Months—and often years—before a trade show, convention, or workshop takes place, there is serious effort put into the work of approaching, convincing, and signing sponsors to be the “face” of the entire event. When you walk into a trade show and notice the signage, swag, and promotional materials of brands, it may seem like those logos and taglines appeared by magic. But anyone who has ever tried to pursue a sponsorship knows that it is not easy to land a plum agreement with a major brand.
So then why do meeting planners and events professionals still hustle after those big deals? From the sponsor’s perspective, it can be an invaluable opportunity. “Yes, it’s a chance to build brand awareness, but more importantly, it’s a way to engage prospects and clients more extensively than advertising or social media allow,” says Don Roy, a professor of marketing at Middle Tennessee State University, who researches sponsorship strategy and effectiveness.
“For meeting organizers, sponsorships are invaluable in offsetting operating expenses,” he says. “And when events secure those high-profile sponsors, the brand equity can indirectly elevate the equity of the event through shared associations.”
Finding the Person With the Purse Strings
With all those reasons in favor of pursuing brand sponsorships for your next event, what’s standing in your way? One of the biggest factors is time, some experts say. “Selling sponsorships is challenging, and it requires ample lead time,” says Michael Veley, director and chair, Rhonda S. Falk Endowed Professor for the The Falk’s College Department of Sport Management at Syracuse University. “Corporations receive hundreds of proposals that must be reviewed and built into their budget planning, usually at least six to nine months in advance.”
You are also going to need to dig deeper and be persistent. “Stop offering logos and branding as if they have significant value on their own,” says Larry Weil, a sponsorship consultant and president and founder of The Sponsorship Guy. “You need to know your value proposition for each sponsor, which is not the same as it is for attendees. And remember that your goal is to get them on the phone or in a meeting. No one buys from one email with a deck attached.”
As you are doing prospecting, Weil notes that you will most likely be hard-pressed to find a job title like “sponsorship buyer” on LinkedIn. Instead, he suggests looking for titles that include terms like the following: experiential marketing, integrated marketing, marketing communications, consumer engagement, market manager, marketing and activation, promotions, business development, field marketing, events, brand managers, product placement, sales, communications, and public relations. As for what to say when you finally reach someone, he suggests thinking of the event like a media organization. “Describe your audience, share insights about them, and provide data on your reach and frequency with them year-round, not just during the event,” he says.
What Do Sponsors Want From You?
Discovering how you can be of service begins by listening to your prospect, says Peter Laatz, global managing director at Independent Evaluation Group, a sponsorship consulting firm. “You need to be collaborative and make their goals, your goals,” he says. “Make sure you customize sales materials to adequately connect the dots between their needs and the event’s offerings. Differentiate the event by articulating how it’s unique and better than any alternative. And measure your own performance to optimize existing partnerships and demonstrate proof of impact to prospects.”
Your prospective sponsors’ marketing objectives should guide your proposal, says Justin Moore, sponsorship coach at Creator Wizard. “Often, they’ll be most interested in conversion, so they’ll want to walk away with a lead list of qualified sources to hand off to their inside sales reps,” he says, adding that there might be other objectives like repurposing the events to use as other forms of promotional content through materials and social media.
Whatever their objectives, Moore says, the next step after that initial meeting is to create a customized proposal that offers clear solutions. “It needs to be a document they can take right to their boss. And it needs to show them how you’ll be helping them accomplish their goals,” he says.
Planner, Know Thyself
Veley suggests doing your own internal review to get the following questions answered prior to reaching out to prospects:
- What are your current goals, and what are you hoping to accomplish?
- Who are your current stakeholders?
- What’s the scope of your market?
- How will attendees learn about the event?
- Why would attendees choose this event over others?
- How do you currently meet the needs of attendees?
- How will the event be perceived by potential attendees?