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The Ultimate Guide to Sponsorship Prospecting: How to Find the Perfect Sponsor for Your Event 

by | January 30, 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:


Prospecting is few sponsorship seeker’s favorite activities. Often, that’s because of a cloud of confusion surrounding the process, including what it entails and how to find sponsors willing to respond to an email or answer a phone call. 

I won’t say it’s easy, per se, as that would be misleading, but prospecting doesn’t have to be as insurmountable as many sponsorship seekers make it out to be. The key is using your audience as your guide. 

Unsure what I’m talking about? That’s fine, as you won’t be for long. Ahead, I’ll explain everything you need to know about event sponsorship prospecting in this handy ultimate guide. 

Identifying the Event Sponsor You Need

First things first – who is the right event sponsor for you?

You can’t start prospecting until you answer that question, not correctly, anyway. I don’t want you to waste valuable time you don’t have, as every day brings you one step closer to your event, whether you wasted the day or harnessed its full potential. 

This section is designed to help you identify the right and wrong types of event sponsors to pursue. 

Decision Criteria to Focus On

The right criteria to put your attention on is who your audience wants at your event. I recognize it’s not quite that simple, but your audience preferences are everything. 

Without your audience, you wouldn’t have an event. You’d have an empty hall or park with nobody milling about. You must keep their preferences top of mind as you decide who you will select for your event sponsorship opportunities. 

You should also consider the nature of your event. That doesn’t necessarily mean every sponsor might align with the theme or topic, but you want to keep it at the core of your decision-making.

For example, if you run a skiing event, it would be boring if every sponsor produced skiing equipment. Perhaps you work with a hot chocolate brand. 

It’s not directly related to your theme, but it does tie back into the topic because who doesn’t love a warm cup of cocoa after a day out on the slopes? 

Criteria That Influence Your Decision-Making Less

As for the criteria to pay less attention to, there’s plenty. For example, you don’t want to put too much stock into how much money a sponsor can give you. 

Your event sponsorship budget is best allocated among many sponsors rather than divvied up among one or two. The more variety you provide in your sponsorship activations and assets at your event, the more your audience benefits. 

You also shouldn’t necessarily chase the big fish. Every sponsorship seeker wants a Coca-Cola-level sponsor, but those companies receive so many sponsorship requests that merely tossing your hat in the ring isn’t going to get you a response. 

As you pull off more successful sponsored events, you’ll find more doors opening for you that can eventually lead to those big fish. 

Surveying Your Audience – The Key to Proper Prospecting

Now that you know where to focus your attention, it’s time to get to work. The first step of prospecting doesn’t involve your sponsors at all but is instead dependent on your audience. 

If I didn’t make the connection clear enough in the section before, let me shout it loud and clear now. Your audience determines the sponsors you work with for your event, so starting with them makes all the sense in the world. 

Surveying your audience is a must. A survey is a brief questionnaire asking your audience about their event preferences, geographics, demographics, opinions, and motivations. You especially want to know about their brand usages and interests. 

Put together your survey, then determine how you’ll distribute it. Physical mail and email are two of the most popular options. I’ve found that sending the email between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays produce the most responses, but that can vary somewhat depending on the preferences of your audience. 

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You shouldn’t bombard your event audience with news about the survey. I recommend three emails max. Announce the survey in the first email, distribute it in the second, and send a follow-up reminder several days after you send the survey. 

You can use more than email to remind your audience about the survey awaiting in their inboxes (or physical mailboxes). Rely on social media and your blog and website to drive up interest and participation. 

I also recommend giving your audience motivation to participate. Perhaps they can get access to early-bird tickets for this year’s event, a discount on merch, or even free parking. Choose a reward that gels with what your audience wants.

An audience survey can come in handy for so much during your sponsorship program, but for now, we’ll use it for prospecting. 

Finding Your Audience’s Favorites – Your Hottest Prospects Await

You won’t get a 100 percent participation rate in your survey, even if you incentivize your audience. That’s okay, though. If half your event participants got back to you, that’s excellent. If it’s just a quarter, you’re still okay.

After waiting about a month for any stragglers to send their surveys in, it’s time to tabulate the responses. For the sake of prospecting, focus on the brands your audience mentions using, consuming, wearing, etc.

A natural hierarchy will arise. Some brands will pop up tons, and a few others will be regularly listed on your responses. 

Create piles if dealing with paper responses and make a spreadsheet if tabulating email responses. Take note of each brand your audience mentions as their favorites and tally up the number of times the brand is mentioned.

Voila, your event sponsorship prospect list is taking shape.  

Let’s say you host a jewelry expo, and your audience mentions Rolex 30 times, Tiffany 20 times, and Catbird 15 times. Those three brands are your hottest prospects, and any others that get a healthy number of mentions.

I just threw some names and numbers out there as an example. Depending on the sample size and how many responses you received, you could have only a few responses for each brand or maybe even hundreds. 

Either way, when you organize it chronologically, you’ll see the prospects that should go on top of your list.

These prospects are the hottest. Your event might not have any connection to the brand as of now, but your audience does. You can be sure your audience would engage with assets and activations from Tiffany or Catbird because they already mention using and loving these brands.

More so, they might be willing to check out David Yurman or Missoma jewelry while they’re there. 

Broadening Your Event Prospects List

Is there such a thing as too many prospects? In my humble opinion, no, there isn’t. When you’re in the ideation stage, continue building on your list as much as you’re able. The more prospects you have, the better.

You will naturally narrow them down as we get to the next step. Others will take themselves out once they don’t respond to your emails or phone calls (for whatever reason, and you may never know what it is) or are unavailable.

That’s why you need as many prospects as possible. Each is a fallback if your prior option is unavailable. 

You have many avenues for expanding your event sponsorship prospects list, so let’s review them. 

Look at Your Competitors

First, review your competitors. Who throws events in your area or in the same niche or industry as you? Once you’ve curated a list, review the sponsors who have participated in their events for at least the past two or three years.

Could any of those brands be a good fit for your event? Perhaps brands like your competitor’s sponsor could go on your list. 

The point of this exercise isn’t to poach sponsors from your competitors. If your competitors are engaged in longer-term deals with those sponsors, you won’t be able to work with the sponsor anyway. 

You’re trying to glean inspiration for expanding your event prospects list. 

Find Brands That Advertise to Customers of Your Main Prospects

Return to your list of hot prospects. Research each one to determine who advertises to the audiences of those brands, i.e., your event attendees.

For example, if your audience loves The New York Times, pick up the paper for a week and write down all the brands advertising to its readers. Watch a show your audience loves to see what kinds of advertisers it generates. You get the idea. 

These prospects are your next hottest. They have less direct connection to your audience but still enough of a relationship that your audience should be receptive to if they see these sponsored brands at your next event. 

Find Brands That SHOULD Advertise to Customers of Your Main Prospects

Continue making your sponsorship prospects list larger by researching companies that should advertise to the audiences of the brands your audience reads, uses, watches, wears, and consumes. 

Expanding upon the example of your audience reading The New York Times, what brands do you think would fit the newspaper but don’t advertise to it?

These brands are cooler than the above list but still warm enough that they’re worth considering. 

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Research Competitors of All Brands on Your List

Round out your research by finding two to five direct competitors of each brand you’ve compiled on your prospects list.

These brands have even less connection to your audience, so they’re much cooler than any other brand. As you work your way down your list, you’d get to them last, only if absolutely necessary. 

Independently Researching Your Event Prospects – What You’ve Got to Know

As I said, you will begin disqualifying prospects once you enter the research phase, so that’s what it’s time for next.

I recommend developing a verifiable, repeatable, and effective research process. For example, you might start by reviewing the company’s website and then their most active social media platforms. 

You would then follow that up by reviewing press releases and other news clippings from within the last several years.

If you had to dig deeper, you could by reviewing older news items. 

Researching tells you a lot about the event sponsorship prospect, such as:

  • What they produce
  • What they sell
  • If they have sponsorship opportunities available
  • The brand values they stand for
  • The kinds of partners they work with
  • If they’ve had any controversies or scandals

You can make judgment calls based on this information, and you should. Remove any prospects from contention who don’t gel with your values or don’t sell anything your audience would be interested in based on what you know about them (which should be a lot by this point!). 

If the sponsor is unavailable, especially in time for your event, you must sadly remove them. That’s also the case if they spent their sponsorship budget, although you probably won’t learn about that based on research alone. You’ll need to talk to the sponsor to glean that information. 

You should certainly not work with a sponsor that has had a recent controversy, as it will reflect poorly upon your event. However, if they’ve courted trouble in the past but no longer do, that’s a different story, especially if the storm blew over years ago. 

Planning the Discovery Session

You know a decent amount about your sponsor by now but could always afford to learn more. That’s the purpose of the discovery session. 

As the name suggests, the discovery session is reserved for learning more about your prospect. This is your chance to divulge the data you’d never find through cursory internet research. 

The example from before of whether the sponsor has enough funds for sponsorship is a good example of what you’d discuss at the discovery session. 

You also want to get into the nitty-gritty of the following:

  • The sponsor’s target audience: Who are they? Ask for as much detail as possible, including geographics, demographics, and psychographics. You can compare their target audience with your audience research to look for overlaps.
  • Their ongoing and most recent marketing campaigns: You must know what the sponsor has tried before you suggest anything to them. Talk about what marketing measures they deployed, which audience segment they targeted, and where the campaign fell short. Discuss any ongoing marketing campaigns, the sponsor’s target goals, and how close they are to reaching them. 
  • Their ongoing and most recent advertising campaigns: Advertising and marketing have many intersections but should be treated differently. Review the sponsor’s latest and most current ad campaigns to determine if they’re struggling with reaching their audience, producing the right message, or getting their audience engaged. 
  • Their most prioritized goals: What does your sponsor want more of right now, within the next six months, and within the next year or two? Is it more qualified leads? Perhaps it’s more conversions or sales. You must know this information to determine the assets and activations you can present to them. 
  • Their budget: How much can the sponsor afford to spend? That will determine the scope of the assets and activations you should offer.

You’ll have a fruitful discovery session if you ask questions that focus on the above points. This isn’t a sales meeting, so you should leave any sponsorship-related materials at the office. 

You’re merely gathering information so you can later determine a.) if your audience is a good match for the sponsor, b.) if your assets and activations are a good match for the sponsor, and c.) if they can offer what you need (funding, promotions, etc.)

There should be more alignment between your event and the sponsor thanks to the prospecting measures you used, but you won’t necessarily proceed with every sponsor you talk to. 

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It’s Time to Get Prospecting 

There is no secret to companies and brands finding well-matched sponsors to work with. They put in the time and effort to learn about their audience, including the brands they like, and then seek those brands for a discovery session.

Once you learn to prospect, you’ll find that the rest of your sponsorship opportunity falls into place. You’ll also rely on the audience data you gathered often, putting together charts and graphs showcasing your segments as you get deeper into negotiations with your sponsor.