I don’t have a crystal ball (bummer about that), and technology moves so fast that it’s tough to say with full certainty what will shake out.
However, my many years in the sponsorship industry and studying trends and insights to help my clients (and fellow readers and YouTube viewers), I have a unique advantage.
Here is what I believe the future of seeking and interacting with sponsors in the early stages will look like, including how the discovery sessions of the future will transpire.
8 Directions the Future of Sponsorship Prospecting Could Take
More Companies Will Seek Sponsorships
Here is one certainty: sponsorship is healthier than ever.
According to data from Statista, sponsorship spending in the United States was projected to reach $180.8 million in 2023. The compound annual growth rate or CAGR between 2023 and 2027 is 5.03 percent.
The market value is expected to reach $220 million by 2027, only a few short years from now.
In my native Canada, Statista reported that the rate of sponsorship spending will hit $11.9 billion USD in 2023, with a CAGR from 2023 to 2027 of 8.51 percent. That’s even higher than the projections for the US!
It’s not only North America that has caught on. Europe, Asia Pacific, Central and South America, and other countries are spending increasingly more on sponsorships every year.
Companies realize that sponsorships carry a high value for them. They can increase their audience, sell more products or services, strengthen their brand reach, grow their email list or social media presence, and overall thrive.
It’s no wonder the spending projections are getting higher and higher with every year. I have no doubt that 2024 will continue to be a banner year for sponsorship, then the year after that, and so on.
You Must Choose Your Communication Method Wisely
We live in an omnichannel age, meaning we have more communication channels than ever at our fingertips.
This is ultimately a good thing, especially when it comes to outreach. You don’t only have to send an email or pick up the phone.
You could send a DM on social media, use a messaging platform like Skype or WhatsApp, or even communicate via workplace management tools like Slack or Asana.
However, omnichannel communications can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Have you ever heard of analysis paralysis? With so many options available, you might struggle to choose or second-guess your decision.
In sponsorship, there is action and motion. Both can seem like forward progress, but ultimately, only one pushes you toward your goal, and that’s action. Motion is spinning your wheels, agonizing over decisions, and tooling and retooling documents and proposals, even draft emails.
Omnichannel options can leave you in that motion state rather than help you take action.
So, what do I recommend? Just because you have so many options doesn’t necessarily mean you must use them. You should meet your sponsorship prospect on their level, communicating with them using the platforms they prefer.
Not only is this the courteous thing to do, but it makes it likelier the sponsor will even see your message. If they’re barely active on TikTok, doesn’t it make more sense to message them on Twitter when they post 10 times per day?
More omnichannel options will come down the pike in the years to come. We’ll have hit social media channels, workplace management platforms, and the works. Choose your avenues wisely.
Phone Calls Will Still Be Part of Outreach
However, with as many options as we already have and will continue to, you can’t completely eliminate phone calls from your repertoire.
I know that most of us detest talking on the phone. It’s even viewed as rude in social circles, but not professionally. It’s perceived as an annoyance but a necessary part of the job.
You might initially contact a sponsor to set up a discovery session by phone or use phone calls as part of your longer-term outreach cadence if you don’t hear back after sending an initial email.
And yes, you should always have an outreach cadence up your sleeve to continue following up, as sponsors sometimes need a nudge. At the very least, after a week of reaching out and getting no response, you know what you’re dealing with.
So, what do I recommend to make picking up the phone and chatting with a sponsor less awkward? I’m glad you asked!
For one, try to avoid cold calling if you can. If you comb through your contacts list, you should have someone you know who could connect you with a contact at the company’s sponsorship division, or at least a contact within the company, period.
If not you directly, I bet someone you work with (or for) or team with in a vendor or partner capacity has the deets.
Calling a personal work line instead of the main office number ensures you can connect directly to the party you seek. When you get ensnared in main desk shenanigans, you can end up playing phone tag indefinitely with your intended party.
Social Assets Will Become More Important
You can’t ignore social media as you plan your long-term sponsorship strategy. It’s been everywhere for over a decade now and only continues to grow more pervasive.
According to digital marketing resource Smart Insights, TikTok will increase its user base to 900 million engaged viewers and uploaders in 2024, while Instagram will grow its audience in 2024 to 1.4 billion, a projected 50 million increase.
As for the heavy hitters like Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s platform is poised to achieve 246.3 million users in the United States alone, says Statista.
Companies that have yet to build their stock in social media are scrambling to do so, as it’s been continually proven as a reliable way to attract new leads, engage with customers, maintain your reputation, check your social media stock by managing brand mentions, advertise to targeted networks, and strengthen a brand.
You don’t need to exclusively work on digital assets and activations, but they should be heavily on your radar. The intangible is just as important in our increasingly digital lifestyle as the tangible, if not more so.
However, your assets and activations should always be catered toward your sponsor’s needs. It makes no sense to offer a sponsor social media assets if their social presence outpaces yours or if they already have a very healthy social presence.
Old-School Approaches Will Stand Out
Here’s the thing about that digital age we’re so firmly thrust into the middle of. Everything has become so digitized that the moment you step away from that approach, it stands out.
Some call it old school, others vintage. Whatever the term you prefer, if appropriate, you might drive up engagement by using your ace in the hole.
For example, rather than email a survey to your customers to generate audience data, you might mail them a physical card to fill out.
Granted, you need the leisure of time to make this happen, but it could be a great way to drive up engagement and responses, as your audience won’t expect it.
Instant Answers May Become More Likely
The worst part about sponsorship is the waiting. You’ve got to wait and hope the prospect responds to your email, phone call, or message. Then, you’ve got to wait to reach a point of negotiation, and even then, you have to wait for the prospect to check in with their boss or manager.
The cool thing about technology is that it expedites these processes. Answers to your sponsorship queries could come even faster in the future.
One of the ways this is facilitated is through AI. Rather than manually comb through your proposal contents, AI algorithms can review data within the materials and make instant decisions based on criteria the company selects.
It’s not always accurate, of course, but AI becomes smarter every day (and scarily so, I might add), so this could be the future.
Getting instant answers about your sponsorship proposal will ensure you don’t waste time.
If you host an event or festival, every second counts as you plan your event. The less time you spend on prospects who aren’t interested in working together, the sooner you can move on to the next sponsorship prospect.
Your Reach, Influence, and Engagement Will Matter
As you strive to build up a sponsor’s digital presence, don’t forget about your own. While it certainly will vary, many companies seek to work with influencers or those who can inspire mass numbers of people toward the sponsor’s products and services.
The more social media engagement, influence, and reach you have, the better you’ll look to these social-media-savvy prospective sponsors.
Even sponsors that aren’t as obsessed with social media engagement should appreciate a healthy reach on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more.
Why is that? It’s simple! It proves you can connect with your audience efficiently, which a sponsor wants.
They don’t want to pay you tens of thousands of dollars to discover you can’t deliver on the most valuable asset of all: audience. Looking at your social media platforms is like a preview for the sponsor.
If you have 10,000 followers on Facebook and 1.2 million on Twitter, this often looks appealing to a sponsor. They know that many people can’t reasonably attend your events but that if even a fraction go, that’s a bigger audience the sponsor can potentially convert.
Here are some tips for building your social media presence as a business, organization, or nonprofit.
- Post often: There is no one particular number of posts per week that is right for any business, organization, or nonprofit. However, you should post at least daily or every other day to remind your audience you exist. The internet has so much competing for our attention that whatever is out of sight becomes out of mind. That said, don’t post so often you annoy your audience with content bombardments.
- Cross-promote: The content you post on social media can be linked back to your blog or website (such as on a news page) or even mentioned in an email newsletter. Cross-promoting your social feed will attract more attention, followers, and engagement.
- Prioritize valuable content: What kind of content should go on your social media feed? Valuable content above all else. The definition of valuable content varies by audience but includes posts that educate, entertain, or inform your audience.
- Share resources: You don’t exclusively have to share your own content on your social media feeds. Reposting trustworthy third-party content like infographics, studies, and industry trends is considered valuable, and even if it doesn’t come from you directly.
- Host a contest or giveaway: A surefire way to draw attention to your page is through a giveaway or contest. Make the contest easy to enter, such as requiring a social media follow and a comment. The prize should motivate people to enter.
- Use an ad campaign: Paying for a social media ad campaign should be in the plans (and the budget). You can target social media ads to reach specific groups so you can increase your social media following and, later, event attendance.
Digital Measures Can’t Disguise Misguided or Lazy Sponsorship
My last point is this, and I don’t mean for it to come across harshly, but it has to be said. As many digital treasures are in your toolbox, you can’t use them to distract the sponsor from a lack of audience data or understanding your value.
Digital trends haven’t pushed us to the point where they will take care of most of your sponsorship process for you, sorry. They can help, but you must still be willing to put the time and hard work in.
Technology moves at such a rapid-fire rate that no one can positively say how it will affect sponsorship processes like seeking and initially engaging with sponsors, even if I have some ideas.
No matter what comes down the pike, ultimately, it will not change the foundation of sponsorship.
That must still be rock-solid to obtain and maintain sponsors. You need niche audience data, an accurate valuation, a discovery session, tailored assets and activations, and negotiation skills. You must also deliver what you promise and put together a fulfillment report to detail all you did.
Technology will always help but never replace these processes. Rather than seek shortcuts, focus on what you can do to achieve your sponsorship goals.
- 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.
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