One of the biggest challenges for any conference or event planner is getting funding. Love it or hate it, this one piece determines whether the rest of the conference efforts succeed or fail.
Do you dread it?
Have you ever considered the idea that maybe potential sponsors dread it too? Not because they are cheap, or because they lack concern for the community….but maybe they’re just bored.
Yes, bored! Do you know how many people come into someone’s office with the offer of a gold, silver or platinum sponsorship that includes their logo on the program and a website listing? Seriously - you can do better! And when you do, you will be memorable, liked, and more likely to get that sponsorship!
Lessons from your mailbox
Let me give you an example. When you open your mailbox, are you very excited? No, because you know it will mostly be junk mail and bills. Very few people send an actual handwritten note or card anymore. And you just can’t feel very special when you know that 1,000 other people got this exact same flyer in the mail with the only difference being the name printed on the front by a mass mailer.
When you do see something addressed to you that was thoughtfully planned JUST for you - how does that make you feel? Intrigued? Interested? Thought of?
That is the goal when you reach out to sponsors as well. You have to choose wisely, but then go all in and give them an experience that is customized exactly to them right from the first contact.
Going from gold to unique
Instead of doing bronze, silver, gold, think about what your potential sponsor wants to be known as and known for. To do that, you will need to do a little homework.
Here’s how I suggest you approach sponsorships.
● Brainstorm with your board or colleagues and think outside the box when it comes to sponsorship categories.
● Research potential sponsors. What do they do? Who makes decisions about sponsorships? What would they like to accomplish with their sponsorship dollars that would be meaningful to them?
● Know your audience. Then you can seek out companies that are meeting their needs or trying to solve their problems. You might start thinking about what companies are trying to making their lives better?
● Create an inventory of valuable benefits. You need to think beyond the usual tactics and design opportunities that would be appeal to a sponsor AND make the event even better for your audience!
● Set visits. These are exploratory visits. You are not asking for anything yet! Rather, you are trying to understand what a successful sponsorship would look like to them. What is the best event they've ever sponsored and why? What kind of sponsorship benefits would be highly beneficial to them and to your attendees? Is that something that could be exclusive? What does their budget look like? Your objective here is to learn.
● Ask for permission. Your last question may be something like, “May I submit a proposal along the lines we have just discussed?”
● Then write a simple, succinct and clear proposal for their consideration.
● Lastly, create sponsorship loyalty by following through and following up!
When you take the time to do each of these steps, you will find your sponsors much more responsive. Yes, it will take more time per sponsor, but the results will be so worthwhile!
Taking the first step
You won’t get everyone this way. But I can promise that you will receive very serious consideration, and your organization will be perceived in an entirely different light. You will enjoy the process, and so will your sponsors!
So take some time to think about what you can uniquely offer to a sponsor. And what they want to be remembered for when they sponsor your event. That is the first step in the process.
If you get stuck along the way, feel free to reach out to me and let me know your ideas and where you are at!
Auto sponsorship with a distinctive twist
When seeking sponsorships on behalf of the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I approached a luxury auto dealership about sponsoring a performance. Since we shared the same audience, I assumed they would want the typical benefits. After asking key questions, however, I realized we needed to get them get closer to our patrons.
It was a key example of the importance of a conversation. Often, you don’t know what your sponsors really want until you ask! Take the time in those initial conversations to understand their needs, their goals, and then create a plan for how to get there.
In this case we did some brainstorming and came up with a unique plan. As anyone from Michigan knows, our winters can be brutal. The performance event that we were looking for sponsorship for was in January. It was a long cold walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the event. The perfect solution? Having them provide valet parking!
To help measure their return on investment, they left a small box of chocolates on the driver’s seat along with an invitation to a dealership event. They also received front-row tickets and a one-of-a-kind backstage experience that they used to reward their VIP customers.
The strategy worked great. The next year they sponsored the entire season!
What's your creative hook?
If you’re approaching an auto dealership (and who isn’t?), ask them to park a few vehicles on-site. Potential customers could experience the cars in a low-pressure, fun atmosphere: browse, let their kids climb in, take selfies with the family, and share them on social media. Or maybe your sponsor can offer test drives?
Different sponsors, similar brainstorm:
Offer a new local restaurant the opportunity to do a tasting in the lobby of your venue.
On a large computer monitor, your local builder can lead virtual tours of their newest neighborhood. Using the computer, guests can play with virtual furniture arrangements, paint, flooring, etc.
Your neighborhood fitness club brings in a few pieces of equipment for people to try out.
You get the point. If you focus on engagement, creativity, and flexibility – rather than the predictable gold, silver, and boring bronze options – you’ll land more sponsors, increase their loyalty, provide something of value to audience members, and raise more money.
This is just one of the strategies that I'll be teaching next month in my free webinar called "How to Attract, Cultivate & Wow Sponsors."