Working with Sponsors/Partners

I started to title this post “Why Sponsors are called Partners” because I’ve seen poor sponsor fulfillment, where promoters didn’t take their sponsor commitments seriously enough, and the resulting fall-out.  In grassroots marketing – working with community groups/partners; as in events –  working with corporate and media sponsors; the bottom line is to establish a partnership, exchanging entitlements that benefit each other.   Poor fulfillment is detrimental to the immediate project AND future partnerships because it’s a small pool of companies that sponsor events/recognize their marketing and community relations value.  A few bad experiences for your young professionals group or your local wireless provider can ruin their appetite for future events.

Taking on partners starts with the question, “How can we grow this cause/event/project together?”  It should never be just about money.  A partner needs to have some skin in the game, participate in the content, the visibility/credibility/liability.  And they ought to “fit”, some discernible reason you want to have them over another – a relationship to your audience, a strong brand, something.

Event sponsorships

Proposing a partnership starts by evaluating what your project has to offer.  What media do you expect to buy or have in trade, and what remaining vehicles do you have to reach the public (newsletters, collateral, pre-event exposure, visibility at the event, radio interview slots, track record for editorial coverage, web site traffic, social media reach, etc.).  This can include marketing data for follow up solicitation or some year-round presence, as well.  So before you start dialing, you first want to line up the majority of your media plan, which includes finalizing media sponsorships.

It helps to establish the value of each entitlement you offer at the start.  An impression from a banner, poster, or web page visit can be valued at about $0.50, the cost of a direct mail piece, times the expected traffic.  A block ad can be valued as the retail price times the percentage of space the credit covers (logo, acknowledgment text).  The numbers matter.  When I approached an energy marketing company for a $75,000 package, I had to fill out a spreadsheet valuing every single entitlement and reach some value over the cash expenditure (1.25 – 1.4x), before they would sign.

Next is to identify your hit list.  And the best results usually occur when you have an inside contact and you define the role you want your prospect to have in advance.  When I worked on the Habitat for Humanity Build Project in Houston (with a goal of 100 homes in five days), the solicitor lined out over fifty companies in the region with pre-determined packages between $25,000 and $500,000. And they strategized in each case, who and how they would make the approach.  When I wanted to attract a grocer as a sponsor for our beer festival, I targeted grocers based on their existing beer selection and their contribution to outfit a food-beer pairing station.  Cash was secondary.

The approach should start by offering some basic information about the project. I generally use a fact sheet – one-pager with title, date and location, estimated attendance, attendee profile, and exposure opportunities – to let them evaluate whether the project is at all in their interest.  Then I ask for time to present a customized package, showing how I wanted to portray them and demonstrate value.  The package is complete, but is just a starting point for a discussion about how they can best participate and add value to the event.  In this discussion, it is important to have a vision of the end event, how they and the other partners will jointly contribute to make the biggest success possible.  (Here is a representative sponsor package.)

My final principle is to have each sponsor own some part of the event.  It may be the lounge, or the email broadcasts, and there may be a few, lesser credits, but never do I list every sponsor in any one place.  It’s easier for a sponsor to feel value in commanding one place than being a runner-up in many.  Besides, you wanted them for a specific role in the beginning, right?

Partners in Grassroots Efforts

 As much as possible, I try to treat volunteers and promotional support partners (like the hobby group that puts up posters) the same as a cash sponsor, giving them a contract with guaranteed entitlements.   To start, you get better commitment.  And while your volunteer group or benefactor may not need lots of media, one radio interview to a choice audience can mean a lot.  The difference is to provide entitlements that serve their mission statement.

For one particular World Beer Festival, I needed my volunteer corps and benefactor to help us reach a stretch goal.  Once we ramped up attendance, giving them the donation we wanted and future marketing efforts would both be easier.   We worked hard to identify additional means they had to support the event: manning street team efforts; spreading our messages through the group’s, and the individual members’, social networks; working us into the programs of their meetings; introducing us to other community partners they had.  In return, we held a pre-event party to energize the group and educate them about the festival.  We included their membership in invitations to every advance event we held.  And we were able to praise them enthusiastically for their efforts, which parlayed into publicity for the group.  This all served their mission, to activate young professionals to contribute to the betterment of their city.

To summarize …

Assembling sponsors and promotional partners for an event or project is like dealing hands so that everyone wins.  With vision, careful crafting of entitlements, and an attitude where every side contributes what they can, you get maximum results.  Creativity can make the day, finding a new outlet for a potential sponsor that serves them and adds value.  It all comes down to communication and understanding your partners.