Sponsorship: An investment, in cash or in kind, in return for access to exploitable business potential associated with an event or highly publicized entity. Selling sponsorships is not a matter of buying a mailing list of potential buyers, writing a direct-mail letter, putting together a “package,” mailing everything out and waiting for the telephone to ring with people offering you money. The reality is much more complicated (and time consuming) than that.
In the definition above, the key words are “investment,” “access to” and “exploitable.” First, by constantly looking at sponsorship as an investment opportunity, where there is a viable payback, you are no longer talking to a potential sponsor about a payment of cash or money. Instead, by calling it an investment, you’re automatically implying that value will be returned to the investor. Second, access to means the ability to be associated with a particular offering (such as golf tournaments, swim meets, hiking/biking trails, etc.). And lastly, exploitable, a positive word, means “to take the greatest advantage of” the relationship. In other words, allowing sponsors to make the greatest use of their investment and use it as a springboard and cross marketing opportunity with their own advertising efforts.
Never underestimate the value of your agency’s opportunities — these can be as simple as banners on your grounds to title sponsorship of an event or activity. The following 12 steps will give you a better understanding of how to put together sponsorship offerings, what words to use, and the entire process from thinking about sponsorship to going about getting one.
Step 1: Take Inventory
What are you selling? Each event has a number of elements that would be of value to a sponsor. They include, but are not restricted to, the following:
- Radio, TV and print partners
- Collateral material…posters, flyers, brochures
- Tickets (quantity for giving to sponsor plus ticket backs for redemption)
- VIP seating/parking
- On-site banner exposure
- Audio announcements
- Product sales/product displays
- Celebrity appearances/interviews
- Internet exposure
Look at your activities like a store and take inventory of the many things that will have value to sponsors, whether it be the marketing or hospitality value. Take your time in making up this list as the time spent at the beginning will be rewarded by more effective sponsorships when you get into the selling process.
Step 2: Develop Your Media Partners
Treat your media partners the same way you would all other sponsors, with the same rights and benefits. Negotiate with radio and television for airtime and with newspapers and magazines for print coverage. (You can always try for money, but securing a trade is just as good as it will help you to be competitive with others who are seeking money from the same sponsors you will be approaching.) This inventory of media can then be included in your total sponsorship offerings to other prospective sponsors.
In fact, after taking your inventory, steps two and three are done almost simultaneously as you must have something to give to your potential media partners that describes the sponsorship.
So, what is important to your media partners? Your event offers the media an opportunity to increase their non-traditional revenue (NTR). You have an audience, sampling opportunities, sales opportunities and multiple avenues of exposure that the media can offer to their own advertisers. Many times, an advertiser asks for additional merchandising opportunities from the media. Your event offers them that opportunity. You can let them sell a sponsorship for you in return for airtime or print coverage.
Always have them coordinate this through you so they are not approaching your sponsors, and you are not approaching their advertisers. From radio and TV, you want airtime that can then be included in your sponsorship offerings, and from print, you want ad space and/or an advertorial (a special section). In both instances, you are getting valuable media to include in your sponsorship offerings to your potential sponsors. When the event is over, they should provide you with proof of performance (radio and TV should give you an affidavit of performance; print should give you tear sheets) and, conversely, you should provide them with a post-event report.
Step 3: Develop Your Sponsorship Offerings
Try to avoid having too many sponsorship levels and categories that are “cutesy.” Don’t use gold, silver and bronze or industry-specific terms your sponsor might not understand. Categories such as title, presenting or associate, or that are product-specific, are easy to understand and easy to sell. A title offering is the most expensive and most effective sponsorship. The minute the name of your activity is married to a sponsor’s name, the media have to give the entire title, which is great exposure for the title sponsor.
Before your initial sponsor contact, prepare a one-page fact sheet that lists the various opportunities available for marketing as well as the date, time and location of your activity.
Step 4: Research Your Sponsors
Become an expert on your potential sponsors. The more you know about them the better prepared you will be for their questions and the easier it will be for you to craft a sponsorship offering that meets their specific needs. Search the Internet, read their annual reports, do a data search on the company, use the various sourcebooks available to you…find out what they are currently sponsoring, what their branding strategies are and what their business objectives are.
Be prepared to discuss the sponsors’ individual marketing strategies with them when making the sales call. You should be able to quickly and intelligently answer questions during the sales process.
There are different departments, with different budgets, that can spend money on sponsorships. These departments include, but are not restricted to, advertising, marketing, public relations, product management, brand managers, human relations directors, multicultural marketing managers, office of the president and even a sponsorship director! Look for different opportunities within the same company.
Step 5: Make Initial Sponsor Contact
Then, pick up the telephone. When you reach the correct person, instead of launching right into a sales pitch, ask them several questions about their business that will indicate to you whether or not they are a viable sponsor for your project. For example: “Based on what I have read about your company, it appears (fill in the blank with your knowledge.) Is that true? Are you interested in maintaining/increasing your profitability? Are you interested in creating a better environment for your employees (or attracting new employees, or rewarding current employees)?”
Make sure the questions you ask can be answered with a “yes.” Also, make sure you are talking with the decisionmaker. How would you know this? During the questioning process, ask “Is there anyone else you want involved in this discussion?” That way they can give you another name without being intimidated that they are not the final decisionmaker.
One of the questions I’m always asked is, “How do I get past the gatekeeper?” If you can’t get past the gatekeeper, make him/her your friend and ally. Explain the program, explain the benefits of participation and get him/her to make the appointment for you
Getting through voice mail is another concern. Don’t leave long, boring messages and never leave more than three messages. Dial around and try to get a real person. Talk to the operator…have the person paged…get their email address and send a note…call early in the morning…late in the day. In other words, be creative!
Step 6: Go for the Appointment
Once you have had a brief discussion, try to get an appointment. If they say, “Send me a package,” respond with: “I’ll do even better than that. I’ve prepared a succinct one-page fact sheet that highlights the various marketing and promotion components of my event. May I fax or email it to you?” Ask for the fax number and email address, send the document to them right away and then call back shortly to make sure they received it. If they have received it, go for the appointment. Explain that the fact sheet is merely a one-dimensional outline that cannot begin to describe the total event and you would like to meet with them, at their convenience, to show them pictures, previous press coverage, a video, whatever you have. Follow the basic sales techniques of choices: Monday or Friday, morning or afternoon. Don’t give them a chance to say they can’t see you.
If a face-to-face meeting is not possible, make an appointment for a telephone interview. Have them write that appointment in their book, just as if it were an in-person conversation. Send them a package of information they can have in front of them so they can follow along with your discussion and presentation.
Step 7: Be Creative
Once in front of the sponsor, demonstrate your knowledge of their business by offering a sponsorship that meets their specific needs. Help them come up with a new and unique way to enhance their sponsorship beyond the event. For example, if it’s a bank, how can they benefit from association with your event? What kind of promotion could you design for them? Or, devise a contest where people have to fill out an entry form to win something. Think about hospitality opportunities — rewards for leading salespeople, special customer rewards, incentives for the trade. Be prepared to offer these ideas, and more, to help sponsors understand how this sponsorship offers them great benefit.
In many instances, it is up to you to lead the discussion. Often a potential sponsor will turn to you and say, “I don’t know how to make this work.” This is where your knowledge and research will prove invaluable since you will have given thought, beforehand, to how they can maximize their participation in your event.
Step 8: Make the Sale
You have to ask for the sale. You can’t wait for the sponsor to offer; rather, you have to ask, “Will we be working together on this project?” Develop your own closing questions. Hopefully, as you went through the sales process, you determined their needs and developed a program to meet those needs. And, you certainly should have done enough questioning to determine what their level of participation would be. Keep in mind that different personality styles buy differently, which means you must select from a variety of closing techniques to ensure the right “fit” with the different personalities.
As with any sale, once you have concluded the sale, follow up with a detailed contract that outlines each party’s obligations. A handshake is nice, but if the various elements aren’t spelled out there can be a bad case of “but you said” when people sometimes hear what they want to hear, not necessarily what was spoken. Make sure you include a payment schedule that ensures you receive all the money before your event. If not, you could suffer from the “call girl principle.” The only exception to this rule is if you are working with a Fortune 500 company. They will want to hold back 10 percent until after the event as insurance against not getting full delivery. It’s a normal practice and, if you’ve done your job, nothing to worry about.
Step 9: Keep the Sponsor in the Loop
Once you have gone through the sales process, you will want to keep your sponsors involved up to, and through, your event. Ask if their public relations department will send out a press release about their involvement. If they do, make sure you have approval rights before it is sent out. (You want to make sure that your event is being presented in the proper light, just as you want to assure your sponsors, with your releases, that their marketing message is being presented properly.) Show them the collateral material as it is being developed — posters, flyers, invitations, etc. — to ensure they are happy with their logo placement (with fax and email, this is now a very simple process). Keep them up to date on new sponsors, new activities — whatever is happening. Discuss their marketing needs with them — make sure of proper follow-through on the contest or other activity they are doing.
Step 10: Involve the Sponsor in the Event
The more you involve sponsors in the process, the more involved (and committed) they become. Get them to participate by being on site: walk around with them; discuss their various banner locations, the traffic at their booth and the attendance at the luncheon they sponsored, whatever is appropriate to their participation. Take time to participate in the various hospitality offerings with them. Introduce them to other sponsors — talk to their representatives. Do everything possible to ensure positive participation and, of course, reinforce this participation as a prelude to renewal!
Step 11: Provide Sponsors with a Post-Event Report
There’s a very old saying regarding presentations: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them.” The post-event report is the last segment of this saying. Provide your sponsors with complete documentation of their participation. This should include copies of all collateral material, affidavit of performance from your radio and TV partners, tear sheets, tickets, banners, press stories…whatever has their company name and/or logo prominently mentioned or displayed. This should all be included in a kit, with a written post-event report that lists the valuation of the various components, and presented to the sponsor with a certificate of appreciation for their participation. Use a formula that encompasses cost per thousand (CPM) because that is the language your sponsors understand from their media buys. If you have done your pricing properly, you can use those same figures in your post-event report. Be consistent and be honest. If you are doing it the right way, you will deliver at three times their investment, just in marketing value. And, a 3:1 ROI is great…certainly assurance of renewal!
Step 12: Renew for Next Year
If you’ve followed these preceding steps carefully, renewal is easy. In fact, you may be able to get your sponsor to give you a verbal renewal during your event (if it is going well) and certainly after you have provided that post-event report that documents the value of all the marketing components he or she received. You should try for a 3:1 ROI. In many instances, it will be even more than that if you have delivered as promised!
Selling isn’t easy; however, it can be an easier and a fun experience once you have done your homework and are prepared to intelligently discuss the sponsorship.
Sylvia Allen is the author of How to Be Successful at Sponsorship Sales — learn more about her work on her website.
Sylvia Allen is President of Allen Consulting.