Landing the right sponsors is a key factor in getting your event off the ground. Between venue, food, speakers, and logistics, events can be costly to produce. Not only can sponsors defray some of your expenses, a well-known brand can also help you reach your desired audience and burnish your event's profile.
“Sponsors help you share communication about the event, and their endorsement often provides credibility and an air of stability," says Laura Whitmore, owner of Mad Sun Marketing, a boutique agency that provides marketing, PR and event production services to the music industry. “Sometimes sponsors offer creative ideas and input that can help the event grow and evolve."
Sponsorship is about more than just financial backing; it's a partnership where both parties work together toward common goals. Finding sponsors that are the right fit for your company's goals and branding can lay the foundation for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. We spoke with Whitmore to learn her top strategies for recruiting and choosing event sponsors.
Find the Right Fit
When considering which sponsors to approach, Whitmore suggests brainstorming a list of possibilities along with the reasons why they would be a good fit. Maybe a sponsor markets to the same target audience that you do, or maybe a sponsor's style and attitude simply meshes well with your company's culture.
“The sponsor relationship should feel natural," Whitmore says. “Your event should help them reach a goal and feel good about their participation." When approaching a potential sponsor, consider how your event can help them achieve their goals. That will help the pitch conversation move along and likely be more successful.
Make it easy for a sponsor to understand your messaging and how they can fit into your event. “We often consider the topic of the event and pick brands that we've seen moving into that space or messaging," Whitmore explains. “We share our successes, reach and custom ideas for integrating them into what we are doing."
Don't Pitch Too Early
One common mistake event planners make is reaching out to a potential sponsor too early, Whitmore says. “If you're developing a new event and you want sponsors, make sure you work out all the kinks before you bring a brand in," she advises. Nothing will end a relationship faster than bringing a sponsor on board and not being able to deliver what you promised.
"Nothing will end a relationship faster than bringing a sponsor on board and not being able to deliver what you promised."
“You usually have one chance with a brand," Whitmore says. “If something doesn't go the way a brand expects, it will be very difficult for them to trust you to deliver in the future."
While small mishaps are bound to happen with every event, it's important to minimize any risks to your sponsors from every angle. Put yourself in their shoes. Start with reasonable, achievable goals and then deliver beyond their expectations.
Build a Long-term Relationship
When choosing a sponsor to pursue, consider how a long-term relationship with them might work. “Don't bring a sponsor on for an event and then ignore them until the event rolls around again the next year," Whitmore says.
Maintaining an active relationship with a sponsor may require extra effort throughout the year, but it will pay off by creating a good rapport and reliable lines of communication.
Beyond nurturing existing relationships, expect to expend considerable time and effort every year working toward the long-range goal of landing a truly big-name sponsor. “It can often take years to build a relationship with a major brand until they come on board monetarily," Whitmore says.
She suggests inviting marquee brands to experience events you host so they can understand how you work, the energy level and what the potential for integration may be. From there, focus on creating a continuing dialogue with them. “Let them know about the event's success and all the touch points that their brand can be a part of," says Whitmore.
Don't Forget the Follow-up
In addition to running her own company, Whitmore is also the founder of the Women's International Music Network and co-produces the organization's annual flagship event, the She Rocks Awards, which honors women in the music and audio industries. The event relies on sponsorship from big brands like Monster Energy, MAC Cosmetics, and Martin Guitar.
Many sponsors have supported the event since it first started and continue to stay on board year after year. Credit this continuing sponsorship to Whitmore's scrupulous follow-up efforts. Each year, she reappraises each sponsor's needs and conveys their value-add from the event. “We follow up with the sponsors to share everything we've done that includes them and the value associated with it," she notes.
Whether you express that value in key metrics, a post-event debrief meeting or a presentation about what improvements could be made in the future, including your sponsor in an active follow-up conversation will build the basis for a lasting, trusting relationship.
If you manage to build that relationship with a valued and valuable sponsor, the preparation and hard work you've invested will pay off for both of you. For the right sponsor, your event can broaden their brand awareness and market reach. For you, teaming with the right sponsor can help your event soar to new heights.
Insights and ideas provided by Laura Whitmore, owner of Mad Sun Marketing.