The Complete Guide to Sponsorship Strategy
Sponsorship is a two-sided opportunity, bringing sponsorship “properties” and sponsor brands together to create meaningful experiences for their shared audience. When done properly the sponsorship property gains the funds needed to develop truly evocative events from community charity runs to major international conferences. The sponsors, in turn, get up close and personal with the most significant segments of their target audience. Sponsorships are boundless in their capacity to reach audiences that is what makes them so valuable.
Sponsorships are limited only by the budgets of the sponsors and the capabilities of the property to deliver an evolving selection of both traditional and experiential marketing opportunities. However, because sponsorships are so apparently “flexible” it is not uncommon for properties to stray from a solid plan leading them headfirst into a disastrous attempt to obtain sponsors.
Although the mix of assets and available opportunities might change, your goals are always the same. You want to find sponsors who are the most likely to engage your audience. The only way to make this happen effectively is to have a sponsorship strategy.
What is a Sponsorship Strategy?
Sponsorship is the act of providing funding to a particular entity or event in exchange for opportunities to reach a very specialized audience. Sponsorship involves the property that is running the event or providing the opportunity and the sponsors who pay to participate via a long list of marketing “assets.”
What are Assets?
Assets are basically marketing tactics that can include:
- Branded content
- Content marketing
- Digital marketing
- Direct mail
- Employee engagement
- Exhibit space
- Experiential marketing
- Lead capturing
- Logo placement
- Media exposure
- Product placement
- Public relations
- Social media
- Speaking opportunities
- Thought leadership
Each asset becomes part of the packages you choose to offer sponsors and once sold each asset then has to be “activated” successfully. Activation is applying the asset to the event and ensuring it is executed perfectly. Your ideal scenario is to ensure every asset offered aligns with each sponsor’s goal behind their decision to participate in an event.
What are Sponsorship Goals?
Wait, hold on. It isn’t always about sales? Nope, it isn’t. That’s the beauty of sponsorships. They are designed to cater to the varying needs of sponsors. Sponsors choose the properties that offer them the best opportunity to connect with their audience using the assets available to meet their goals. So, a sponsor can consider their needs and how they would like to engage their audience to achieve or improve:
- Brand awareness
- Lead generation
- Out and out sales
- Thought leadership potential
- Social media presence
- Improved social responsibility perception
- Product launches
Of course, each sponsor will have its own purpose and choose the assets that work for them. Therefore, an important element of sponsorship success is for properties to understand the needs of their sponsors. This is why following our sponsorship strategy guidelines is so important.
Laying the Foundation to Build a Sponsorship Strategy Template
There are several steps in the sponsorship process. Your strategy has to address each step properly in order to be successful. It takes a strong foundation to support what you are selling; therefore, sponsorship needs to have a product to sell. It is not enough to simply say, “I am having an event, give me your money.” Instead, you have to provide a tangible inventory that lists a solid variety of assets sponsors will want to buy. Sponsors are looking for the right audience and value based on proof you can help them connect with their audience effectively. Your sponsorship foundation requires:
A Defined Property
A property refers to the assets you can offer to sponsors based on the audience you share. It allows you to meet common goals and can include the following:
- An event such as a gala, a marathon, a conference, a concert, a competition, etc.
- Naming rights allowing sponsors to purchase the rights to see their name affixed to either an actual physical building such as a stadium, library or theater; a section of a university, hospital wing, etc. or an actual event.
- Programs can be a standalone program such as a scholarship or research program, or programs that are bought as part of another property such as awards for an event, seminar programs for a conference, or training programs at a marathon.
In theory, you can offer just about anything as a sponsorship property based on your events, your communications, your physical spaces and your stakeholders. With some thought, you can create a number of opportunities that can be packaged to attract sponsors who see new ways to get in front of your audience.
The best way to build your inventory is to list as many assets as possible. This first phase allows you to just shoot out ideas, get them on paper (or a whiteboard) so you can study them and decide what makes sense for your property(s). You might get some additional jumping-off points to develop your inventory or decide to cross some ideas off the list. It’s a process that takes time, but it can be a little easier going if you use basic categories:
- Naming rights of physical spaces
- Naming rights of programs
- Product giveaways and samples
- Exhibiting opportunities
- Speaking opportunities
- Social media
- Newsletters and mailings
- Pass through benefits
- Use of venue
- Paid media
- Traditional media
- Employee benefits
Your list should be long covering both typical advertising opportunities as well as less tangible assets that will make the biggest impact on your audience. What you’ll want under each category is a list of things specific to your event and the opportunities you can offer. So for example, with naming rights of physical spaces you would want to do a walkthrough of your venue to look for the highest traffic areas for prime sponsorship ops, unexpected spots you can post logos, and then just the basic areas you can place logos.
Next, look for some intriguing ideas that will raise eyebrows and inspire visions of success such as:
- Product endorsement
- Cause marketing
- Thought leadership ops
- Category exclusivity
- Meeting celebrities and industry influencers
- The power of your own brand, not to mention other influential high-profile sponsors associated with your event
- Unusual experiential marketing opportunities
This is a step that takes time and is never right with your first stab. Keep at it with a focus not on the prospects you have in mind but more so on your audience. If it will resonate with them, it will resonate with your sponsors (hopefully, if not you might not be targeting the right prospects!). In the long run, your main goal should be shared with your sponsors: Meet the needs of your audience. Which brings us to the next step, audience identification.
So, your audience is your biggest selling point. This is really what prospects are looking to buy. Your audience is what helps you weed out random sponsors desperate to get in front of anyone. Instead, you can find sponsors that align with your brand and your other sponsors. You need high-quality sponsors that make sense to your audience. They are problem solvers, entertainers, and informers. Your sponsors need ways to reach a specific target market and your job is to define that market, so they see value in the experience you are offering. When you offer a clearly defined audience, complete with segments, you can show prospects exactly what you are selling.
Data on your audience is the true grit of what you offer sponsors. Therefore, you have to develop a data collection process that allows you to get as much detail on your audience as possible. This is what sponsors long to see, and this is what you will show them:
- The things that motivate your audience to participate with your organization
- Why they chose your event
- Their favorite parts of participating with your organization
- The things about participating they would improve and how you improved it
- The reasons they might participate again
- The reasons they wouldn’t participate again and how you are overcoming this
- The types of programs they have attended in the last 12 months
- The problems they need to resolve
- The preferred way they wish to interact with brands i.e. social media, online chats, newsletters, emails, etc.
Your data goes beyond baseline demographics. It is deep and insightful which makes it easier to list assets and explain why they will work for your sponsors. Detailed data allows you to create segments and niche markets that will attract prospects. Your packages can’t be created without an intimate understanding of your audience and their needs. This works in hand with understanding your prospects’ goals. When these two things align you make sponsorship magic.
How to Build Custom Activations
As mentioned in our explanation about what exactly sponsorship is, we briefly touched on sponsorship activation. Once you sell an asset, it is your responsibility to set it in motion. However, activations can vary greatly in what they offer and what they are designed to achieve. That means you might find it necessary, and rightfully so, to find ways to offer custom activations to better engage your audience and help your sponsors meet their goals. Custom activations are fun. They get your team’s minds focused on churning out new twists on tried and true marketing tactics, with a focus on experiential ideas. But it is not just your team, but your sponsor’s team as well. When you put your minds together, you can brainstorm and create unique experiences. You can address:
- Ideas based on the theme of your event
- What your audience might like to see
- Past promotions or activations you have done, or seen that were successful
- What’s appropriate for your venue or sports team
- Past things your sponsor has tried successfully, or that were failures
- Ways to ease pain points, resolve challenges, offer solutions, educate or entertain
A good brainstorming session will allow you to tap into creative experiential marketing tactics such as:
- The unexpected: Is there something you can build on a large scale to impact your audience? Some kind of iconic figure, celebrity, technology, character, visual, etc. that will surprise and delight? In other words, you want to go deeper than just a sign on the green at a golf tournament.
- Something immersive: What activities can you offer that are more interactive that will entertain and educate your audience? Video, AR, intriguing backgrounds or worlds to be explored?
- Leverage the latest technology: How can technology be used to enhance your audience experience? Can you use projection mapping to create optical illusions? Trigger video activations to surprise and engage people as they walk by certain booths or entranceways? Feature a massive digital display that allows people to post their experience at the event in real time to their own social media pages?
- Relevant “treatments”: Based on your event, can you treat your audience to free experiences such as tarot readings at new age events, free massages at wellness events, free training tips at fitness events, free makeovers at beauty events, free costume rentals at fan events, etc.
In other words, what can you offer sponsors to ensure attendee satisfaction?
You might be thinking that sponsorship fees could be a bit of a wildcard. Unfortunately, your prospects won’t see it that way. There is a way to assess the value of your assets to ensure you meet your revenue goals while being realistic about what you figure your prospects will view as reasonable.
Once you’ve defined your properties, listed your assets, and identified your audience you can start assigning value to your assets and packages. The easiest way to do this is to research like advertising options based on the audience exposure you expect to offer in hand with the asset itself. Some things will be easier to research such as:
- Ads in trade magazines that can be applied to logo placements
- Google AdWords for social media opportunities
- Pay per click fees based on similar audiences
- Local paper ads for like ads you will run in print for the event
- Digital ads
- Radio/TV ads
Valuation is based on the same things as other types of advertising such as how much exposure, views, readers, etc. each asset offers. Consider how much your target audience is worth by looking at things such as what your competitors are charging for their events. Do you offer the same quality of audience? Have you done research about your audience you can present to your prospects to prove their value? What do you offer that other events don’t that can make your assets more valuable?
What experiential assets will provide the most and least exposure at the event to create a sliding scale? Estimate how many attendees are expected (which is easier if you’ve held the event before of course) and how much exposure each asset will offer. Each price must be backed up with a list of benefits that help show its value for sponsors. If you can do this, you can sell your packages confidently.
Your packages should then target common sponsor goals such as Brand Awareness, Influencers, Sales and Lead Generation, Product Launches, etc.
Identifying the Market
Every sponsorship opportunity has a market. The best way to identify your market is to understand your audience. If you know what your audience wants, then you can create a list of very viable prospects that won’t look at you with confusion when you approach them.
Brainstorm Prospect Ideas
Ask yourself some simple questions:
- What brands resonate with your audience?
- What brands sponsor your competitors’ events?
- What companies do you currently partner with that might make sense such as vendors and suppliers?
- Who in your personal and professional networks might make a good prospect?
- Would they know anyone they could refer you to?
You can also expand your prospect list by considering brands that might align well with some of the prospects you are targeting. These are the prospects that might not be as obvious, but when looked at from the eyes of your audience might suddenly offer an opportunity.
Leverage your team for ideas, while also getting them thinking about their own contacts. Who do they know who could offer a referral or introduction? Look for your own networking opportunities such as upcoming events or related conferences. Are their industry associations you can join to find new contacts? These are good ways to generate some warm leads, instead of having to start off cold.
Find the Right Contact
Armed with your list of prospects, find the name of the person you should be reaching out to. The best place to start is LinkedIn where you can search via brand name and titles that include keywords like:
- Business Development
You can always add a line in your cold email that says apologies if I am reaching out to the wrong person, but if you could advise me who I should speak to it would be most appreciated.
Set Up a Sales Pipeline
Before you go off half caulked in sales mode, create a sales pipeline to keep you focused and organized. You don’t want to focus on revenue, but instead the volume you need to generate at each stage of the prospecting journey. Your pipeline should include:
- Cold prospects
- Cold calls
- Discovery meetings
- Sponsorship proposals
- Deals closed
You then need to determine your revenue goal and estimate how many sponsors you need to meet that goal. Use your revenue goal divided by your average package cost to get this number.
Set Pipeline Stage Goals
The hardest part of the sales process is facing up to the fact that your long list of prospects is going to shrink at each stage of the pipeline. If you set goals, you can concentrate on your progress and know when it’s time to feed more prospects into the cold prospect/call slots. In order to reach the number of sponsors needed you can track the number of:
- Cold calls you need to make each week
- Discovery sessions you need to schedule each week
- Proposals you’ll need to send out each week
When you track these numbers, you can keep the pipeline active until you meet your goals.
The Sales Process
You’re probably thinking, “Finally!” but there is a method to our madness. No one, and we mean no one, wants to receive a sponsorship proposal out of the blue. Therefore, you need to fine-tune the sales process and delay your urge to send out a proposal. That’s why we’ve created a very specific sales process to seal the deal with the right sponsors.
Your cold calls/emails are not focused on selling a package. Your goal is to qualify leads. The only way to do this effectively is to learn about their goals. Send an email explaining their LinkedIn profile looked like they would make a good resource for a project you are working on. Suggest a time to call or meet with them to pick their brains. You can then learn about their marketing and how you might fit in with their plans, so you can qualify them for a discovery meeting.
Discovery is the ultimate qualifying conversation. It is still not the time for a proposal but instead the time you ask questions to find out how you can help them meet their goals. Dig deep for problems they face that your event can solve. If they are intrigued and they are open to the idea of sponsorship, this sets the foundation for your customized proposal creation.
Your sponsorship proposal includes the following:
- Title Page/Letter with your logo, event name and tagline, without using the word sponsorship or proposal.
- Audience/Target Overview
- The opportunity you are offering and why it suits their needs.
- Menu of opportunities based on the goals they’ll help them achieve and the assets available under each opportunity.
- Sample activations to demonstrate how they can reach their goals with each activation directly tied to their specific pain points.
- Contact page with a clear call to action and an invitation to share their insights about the proposal, anything that is missing and things that they think will work.
Encourage them to carry on the conversation so you can get to the next level of selling the sponsorship. Prefer to send a sponsorship letter instead? Check out this post for a template.
Follow up Often
You now have a relationship so don’t be shy. Reach out often after giving them a few days to absorb the offer. Feel them out and look for opportunities to call them. Did you just bag a major sponsor that might impress them?
A celebrity or keynote speaker that will be a big attraction for their audience? A new opportunity to add to their package? All these things make it more natural to contact them and bring up the proposal. If you keep them interested and show you are sincere in wanting to help, you are more likely to seal the deal.
Measuring ROI and Fulfillment Reports
Following your event, you owe your sponsors a fulfillment report. This is proof your activations worked, and you were successful in delivering the results you promised. Consider the value you assigned to each asset and show ROI anyway possible. A big indicator will, of course, be the number of attendees/impressions for their brand, but this won’t be enough.
Your report provides:
- An at a glance chart showing each asset and its delivery
- Stats on event attendees
- Impressions or participation numbers for their activations including social media data, web traffic, and other engagement metrics
- Examples of what your team did to ensure success
- ROI calculation
- Images of their activations
When you provide proof, you are more likely to have renewals for your next event. Present the report in person, discuss successes, review failures and get their feedback for ways to improve next year. If you met their goals, you are good, however, if you helped them exceed their goals and see unexpected results you are golden. Over delivery equals renewals year after year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.