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The Festival Sponsorship Trap: Are You Guilty of These Mistakes? 

by | February 13, 2024

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Before you dive in, if you are interested in festival sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for festivals” series:


In this post, I talked about seven festival sponsorship mistakes festival organizers and owners are often guilty of. Then, I went ahead and compiled a list of five more mistakes common in festival sponsorship. 

And well, wouldn’t you know it? I want to dip into this well one more time and explore seven more mistakes sponsorship seekers often make. What are they?

Here are more common festival sponsorship mistakes:

  • Not going for the decision-maker
  • Bypassing smaller sponsors 
  • Spamming proposals
  • Not knowing when to take no for an answer
  • Erasing refusals from your list
  • Not asking for the sponsor’s help on activations
  • Not communicating clearly

These errors might sound like the end of your sponsorship deal as you know it. While some can kill blossoming arrangements, most are easily avoidable or amended so you can get your festival sponsorship path on the straight and narrow and skyrocket toward success.

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Not Going for the Decision-Maker

Many beginner sponsorship seekers make the mistake of assuming that talking to anyone in the sponsorship division is fine. It’s especially easy to make this mistake as a festival organizer far removed from everyday corporate structure.

Let me explain how it works. When I refer to a “sponsor,” I rarely mean an individual. I’m talking about a company or corporation, but even that’s not wholly accurate. 

A sponsor is a part of a company, usually a division or branch. It’s staffed with people whose sole job is to plan and execute sponsorships on the company’s behalf.

Talking to anyone but those in the sponsorship division at your target company wastes your time and whomever you’re chatting with. It’s fine to call the front desk and be redirected, but it’s best to know the extension or email address of the party you’re trying to reach. 

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As often as you can, connect with the decision-maker in the sponsorship division. They’re the ones who pull the trigger and are capable of making sponsorship decisions. 

Why do I recommend making a beeline for the decision-maker? It’s simple. 

Your festival has a deadline. Hopefully, it’s not rapidly approaching, but it is approaching, nevertheless. 

Everyone you speak to within a company has someone over them, unless we’re talking about CEO levels here. However, everyone else has a boss or manager who makes the calls.

That usually goes for sponsorship divisions, so even the decision-maker within the division still must clear it with their boss or manager, who might have to clear it with their boss or manager.

Can you imagine how much time that takes? I’ll tell you. It’s weeks and sometimes months.

Do you have that kind of time? Probably not, and even if you did, that’s just an estimate. It could take longer. You never know.

Go for the decision-maker. Target them specifically so you can get the answers (and funds and/or promotions) you need faster.  

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Bypassing Smaller Sponsors in Favor of the Bigger Ones

One of the most classic sponsorship sins by far is this one. Skipping smaller sponsors is not a festival-exclusive issue; not even close. 

It’s easy to imagine how great it would be if a big brand had naming rights for your festival. It would surely put you on the map this year. 

I can’t deny that large sponsors are appealing. They’re appealing to you, to me, to your competition, and to every sponsorship seeker on the block. 

I hope you get my gist here. The bigger the brand, the more inundated they are with sponsorship requests. 

Smaller sponsors are not necessarily lower-hanging fruit. They have the same high standards as any large sponsor. They just lack the manpower. 

I don’t recommend eschewing large sponsors exclusively in favor of smaller ones, nor do I recommend ignoring smaller ones and only chasing large sponsors. The former can make your festival too niche, while the latter can result in radio silence, especially for beginners who are not yet sponsorship experts.

Instead, you need a mix. Four or five mid-sized or large sponsors (or maybe fewer) will help you meet most of your festival’s budgetary goals. You can then fill in the rest of your festival needs with smaller sponsors. 

Your festival will have some sponsor-derived name recognition, but you’ll have enough smaller sponsors that your list of partners won’t look empty. 

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Spamming Sponsorship Proposals

Have you ever received an unsolicited phone call or email? Or, worse yet, an unsolicited businessperson turning up on your door in the middle of the day?

I’m sure you have; we all have. It doesn’t feel good, right? Maybe you’d consider their offer if it were a better time, but when you feel bombarded, you’re defensive and disinterested.

Now you know what it’s like to be a sponsor who receives your proposal unsolicited. 

I get that you’re a busy festival promoter trying to pull an event together in a few months or weeks. You can’t skip segmentation and mass-email every prospect with your proposal. It won’t end well.

You also can’t keep sending it if you don’t hear back. 

Spamming is an email no-no. You will get sent to a spam filter, reported, or blocked. The more times you send your message, the lower the likelihood of a response. 

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Not Knowing When to Take No for an Answer

Instead of spamming your sponsorship prospects, here’s what I recommend you do. Find the contact information for the decision-maker and reach out to them directly. Alternatively, you can connect with a contact you already have or someone within your festival-organizing team has.

Reach out to set up the discovery session, not to send your proposal.

Do you always hear back right away? No. That’s why I suggest using an outreach cadence

If you send an email on the first day but get no response, email again on the second day, then again on the third day if you haven’t heard anything yet.

If three days have passed and still no word, call the prospect on the fourth day, then send an email on the fifth day. Send another email on the sixth day and call on the seventh day.

You can repeat this cadence with each contact within the sponsor company until someone gets back to you. 

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What if seven days pass, but you don’t hear a word? While you could always repeat the outreach cadence for a second week, I caution you to think long and hard about whether it’s worth it. 

That cadence ensures you’re reaching out consistently without spamming. You make two phone calls and send five emails. You can be sure your contact received something.

Unless they were very ill or on a long vacation, there is no reason for them not to get back to you within a week if they’re interested. It takes two seconds to respond to an email agreeing to a date and time for a meeting. If they wanted to, they would.

This goes back to the time-sensitive nature of your festival. The clock is ticking, and for each day you waste reaching out to a sponsor who has no intention of getting back to you, that’s wasted time you cannot recover. 

You could have used that time reaching out to other prospects or deepening your list of potential partners. Instead, you pestered a sponsor and have nothing to show for it.

Give each contact one week, and if you don’t hear anything, move on. You can always double back to prospects if you want to and give it another week of outreach, but exhaust your other options first. 

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Erasing Refusals From Your List

I know this next pointer sounds strange in the context of what I just talked about, so allow me to explain.

Those who tell you they can’t accommodate you right now because they lack the availability or budget are different than those who say no through their silence. 

One is ghosting you because they want to avoid confrontation, so it’s easier to say nothing. The other can’t help you and has no problem saying so.

Their refusal isn’t a no forever. It’s a no for this quarter or this year. 

Your festival happens every year, perhaps even several times per year. Writing off those sponsors entirely because they said “not right now” is a mistake. 

Unless they tell you they don’t offer sponsorships, the door is always open for next year. I recommend approaching them early, such as the end of the fiscal year when most companies are eagerly planning for the year ahead or very early into the first quarter of the next year.

The sponsor should have the time and budget to accommodate you. And if they don’t? Then you can erase them from your list or add them to the list of refusals. In the meantime, keep them on the “come back to this later” list. 

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Not Asking for the Sponsor’s Help on Activations

Are activations the sole responsibility of the sponsorship seeker? No!

I recommend brainstorming several ideas to discuss with your prospect that showcase your knowledge of their needs and challenges. You can even move forward with some of those ideas if both parties agree it’s fruitful.

As you get closer to execution, you should have no qualms about asking your sponsor for their recommendations or thoughts on the activation. Trust me, sponsors want to help. They’re glad to.

They appreciate being consulted and involved with the festival planning. They’re not going to ask you to do it, as they don’t want to encroach, but bringing them into the fold–so to speak–fosters a stronger working relationship.

Much more importantly, it helps you create more winning activations. You know your audience best, and the sponsor has a deep, innate knowledge of their challenges. When you combine that information, you can create amazing things together. 

Festival Sponsorship Mistake – Not Communicating Clearly/Often

That’s a great segue into the final festival sponsorship mistake to avoid: communication breakdowns. 

This is another of those errors that can affect all types of sponsorship seekers, but I see it a lot in event sponsorship like festivals. You get so busy with planning your festival that once you can check off having achieved finding a sponsor, you’re on to the next item on your list. 

Before you know it, weeks have passed (or longer), and you haven’t spoken to your sponsor in all this time.

Now, granted, communication is a two-way street. Your sponsor can call or email you anytime, just as you can do the same with them. If that’s not happening on either side, you can only account for what you’re doing (or, in this case, not doing). 

It doesn’t hurt to get in touch with your sponsor to clear the air about any potential communication errors. For instance, perhaps you didn’t make it clear that they can call you, or you didn’t establish a communication timeframe.

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How often should you expect to be in touch with your sponsor? It varies. You should also anticipate that the frequency will change as your festival gets closer. 

You might chat once a week with months to go until your festival. Then, within several months, you’ll begin communicating maybe twice a week, and in the weeks and days leading up to your festival, you might talk daily or close to it, ping-ponging emails or trading phone calls several times a day.

By the way, the communication method doesn’t matter. You could send smoke signals back and forth if you’re sufficiently communicating. Call if that’s how you two chat the most or send emails. You can even direct message or FaceTime. 

Evading Festival Sponsorship Traps 

That’s about all the festival sponsorship mistakes you can make between these three posts. I hope you’re now readily equipped to identify these traps and veer safely away from them to keep your sponsorship plans moving swiftly toward the goal line!