film festivals is exhaustive. Here’s a smattering of them:
- Edinburgh International Film Festival in Scotland
- New York Film Festival
- Telluride Film Festival in Colorado
- South by Southwest in Austin, Texas
- Chicago International Film Festival
- Atlanta Film Festival
- Cannes Film Festival in France
- International Film Festival Rotterdam
- Berlin International Film Festival
- Toronto International Film Festival
- Venice Film Festival in Italy
- Sundance Film Festival in Utah
If none of these niches match your organization, then you can always rely on a food and beer festival. Everyone loves to eat, after all. Depending on your mood and budget, you can go with a small, local event with a wholesome family feel to a more upscale food festival ala the New York City Wine and Food Festival, Portland Dining Month, or the Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival.
3 Reasons Your Festival Needs Sponsorship
Deciding to host a festival is only the beginning. Unless your organization or business has the budget, then seeking sponsorship is within your best interest. Here are three reasons to compel you to begin the sponsorship process.
If you want to someday attract attendees in the six-digit range like today’s music festivals can, then you need major publicity for your event. In partnering with a sponsor, they can also assist in getting the word out across their audience, potentially growing your list of attendees.
Anyone can publicize an event, but what makes people want to attend? The event host’s credibility, for one. By finding a sponsor that aligns with your organization, you instantly build up your credibility. There’s a reason this sponsor has chosen to work with you. They’re almost vouching for you in that regard, changing the minds of attendees who are on the fence and maybe convincing them to show up after all.
In a recent post on our blog, 15 Things Sponsors Can Give You Besides Cash, we proved that money isn’t everything. That said, it’s pretty darn important, as without it, you can’t host a festival to the scope you were dreaming of. Sponsorship can make those ends meet so your event can be the best possible version.
How to Get Festival Sponsorship
You’ve done some serious thinking among your team, and collectively, you’ve decided that seeking festival sponsorship is what’s best for your business or organization. If this will be your first sponsorship opportunity, allow us to lay out the five steps you need to follow to successfully find a festival sponsor.
This first step may seem like an unlikely one, but it’s very crucial: inventorying. At this stage, you’re at the very beginning of your event planning. You know you want to host a festival, and you may even have an idea of what kind of festival. After doing some loose budgeting, you’ve identified the need for a sponsor, but that’s about as far as you’ve gotten.
During inventory development, your goal is to create an assets list. Try not to think too hard during this stage, and instead, just create the most complete, monumental list possible. Not all the assets on your inventory list will go to the end of the sponsorship process, and that’s okay. Maybe not even most will. For now, you want to have as many down on paper (or digitally) as you can.
Here’s what we recommend. Head to the area you’d like to host your festival (with permission, of course) and snap some pictures. You want to plan for all sorts of things, like where human and vehicular traffic will come in through, where you can put logos, where the main events will happen, and what other types of interactive opportunities you can offer and where.
Then put everything else that’s less tangible on a spreadsheet, using your board members, volunteers, communicators, ticket salespeople, and marketers for guidance.
Here are some other things you want to think about in the inventory stage:
- Whether you’d have to use supplier contracts or product exclusivity.
- How your audience aligns with the sponsor’s target audience.
- If you have naming rights and which ones.
- All your digital assets, such as sponsor backlinks, marketing campaigns, and more.
Make sure you leave no stone unturned as you create your assets inventory. If it suits you, then categorize assets into groups. Some groups you might use for this purpose include traditional media, paid media, pass-through benefits, newsletters, social media, speaking opportunities, exhibiting opportunities, or product giveaways.
Even if something doesn’t seem very valuable to you now, this isn’t the time to consider value much. That will come very shortly.
If you’re having a hard time thinking of all assets to put on your list, consider it this way. Let’s say you went to the store to buy clothes. Rather than price, you’re more concerned with fit. You go through all the aisles in the store and grab each garment that you think might fit. Is this going to be a huge pile of clothes? Sure, but you won’t walk out of the store with nearly as many of them.
Once you’ve double-checked that your assets list is as complete as possible, it’s time to move onto the next phase of finding festival sponsorship: valuation.
Using the same example from above, now you would go in the dressing room, try on all the clothes, and see which ones actually fit. Those that don’t would be discarded.
You’ll do the same with your assets list. It was very complete before, almost too complete, but now you’re going to cut and hack it down until only the most valuable assets remain. These are the ones that would be of most use to your sponsor, so you want to focus on those the most.
How do you determine which assets are valuable and which ones you shouldn’t keep? Well, there’s not one particular way to do it.
That’s not meant to leave you in the dark. It’s just that for each individual sponsor, your valuation process will differ somewhat. That’s because what one sponsor might find very valuable, another won’t.
One way to gauge which assets your sponsor might be the most interested in? It’s a simple but effective approach, and that’s to ask your sponsor outright. Since you have such a big assets list to pluck from (or at least, you should), further developing and strengthening the assets your sponsor cares about shouldn’t pose a huge problem.
You can also use data to guide you in which assets to prioritize. This useful article on our blog features a handy chart about which benefits sponsors anticipate they’ll receive in partnering with an organization like yours.
Most sponsors, 76 percent, expect to reinforce their image. Another large chunk, 72 percent, hope to increase their brand loyalty. The rest of the data breaks down as follows:
- Boost awareness and visibility: 70 percent
- Show off their social responsibility: 43 percent
- Push product usage and sales: 42 percent
- Generate more traffic: 39 percent
- Introduce a service or product: 36 percent
- Get more databases: 31 percent
Keeping that information in mind will make determining a sponsor’s ROI on your assets somewhat easier. As you go asset by asset (which is really the only way to do this), the value of your asset will also be dictated by asset type, geography, audience, and sponsor. That means some assets may be far more valuable than others, and no, it’s usually not a miscalculation.
To complete your valuation, it helps if you have a list of activation ideas. We’ll talk about these later in this guide, so make sure you don’t miss them. You also have to determine your organization’s intangible value or your brand value. This is your earning power compared to your regular rate of return.
Other factors can go into brand value as well, including:
- Which events you participate in
- Offer uniqueness
- Direct sales opportunities
- Activation opportunities
- Audience loyalty and size
You have to be honest here, as fluffing and fudging numbers will get you found out eventually. You’ll burn the bridge between you and the sponsor and possibly even turn other sponsors away from working with you as well.
Next comes arguably one of the most important stages of securing your festival sponsorship: digging deep into your audience. Your audience could be one of your key assets, as they’re something your sponsor wants. If you don’t know your audience inside and out, you want to fix that ASAP.
Understanding who comprises your audience and what makes them tick will benefit you and your sponsor, so it’s time to get to work. In that regard, a sponsorship survey is one of your best tools. You can issue this survey to your audience after you communicate with your sponsor and ask what kind of audience data they want, or you can just do it right off the bat so you’re ahead of the game.
First, you want to start with the basics in your sponsorship survey, such as demographics and geographics. These include each audience member’s:
- Career industry
- Level of education
- Children and their ages
- Pre-tax income
Once you get that information, you can delve into the finer details, such as an audience member’s brand loyalty and preferences. Which brands do they shop from? How much money do they spend when they shop? How long does it take them to make a purchasing decision? What influences that purchasing decision? How does a company successfully keep this audience member on the hook so they make a repeat purchase?
You also want to learn about your audience members’ individual interests and motivations. If they’ve attended an event of yours in the past, you might ask about other events they went to and why. You can also ask them what about your event they enjoyed and what could be better as well as their favorite part of other events they attended.
With your survey questions ready to go, it’s time to issue your sponsor survey. You can let people know of the survey via social media, email newsletter, or even a mailed brochure if that’s within your budget.
All the normal marketing rules apply if sending the survey digitally. You want an email headline that grabs their attention. Use personalization in the headline and the body of the email to connect with your audience. Also, rely on benefits-driven language to incentivize the reader to take 10 minutes out of their day to complete the survey.
Once you have your survey results in, you can use the data to create audience segments. These segments will share several commonalities, so you might decide to create avatars or personas for each segment.
Sponsorship Proposals for Festivals
The time has come to draw up your proposal. This is where you want to take all the hard work you’ve done making assets, valuing them, and learning about your audience and put it in writing to hopefully lure in your sponsor.
Based on the information from your valuation, you can slap a price tag on your sponsorship package. This is how much money your sponsor might offer you, give or take. If you think you’re being undersold, having an accurately valued sponsorship package gives you the freedom to approach another sponsor who might offer you more of what you need.
With your sponsorship package ready, you need to determine who to reach out to at the sponsorship company. This is critical, yet a major mistake that organizations make when trying to secure sponsorship is sending an email to anyone at the company.
You want to focus your efforts on the sponsorship company’s communications, business development, sponsorship, marketing, and/or branding departments. Ask around among your staff and other partners to see if they know anyone in the sponsorship company. If so, then you have an in.
Otherwise, cold-calling or emailing a sponsorship company is a crapshoot. It can go well, but it can just as easily not net you a response.
If you’re wracking your brain over what to say, fret not. You can check out all the templates you need here to figure out how to write a sponsorship letter for an event like a festival, be that a sports festival or something else.
Now, just to make things clear, you’re not attaching your sponsorship package with your letter. You don’t even want to talk financial figures right yet. All you’re doing is asking for a meeting. This initial meeting is still not when you’ll want to bring all your sponsorship papers with you. It’s simply an introductory meeting to get to know each other.
If that goes well, then you can pitch your sponsorship proposal with your package. You’ll have a much more receptive audience at this point.
Your sponsorship package is in the hands of your potential sponsor. If they didn’t make an immediate decision when you pitched to them, then you have to wait for them to get back to you. There’s not much you can do while the ball is in their court except stay patient.
When you hear back, hopefully it’s with a resounding yes, that the sponsor wants to work with you. If so, then you two will partner together to make your festival a success.
If your sponsor’s funding allowed your event to exceed all your expectations, then you’ll likely want to work with them again. You might even turn your festival into a yearly thing, and you’d love their sponsorship next year.
After the event wraps up and the dust settles, you can send a thank-you letter masked as an invitation for further business. This is your fulfillment report.
The fulfillment report is an opportunity for you to reiterate what you gave your sponsors and what you can give again. You should also talk about what the sponsors paid for your benefits, and how you delivered everything promised and then some.
Make sure the fulfillment report goes out a week after the event. This can get the ball rolling for a future partnership.
Sponsorship Activation Ideas for Festivals
Sponsorship activation has come up several times in this guide. To wrap up, we thought we’d present a handful of awesome activation ideas you can use for this festival and any others going forward.
These activation ideas all have a unique spin that should drive up your value and land you the kind of sponsorship opportunities you’re looking for. Feel free to tweak any of the ideas further if you want!
A Creative Contest
Contests and giveaways are a dime a dozen at festivals. Rather than tire your audience with the same old, same old, try doing something different with your next contest. For example, give people something interesting but unappealing, like an ugly statue. Make sure that all attendees are auto-enrolled, as some people might feel reluctant signing up for a contest of this nature themselves.
One area you might not think to brand is the bathrooms, but why not? People will spend a decent amount of time in there, so if you can think of a fun slogan or promotional scheme that’s potty-based, go with it. Of course, make sure it’s not too crass.
Phone Charging Station
At a festival especially, where you can’t just plug your phone in anywhere, your attendees will certainly appreciate having a place to stop and recharge their phones. If you can’t secure a charging station, then giving away branded portable chargers is the next best thing. Every attendee will want one!
Yes, you read that right. By printing your name and/or the name of your sponsor company on foods or branding the beverage cups, you can ensure your brand is at the forefront of everyone’s mind during the whole festival.
Selling Festival Sponsorship
Once you’ve compiled your audience data, you’ll see how much it can do for you rather quickly, as next, you’re going to prospect for sponsors.
So what does prospecting have to do with your audience? Everything.
I know that in a festival setting, it’s tempting to go for the huge brand names that will draw instant recognition from your attendees, but that can’t be your only criterion for selecting your prospects.
You want your audience to have more than recognition of a sponsor but interest in engaging with that sponsor.
Your audience data will help you do that.
In this post on sponsorship prospecting, I recommended breaking up your prospects into four circles or groups.
Group One should include the companies and brands that your audience mentioned using, consuming, engaging with, or otherwise spending money on in your survey.
Of all the prospects on your list, the ones in Group One will be the warmest.
Your audience already uses and loves these brands. They’ll be happy to check out the brand’s booth at the festival to support them.
For your festival attendees who don’t know the brand, they should be interested enough based on what you know through your audience data to still engage with the sponsor.
Group Two includes all the brands that advertise and market to your audience.
If you quiz your attendees in your audience survey about the brands that have advertised to them within the last year, you’ll have this information to use for prospecting.
Although the prospects in Group Two aren’t as warm as the ones in Group One, they’re anything but lukewarm.
Group Three includes all the brands and companies that should be interested in your attendees based on the prospects list you’ve built so far. These brands might not have any definitive history with your attendees yet, but your festival could be what changes that.
Due to the nature of these prospects, they’re cooler still than the prospects in Group Two.
Finally, that brings us to the last group of prospects, which is the competitors of all the prospects in Groups One through Three.
As you can probably guess, you’re going to end up with a huge list by the time you’re done assessing the competitors of all these brands. You could even have over 100 prospects.
Festivals tend to need a lot of sponsors, so there’s nothing wrong with having more prospects than there are fewer.
Besides, you have to consider that a good chunk won’t respond, and others will be interested but tied up. Having a robust list of prospects ensures you can still get enough sponsors for your festival when those things happen.
Once you’ve got some prospects you want to connect with, it’s time to enter the email outreach phase.
How do you obtain the email addresses of your prospects? You have plenty of options for that.
You can use LinkedIn, ask your festival staff if they have any relevant contact information, or reach out to your other contacts and see if they can help.
When you send an email, the point is not to waste time. You’re trying to set up a discovery session, which is an introductory meeting between you and the prospect where you learn about their needs and challenges.
I’ll talk more about discovery shortly.
There are some dos and don’ts when it comes to email outreach, so let’s go over them.
- Always personalize emails by using the name of the contact, never addressing your emails “to whom it may concern.”
- Don’t skip the subject line. I know that subject lines are hard to come up with, especially when cold emailing, but leaving the subject line blank increases the chances that your email goes straight into the spam filter.
- Keep the email short. It should only take you a few paragraphs to get your point across.
- Introduce yourself before you ask for a meeting. Keep it to a paragraph. Explain that you’re organizing a festival and you’re seeking sponsors, then ask if you can set up a meeting with your prospect.
- Propose a date and time for the discovery session. If your prospect can’t make that time work, they can always suggest another one.
- Don’t attach photos, and especially don’t include your sponsorship proposal. It’s simply too soon.
- Email prospects one at a time. Now is not the time to mass-email everyone you know. That never ends well.
Even if you do everything right, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from the prospect after your initial email, especially if you’re cold emailing them.
It may take several follow-ups, in which case, you’ll enter an email cadence.
Here’s my recommended cadence. Send the first email, then a follow-up email on the second day. On the third day, email again.
If you still haven’t heard anything, then switch to a phone call on the fourth day, an email on the fifth day, an email on the sixth day, and a phone call on the seventh day.
Each email should be a little different from the last one, but you’re still trying to achieve the same objective, which is landing a discovery meeting.
However, if after a week’s worth of consistent outreach, you’ve gotten no response, it’s time to move on to your next prospect.
You’ve got a festival to put on and you don’t have all the time in the world to wait for one prospect!
My hope for you is that you do hear back from your prospect at some point during your outreach cadence.
Whether they reply to your email or answer your phone call, remember, you want to set up a discovery meeting with them.
The meeting can take place over the phone (at a different time than when you’re talking now), on Skype, Zoom, or whatever video messaging platform you prefer. It can even be an in-person meeting depending on what works for everyone’s schedules.
The point of the discovery meeting, as I touched on before, is to get to know your prospect and their unique challenges and shortcomings. Without this information, you have no way of gauging whether you two are a fit.
That’s also why I suggested holding off on your sponsorship proposal. You can’t write the proposal before you have the discovery session.
If you do, and especially if you send it so early, then you’re broadcasting loud and clear that nothing in your proposal is customized to the sponsor’s needs.
How do you get your prospect to open up about the company’s shortcomings? You need to ask the right kinds of questions.
Fortunately, I’ve compiled a go-to list that includes more than 35 awesome questions to ask prospects during the discovery session.
The questions run the gamut from business goals to audience, ROI, and other success measures.
I don’t recommend you ask all 37 questions, of course! Instead, you only want to ask 10 questions tops.
Cherry-pick the ones that are most relevant based on what you know about your prospect and then casually insert the questions into your conversation.
Don’t ask them back to back to back either. This isn’t supposed to be an interrogation but a casual conversation.
Also, please don’t feel like you have to ask those questions verbatim! You’re free to change them up as you see fit or ask different questions altogether. It’s your discovery session, after all.
You want your festival to be a smashing success, which is why you need sponsorship to make it happen. This guide has shown you that while it’s not necessarily quick and easy to get a sponsor for your events, if you can build a long-term relationship, all the hard work is worth it. Best of luck!
Festival Sponsorship FAQs
What Kind of Sponsors Should You Target?
Try to choose brands that align with your festival’s values, theme, and target audience. Consider brands that are actively looking for brand awareness, lead generation, or community engagement opportunities.
How Do You Find Potential Sponsors?
There are several different ways to find potential sponsors, including networking with local businesses, attending industry events, and leveraging online platforms like LinkedIn.
How Do You Manage Relationships with Sponsors?
When managing relationships with sponsors, it’s important to communicate effectively before, during, and after the festival. It’s essential to provide regular updates, reports, and opportunities for engagement.
- About the Author
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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.
Read More about Chris Baylis