I must have organized over 2,000 events since I started working in this industry. I have seen event organizers ask for millions of sponsorship money in exchange for practically nothing. I have also seen demanding sponsors ask for a lot more than what they are paying for. Sponsorship marketing is probably the most important skill set event managers need to develop in building a successful career, but it’s not a skill that can be learned. It can only be acquired with years of trial and error.
I know there are all kinds of books on this subject on Amazon.com. I have read almost all of them (well, that’s because I needed to prepare for my teaching assignments). Sadly, they are not much help to the struggling event managers who are in desperate need of selling sponsorship so they can see a profit on the event’s P/L. I know profitability is important, but it’s really the wrong reason to approach our sponsors.
Personally, I quite enjoy planning strategically and creating a pull factor for potential sponsors to come to me. I know it’s easier said than done, but it really is the best way. There’s a lot of market research, planning and preparation beforehand. At the minimum, I will need to know the following from each of my prospective sponsors:
- Event calendar – make sure the sponsor is not busy (or there is no conflicting event) during the period of my event
- Budgeting cycle – make sure the event is made known to the sponsor’s budget holder when he/she is preparing next year’s marketing budget
- Clients – make sure there is a plan to invite the sponsor’s prospective clients to come, and a platform for them to get to know each other
- Existing publicity channels – make sure the event is able to complement the sponsor’s existing range of publicity channels in reaching the missing segment of their targeted clientele
- Correct point of contact – make sure there is a plan to reach the right person as unsolicited emails will often go unanswered. If desk research is getting nowhere, I sometimes go out and attend my competitor’s events just to find out who their sponsors are. If I am lucky, I might even meet some of them.
- Corporate culture – make sure the event is in line with the prospective sponsor’s corporate culture. If my event is perfectly aligned with the prospective sponsor’s vision, mission and value (available on their annual reports), there may not even be a need to sell
Another effective way to sell sponsorship is for the big boss to call his (or her) mates for support. Although it’s quick and easy, I honestly don’t like this approach because these sponsors probably won't come back next year, unless our boss calls them year after year. However, it doesn't stop me from making use of my boss’ personal network. Before the days of CRM, I had a lot of success when I asked my boss permission to go through the stacks of name cards he had collected. It's like treasure hunting. A personal note asking for a quick coffee with a prospective sponsor’s CEO is far more effective than an unsolicited email to the same sponsor’s PR manager. Of course, I don't expect my boss to do my job. I try to make it as painless as possible for him.
A word of advice… do not expect your boss to come up with ideas for selling sponsorship. It’s our job, but if we are able to secure a major sponsor out of the CEO’s personal connections, he will share in the winning spirit. It is a good way to bring the bosses into our world.
Roy Ying is Head of Communications and External Affairs at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, North Asia