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What Companies That Sponsor Festivals Are Looking for in a Partnership  

by | November 12, 2021

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

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
Sponsorship for Festivals: What You Need to Know for Your Event to Be a Hit

Some sponsorship seekers get so excited thinking about what a sponsor can offer them (money, promotions) that they forget what the other side of the coin should look like. Whether yours is a food festival, a music festival, or a film festival, you need to bring something to the table for sponsors too. What are sponsor companies looking for?

Brands want sponsorship properties that:

  • Do their research 
  • Take a proactive approach
  • Regard them as people, not ATMs
  • Ask lots of questions during discovery sessions
  • Provide fulfillment reports
  • Customize opportunities 

I have lots more to discuss in this guide so that your festival, no matter what kind, can gear up to be the best partner you can in a sponsorship deal. Make sure you keep reading!

Sponsors Want These 6 Things in a Festival Partner

What Companies That Sponsor Festivals Want

Lots of Research, Especially Audience Data

Do you know why companies that sponsor festivals choose the partners they do? Heck, do you know why any company that offers sponsorship selects its partners?

It’s not to add to their resume, although that is a nice perk. It’s usually to grow the company’s audience. 

Sponsors view working with you as a chance to amalgamate your audience into theirs. Your audience will see that your festival is sponsored by a food brand or a clothing retailer and become curious about that company. 

Through activation opportunities, your audience might even get to sample the sponsor company’s products or services, which drives interest even further.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Knowing that your sponsorship prospects will be very interested in your audience, you have to bring everything to the table that you can as it pertains to your festival attendees. That means presenting the sponsor with highly detailed, very segmented audience data. 

Audience data doesn’t grow on trees (although wouldn’t it be cool if it did?), so you’ll have to issue an audience survey if you haven’t already. 

Once you get your responses back, you’re going to have a mountain of data to sort through. This post provides some pointers for breaking down your audience into segments.

In that post, I mentioned a marketing quote that I share with all my sponsorship-seeking clients these days: the riches are in the niches. 

What that quote means is that the more segmented each audience group is, the more valuable they are to a sponsor. 

If you have a couple of dozen audience segments now, I implore you to reevaluate each one. I’m sure that if you took a couple of hours, you could make smaller, more specific segments out of every audience group. 

Only when you’ve turned over every stone, to speak, should you consider that audience segment niched down. 

When your sponsor looks at your audience data, they can quickly identify audience segments that would be most receptive to their products or services. They’ll either see dollar signs in their eyes or disappointment. 

And that’s okay if your audience isn’t a match for the sponsor you’re prospecting. It’s better to know it early than it is to proceed with a deal and discover that with two weeks to go until your film festival.

You’ll need a list of prospective sponsors so if one deal falls through, you can approach the next sponsor on your list. 

A Proactive Approach

Sponsorship rarely if ever falls into your lap. You have to be willing to go out there and chase it, which yes, does sometimes mean putting your dignity on the line (after all, who likes to be rejected?). 

I’ve written about motion versus action, and as you get your sponsorship program started for your festival, I implore you to read that post. 

Although motion and action sound like the same thing, they couldn’t be any more different. Some sponsorship seekers get caught up in certain activities that seem like they’re propelling them forward in their sponsorship program but aren’t. 

For instance, if you spend forever on your sponsorship activations or writing your sponsorship proposal, those are what I’d consider “motion” activities. 

Taking action is picking up the phone and talking to a rep at the sponsor company or scheduling a follow-up meeting. You’re moving things forward. 

Your sponsorship program requires a combination of “motion” and “action” activities, but you can’t let your nerves keep you stuck editing your sponsorship proposal forever. Your festival has a looming deadline, and if you don’t have sponsors before that deadline, you’re sunk.

Taking a proactive approach early on in your sponsorship program proves to companies that you’re willing to be a go-getter. If you can apply this attitude where it counts, such as fulfilling the sponsor’s goals, then you might have a deal! 

Consideration for Them as People

This goes back to what I touched on in the intro: you can’t think of your sponsor as only a company or an individual who’s offering you money and promotions. It’s a one-sided approach that won’t help you forge the kind of partnership that can be profitable for you and the sponsor.

When you go into a sponsorship deal with that mindset, you’re short-changing the sponsor company. The company is comprised of people who, outside of their working lives, are parents, siblings, caretakers, hobbyists, and community members. They’re not ATM machines that spit out money.

When you care a bit about the people who you work with, you’ll find yourself caring about their problems as well. This is key in forging a partnership rather than only a sponsorship deal. 

Imagine this: a random person on the street is having car trouble and asks you to jump them. You’ll help them, but then you send them on their way.

Now let’s say a friend calls you and says the same thing, they’re having car trouble and need a jump. You care about your friend, so you drop what you’re doing and rush to where they are. Once their car is jumped, you try to accommodate them in other ways.

For instance, maybe they need their battery recharged or you can give them the phone number for a good mechanic you know. Since they’re your friend, you want to do whatever you can.

I’m not saying you have to be friends with your sponsor, but friendly. That attitude is much more accommodating. 

I do want to make one note here, and it’s something I discussed in more detail in this post. Please don’t assume that an overly friendly attitude can compensate for a weak sponsorship program. It doesn’t.

That’s not what I’m trying to suggest you do, either. I’m recommending you treat your sponsors with warmth, as when you care about them as people, you’ll care about their struggles and be more willing to craft creative strategies. 

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Productive Discovery Sessions

When you initially reach out to a prospective sponsor about your festival, the goal isn’t to ask them for money or promotions outright. Instead, you want to have a meeting where you can discuss their goals to see if you can help them.

This meeting is known as the discovery session, and it’s one of the most important parts of your sponsorship program

The discovery session can take place via phone, video chat, or even in person. 

Before you walk into a discovery session, you’re supposed to have researched the sponsorship prospect in-depth. You won’t know everything about them, and that’s okay. The discovery session will provide answers to your most burning questions about the sponsor.

You select the questions you ask during the discovery session, and you can only ask five to seven of them, maybe 10 at the absolute most. You don’t want the sponsor to feel like you’re interrogating them, after all!

In this post, I shared 37 discovery questions that are categorized into topics like business goals, audience, and ROI. You should hone in on whichever area you need the most information in, then select questions that can fill in the gaps in your knowledge.

Please don’t feel like you have to use those questions verbatim. You’re free to modify them or discard them completely and come up with your own questions. Let the list inspire you! 

Whichever approach you take, you want to ask questions that aren’t easily answered by a Google search. For example, it’s not going to come across very well to the sponsor company if you ask them what kinds of products and services they sell. You can easily find that information yourself.

You also want to keep your questions relevant to the potential partnership that’s forming. If the conversation veers too far off-course, then the discovery session is a waste of everyone’s time. 

To a sponsor, your thoughtful, on-the-nose discovery questions show that you’ve done your homework. You’ll have probably piqued their interest.

Okay, but what if in asking discovery questions, you realize that your sponsor has issues that you can’t help them solve? That does happen. In that case, you should be upfront with the sponsor, telling them that you don’t think it’s a fit and thanking them for their time. 

After the meeting, get in touch with the next on your list of sponsorship prospects and schedule another discovery session as soon as you can. 

Detailed Fulfillment Reports 

If your festival is a yearly event, it sure would be nice to have the same sponsors for next year, wouldn’t it? Before you can even begin discussing sponsorship renewal, you must produce a fulfillment report.

A fulfillment report is essentially what it sounds like. You compile a report that features all the details of your partnership, including what it was, when, what happened, and what resulted. 

Going back to your sponsorship proposal, you can outline each of the goals you promised to fulfill to the sponsor. Then detail how you did just that. 

You don’t have to type paragraph after paragraph for the fulfillment report. Charts and diagrams are easily digestible, so the sponsor will certainly appreciate a few graphs in the report. You can also add photos of speaking opportunities, product placement, program advertisements, signage, website and social media promotions, and tangible assets. 

I used to hear from my own partners that fulfillment reports were a rarity, but I don’t think that’s the case as much anymore.

When your report is ready, you can call up the sponsor and ask them about meeting up to discuss it. 

As you sit down with the sponsor and go over the fulfillment report, you can toot your own horn, so to speak. You’re showing your value to the sponsor as you prove how you achieved their ROI and even how you went above and beyond (if that’s indeed what you did). 

Be open to hearing some constructive criticism during this meeting too. Ask the sponsor what they wish you could have done more of or done better. Then take those suggestions into account so you can improve even more for your next festival. 

After going through the fulfillment report details and answering any lingering questions the sponsor might have had, you can then discuss a renewal deal. 

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Customized Opportunities

I’ve touched on the event sponsorship proposal several times, but not the contents therein, such as the sponsorship package.

In your sponsorship package are all your assets, which are the tangibles and intangibles you’ll sell to the sponsor to incentivize them to partner with you. I listed some such assets in the paragraphs above, including signage, promotional social media posts, and speaking opportunities.

For a festival, you can also offer the sponsor naming rights to the festival as well as a booth depending on the type of event. 

One of the worst things you can do when compiling your assets is to stuff them into tiered levels. I’ve talked about this on the blog until I’m blue in the face, but gold, silver, and bronze tiers are the worst thing you can offer a sponsor.

Yes, that’s even if you nickname the tiers something different. It’s still the same old spiel, just with a different name. 

Why don’t sponsors like tiered assets? No one wants to spend money on stuff they don’t want. 

Imagine if a restaurant forced you to buy fries and a soft drink when you only want a cheeseburger. Either you begrudgingly buy the combo meal, or you go to a different restaurant. 

The best approach when organizing your assets in a sponsorship package is to customize them with the sponsor’s involvement. Sure, this takes more time than gold, silver, bronze tiers, and you can’t use the same sponsorship package for every event sponsor.

You’re doing right by your sponsor though, and that’s what’s important. 


When companies sponsor festivals, they’re looking for certain qualities in a partner. They want a proactive partner who cares about their needs and wants to learn more about those needs to come up with viable solutions. 

Now that you know how to approach sponsorship, your festival can begin finding true partners so that this next event might be your most successful yet.