In a post I wrote last month about marketing an event, you'll know that sponsors are an integral part of making any event successful. I've been writing posts recently about working with sponsors to deliver an exceptional experience. You can read more of those posts here.
The dreaded money talk is starting to creep up when it comes to sponsors for my upcoming event.
I'm hosting a conference next year, and me and my planning partner don't want to approach companies with an outlandish request, but we do want to make sure we have enough cash flow to make this event remarkable. The sponsorship money will be our saving grace, as we don't want to ask the nonprofits to shell out their entire annual development budget for a seat.
Should we just focus on making a killer sponsorship packet and finding a warm introduction? Any tips for making our request extra convincing? It's our first year, so I'm a little (read: a lot) nervous about all the predictive stats we'll have to provide.
Oof, sponsorships are a tricky beast, especially when, as the planner with relatively no income or cash flow, you're relying other people to help fund your vision (both your attendees and sponsors).
I haven't talked much about this, but there are two ways to go about creating an event that produces income:
a) Planning a very serious budget prior to going through the planning process and making sure that you sell enough tickets to break-even on your planning goal (and otherwise, having a cancellation policy and a cancellation date by which you need to have those tickets sold)
b) Garnering sponsorship to assist in planning costs (but knowing that sponsorships are often a leveraging of existing relationships, which can take weeks, months, or years to build)
Here is the truth about most new events that get planned:
You will have to work really, really hard to convince people of your event's worth.
Not only your attendees and speakers, but also your sponsors. And if you're afraid to ask for sponsorships, then you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to get an event off the ground without sponsorships.
(As a sidenote, I have done events that have been 100% completely funded through ticket sales. But those ticket prices are generally much higher than you'd think.)
So, the problem that we're solving today is creating a KILLER sponsorship package. How do we do it, what do we include, why do we do all the work to think about this strategically in the first place?
Rule #1: A Sponsorship Relationship is Exactly That...A Relationship
Most event organizers seem to forget this. A lot of times, people ask for sponsorships through cold asks (which I highly recommend if your network isn't huge), but the best way to start asking for sponsorships is to leverage your current and existing contacts.
Which means? Treat these asks like this is a mutually beneficial relationship. You're doing lots of work to help someone else put their face and name on an event that leads to potential clients, awareness, or contacts after it.
It's not just a "Phew! I'm done with my sponsorship asks! Let's get to planning the event!" It's a "Phew! They said yes! Now how do I make this relationship really, really beneficial so that my sponsors feel like they got something REAL good that they couldn't get anywhere else?"
Pro-Tip: If this is sounding familiar, this is the SAME conversation with yourself/your partner that you should be having regarding your attendees. Your sponsors aren't just patrons-of-the-arts, they're collaborators that will help shape your event.
Rule #2: Craft an initial packet when you inquire (but don't give sponsorship details just yet)
When you approach a warm or cold lead, you're trying to drum up interest in the project itself, not make an ask yet. When you're sending your initial email, I recommend giving a prospective sponsor an intro email with a 3-page PDF (preferably well-designed and branded). Page 1 includes an overall summary of your event. Good metrics to have include:
a) The event's mission statement
b) Who is coming to the event (demographics, names, ages, etc.)
c) What things or themes you'll be teaching/addressing at the event
d) Why this event is unlike any other event that already exists
e) The date, time, place and any other logistical details that you've already sussed out
This can either be in list form, or it can be in a text-based document. I've seen both work effectively.
The second sheet should be a short, yet detailed summary of the what, why, how and who of the event. This is basically so that your sponsors can understand the mission and goals (and even some possible themes that will be highlighted at the event) as well as start formulating opinions on how THEIR business can fit into this event's topics.
The third sheet should be your tentative (but relatively rounded-out) agenda. This will help to flesh out how you're event will be structured, as well as give your sponsors a good idea about any speakers that may be attending, and who may have already bought into the event.
Pro Tip: This three-page document will also be the basis of your website, as your attendees are going to want to know this information as well. But if you are just starting and haven't gotten around the building the website yet, I'd recommend going for the three-page PDF first.
Rule #3: Ask if they'd be interested to chat on the phone about partnership or sponsorship...before you send them sponsorship details
Before you even make an ask, a good intermediary step may be to set up a phone call and try to understand more about the company, their goals, and how your event could potentially help solve some of those goals.
I recommend doing this definitely with large sponsorships or big media partners. You want them to feel like you're working together to co-create an experience, and the best way to do that is to start building a relationship rather than simply asking for money.
Sometimes, if you send an email, asking if they'd be interested in participating, or co-creating the event, they may ask if you're looking for sponsorship. Be honest and let them know you're intent, and if they ask for a sponsorship document, then it's a good idea to send them one (more on that below).
Rule #4: Offer something that can help them win and reach the people they want to reach
The next step is to create a sponsorship document that has the different levels of sponsorship you're looking to engage. The levels are usually "Headline" sponsor (only one, and usually it's a BIG number), Secondary sponsors (maybe 1-3, and a decent amount), Tertiary sponsors (2-4, and a lower amount), and Partners (which can be in-kind donations or media partners who give you a media buy in exchange for sponsor listing). You can get creative with the names, too, and call them something else.
Within these levels, you're going to want to have a price and also some benefits that are representative of the price.
Some examples of benefits include:
1) Tickets to the event
2) Logos on printed goods
3) Ability to have a vendor booth/station at the event
4) Ability to present a session or a keynote (only a big-time sponsor)
5) Product placement at the event
6) Ability to invite the sponsor's clients to the event (if it's invite-only)
Any of these are good places to start, but another good conversation to have is to ask your sponsors what THEY want. Sometimes, they'll have an idea, and then you can revise your sponsorship document and add the things they ask for in there.
Other times, they'll say they want to promote X part of their business...and then you'll have to come up with something creative. If you can deliver a creative, innovative sponsor benefit, you may be able to garner more sponsorship than other events with more standard benefits.
Rule #5: Know that this is flexible
While I'd love to say that all sponsors obey the rules and want the same thing, sometimes, your bigger sponsors will ask for me. It's up to you to decide what it is you're willing to give to your bigger sponsors, but know that you may have to go through a few rounds of conversations and edits to your sponsorship package before you get it right.
I recommend having as many conversations as you can, and always know that a sponsorship isn't final until you have a signed contract and sponsor agreement between you and your sponsors (more on that in next week's post).