Welcome to a New Era of sponsorship activations
2020 Guide to Event Sponsorship
“Sponsorship is a billion dollar industry. But if you want a large piece of that pie, you’ll need to go beyond putting a sponsor’s logo on your website.”Chris Baylis, President and CEO of Sponsorship Collective
Event sponsorship was once so simple. Big-name brands and local businesses would happily chip in to subsidise an event and reap the rewards of attention and goodwill.
Sponsorship has transformed into one of the most intimate types of partnership two businesses can have. The first business — your event — offers people an unforgettable experience. And the second — the sponsor — helps make that experience happen in ways much more complex than ever before.
Larry Weil is the Sponsorship Guy. And with nearly two decades of experience and over 4,000 brand and industry contacts, it’s a title he’s proudly earned. He says, “It used to be a pretty simple answer. Most people think of sports sponsorships like McDonald’s and the U.S. Olympic team, or CUB and the AFL. But there’s much more to it than that.”
Today, there are all kinds of sponsors available to collaborate with your event. And in return, they have high expectations that are often quite unique. Your ability to offer innovative solutions, provide substantial returns, and prove them is what makes you a valuable partner to event sponsors.
Over the long term, sponsors don’t just want the promise of a pleasant partnership. They want to be closely involved in orchestrating a precise experience. They expect to be treated like VIP guests. And they need data back to prove they made the right choice when they chose to partner with you.
To create an effective, lasting event sponsorship strategy, you need to be prepared not just for today, but tomorrow. Read on for a strategic overview to ensuring creativity, legitimacy, and professionalism in your dealings with sponsors. And learn how, even as you read this, the realm of event sponsorship continues to transform.
This guide is for…
For events of all types and sizes, sponsorship is an essential part of the revenue puzzle. This guide is for anyone who wants to approach event sponsorship with an eye to innovating the future against a backdrop of sound professional advice.
What you’ll learn how to:
- Bring creativity and innovation to your approach to sponsorship in order to secure deals with the right sponsors
- Build a relationship with each sponsor based on mutual admiration and respect — plus a lot of data
- Nurture your sponsor relationships over the long term and adapt, even as the very nature of sponsorship evolves
01 Win over sponsors with an innovative mindset
Your audience is gold to sponsors. They seek a symbiotic partnership where they provide capital and you provide an even more valuable asset: people.
But they don’t aim for simple advertising spots at your event. They want to interact, engaging potential customers from within your attendee base with meaningful experiences.
To make event sponsorship successful, you have to approach the right sponsors, design an event with them in mind, and create an opportunity for real sponsorship ROI.
Approach sponsors who share your vision
The very first step to a successful event sponsorship strategy is to approach the right brands in the first place. If you’re simply seeking out brands with big bucks willing to fund your event, that’s a short-term strategy. Instead, look for sponsorship partners interested in becoming invested in your events over the long term.
To arrive at a list of ideal sponsors, think about your attendees. Beyond the specific focus of your event, what are their wants, needs, and desires?
“Let’s say, for a sponsorship example, your event gathers heart surgeons for an annual summit,” says Chris Baylis, President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective, a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and an international speaker and consultant on all things sponsorship marketing. “Pharmaceutical companies and insurance providers will be on your list. But what about car dealers? Or mortgage banks?”
Once you have a list of potential sponsors to approach, turn to your data.
Sponsorship will change again, and again, and again
While the internet has markedly changed the entire fabric of modern society, Baylis gives us with this food for thought: “Digital is known as the great disruptor. It caused major challenges for traditional advertising, all but killed print, and made significant changes in the sponsorship space. I can’t help but wonder what will disrupt digital, which is now the status quo.”
While no one has a crystal ball to help answer this question, our sponsorship experts gave us their best guesses regarding what’s to come. As you read on, look out for their predictions.
Think of data as the currency fuelling the event sponsorship industry
Like any kind of advertising today, event sponsorship is heavily data-driven. Before they’ll even entertain a conversation, sponsors want to know your event stats: how many people your events draws and what target market they’re culled from. If you’re not fluent in sponsorship data, it’s an immediate language barrier.
“Potential sponsors know their target markets intimately. They know where they live, what they drive, what they care about, and some of them can even tell you what colour shoes they prefer.”Chris Baylis, President and CEO of Sponsorship Collective
A lot of the data you need can be pulled from past event attendance records and the metrics available on your ticketing platform. That data tells potential sponsors how many people they stand to reach if they partner with you. You can also point to your event’s growth trajectory as a promise for the future.
But sponsors want to know more than just basic attendance and sales data. They’re interested in your marketing metrics, PR surrounding your event, and deep-dive customer demographics. This data comes from a variety of sources — peek at the table below for many of them.
Always remember that the greater marketing power of events is that they have the potential to reach far more people than their — or even your — current customers. They also have the potential to reach the customers your other sponsors, vendors, and event partners bring in — and the greater social orbit that surrounds your entire event.
Basic demographics and analytics won’t cut it anymore
Both Weil and Baylis emphasise the growing importance of looking beyond basic analytics when engaging with sponsors. Soon, sponsors won’t settle for just age, gender, and income as data proof points on your attendee base.
“As brands continue to narrow their focus on smaller and well-defined audiences, the trend is toward a sample of one,” explains Baylis. “Messaging and activations will be tailored to the needs and interests of individuals.”
The more granular your attendee data, the better. And the type of data is important, says Weil: “Lifestyle and insights over age and income.” What do your attendees do for work? For fun? What are their political views? Their musical tastes? Sponsors want to know as much as possible to get the best sense of who they’ll be interacting with.
Help your sponsors quantify their potential ROI
When it comes to sponsors, you need to offer more than just a few fancy sponsorship packages. Weil says, “It’s all about them. You have to get to your value proposition in the first five or six seconds, and that requires study.”
Brands want concrete metrics like email signups or proof that their partnership with you will bring them customers. Potential sponsors need to know if you can inspire attendees to take action.
To understand your event’s ROI for sponsors, first perform a valuation of your assets to estimate what each type of activation could bring to a brand. If you’ve held an event with sponsors in the past, supply potential sponsors with past sponsor ROI data. Planning your first event and don’t have past sponsors? Present revenue earned by sponsors at events similar to yours.
02 Build relationships on a foundation of data
“[Sponsorship] is an iterative process. It takes time to build a relationship and get commitment."Larry Weil, President of The Sponsorship Guy™
Prove your worthiness and your literal worth
No matter how valuable your data, and how well you wield it, relationship-building is a profoundly human part of event sponsorship that you cannot skip. You’re not just trying to prove to sponsors what their contribution could be worth. You’re also trying to prove your worthiness as a partner.
Success is closely tied to an event creator’s ability to develop a mutually beneficial partnership. This means communicating clearly and creating a collaborative relationship with sponsors as you co-design innovative events. To build long-lasting relationships that yield sponsorships year after year, continuously nurture them.
Communicate clearly at every turn
After securing a sponsor, you’ll get to know each other as partners while coordinating activation details. Your sponsor should have a single point of contact for all things event related. Depending on the size of your event, that might be you, another point person, or a team.
“Like all collaboration, regular communication is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship with event sponsors.”Abby Clemence, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Infinity Sponsorship
Your sponsor will rely on this point of contact for all logistics and scheduling details around the actual event, such as where to load in, where to pick up credentials, and how to access power and internet.
But the job is about far more than operations. Transparency and collaboration are two highly important aspects of sponsorship teamwork.
Create activations that powerfully connect sponsors with attendees
Traditionally, in event sponsorship parlance, you might use words like inventory, assets, and sponsorship packages to describe exactly how your sponsors are connecting with attendees. Today, with attendee engagement paramount, a more effective word is activations.
Activations are the ways your sponsorships actually engage your attendees. In the weeks leading up to your event, it might be an Instagram takeover or a co-branded giveaway. During the event, an activation can be anything from a sponsored event app to an experiential pop-up. At a smaller event, activations could be as simple as good old-fashioned swag.
“I like to think of activation as ‘switching on’ your sponsorship. It’s not just doing what you said you’d do, but achieving the outcomes you promised the sponsor.”Chris Baylis, President and CEO of Sponsorship Collective
For instance, at BottleRock Napa Valley, wineries build out and host areas with hardwood floors, chandeliers, and white leather couches in which their patrons can sit back and sip wines provided by sponsor partners. Wine and music are a perfect duo, and Jason Scoggins, who manages sponsorships at BottleRock, says: “Our winery sponsors really help turn our general admission space into what I would consider a VIP experience.”
The secret to effective activations is to work closely with your sponsors to create experiences that meet their goals — but also that attendees will love. By connecting the dots between your audience and your sponsors, you’ll come up with creative solutions that please everyone.
“Pay to play” makes a play
Baylis has seen a massive uptick over the last few years in the concept of “pay to play” sponsorships. Sponsors want keen creative control over their activations that will engage attendees beyond 2D logos and social media mentions. They want to be a part of planning aspects of the event itself — things like presentations and pop-ups.
Pay to play has been around for a while, but it’s morphing. According to Baylis, “For years now, properties have been uncomfortable with sponsored content and sponsors ‘purchasing’ speaking opportunities, but we are seeing the rise of pay to play big time — and I think this will continue.”
Sponsors want to be deeply creatively involved, and they’re willing to pay for that privilege.
03 Maintain long-term partnerships with authentic attention
“Sponsorship isn’t an item you check off and forget about. It’s a process.”Chris Baylis, President and CEO of Sponsorship Collective
Sponsorship is a process that unfolds over time, and your attention can never flag. Over the long haul, attention to data and tending to the relationship are both essential to nurturing your partnerships.
The nuances of maintaining relationships with sponsors are unique in every case, and that’s the ultimate challenge all event creators need to solve. It starts with simply being a good host.
Be a good host to your sponsors
In an old-fashioned sense, sponsors are a little bit like in-laws. They can be generous, and they are also sometimes pushy. You might get irritated with them now and then, but at the end of the day, it’s always in your very best interests to be a gracious host.
Here’s a practical checklist of ways you can circle back with sponsors periodically to ensure they feel taken care of:
- Stay flexible in how you accommodate sponsors. If they request adjustments to the original plan, be willing to make ad hoc changes that will improve their experience — assuming they make sense to your bottom line.
- Extend VIP amenities to your sponsors whenever you can. Whether it’s free tickets and VIP passes, or on-site perks like swag or performer meet-and-greets, pampering sponsors with special treatment at your event goes a long way in showing your appreciation.
- Offer them opportunities to make connections with both customers and other brands. Invite them to exclusive receptions. Introduce them to thought leaders within your community.
“Access to your leadership and to other high-level sponsors is priceless and you should treat it as such.”Chris Baylis, President and CEO of Sponsorship Collective
- Make a checklist of promises made in the proposal and come back when every box has been checked.
- Within a few days of your event, send sponsors a thank you note and assets for them to use online, including photos and videos taken at parts of the event where they were featured.
- Continue to tag them in social posts so you can keep the relationship warm and their brand top of mind for your attendees after each event.
Being thoughtful, generous, and organised are all ways to go above and beyond for your sponsors so they stay involved with your events in the long term.
Give sponsors what they really want: more data
To prove you’re continually delivering what you promise, and ensuring that your sponsors keep signing their contract renewals, you need hard data. It’s typical in the event industry to deliver a fulfilment report within a few weeks of each event.
A fulfilment report should include a reminder about your event’s value proposition, your official attendee stats, photos of on-site activations, and a roundup of social media coverage. The more comprehensive the report you furnish, the higher the odds they’ll come back to sponsor your next event. Make sure you are also aware of what your sponsor’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are, and highlight how you delivered on those.
In addition to the metrics from your ticketing platform and other sources, here are some pro ways to prove to sponsors that you gave them some bang for their buck:
- RFID can help you provide data on which attendees interacted with which activations.
- Event apps show which sessions, speakers, and sponsors were most interesting to attendees.
- Social media delivers data on social engagement, like how many users interacted with sponsor messaging on your social feeds.
- Surveys help you measure brand recognition, brand engagement, and purchase intent.
“Sponsors are measuring more than they ever have. And if you get to the mid-season or the middle point of a sponsorship deal, and you don’t know how the performance is, you’re not doing the job.”Larry Weil, President of The Sponsorship Guy™
Virtual events step to the forefront
Live events will never be replaced, but virtual events are becoming a big buzz, too. They offer creators the ability to connect with attendees beyond the in-person crowd and create experiences that compliment a live event.
Live events, says Baylis, “might provide a variety of value propositions, including in-person exclusives like networking.” But for virtual events, he says, “the valuable asset is the experience.”
The rise in live events creates a creative challenge for event creators: “How do you monetise a virtual conference?” Sponsorship is one obvious way.
Let the future of sponsorship commence
In the last ten years, technology has grown exponentially. And it will continue to grow in ways that will affect the very nature of sponsorship.
Weil believes that the means of measuring and improving ROI will improve by leaps and bounds with the help of tech, from apps that predict who will attend certain events to AI that will form “priority connect” lists for sponsors and attendees alike. This may all sound far-out right now, but it will both enhance and simplify the process of securing and working with sponsors.
For now, rest assured that if you’ve gotten through this ebook, you have a great head start over other event creators when it comes to proactive event sponsorship strategy. And as things evolve – including your events — stay tuned for what comes next.
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