When you're the person responsible for organizing an event or a conference, you need to know that these things take time. It's not easy to organize events when there are so many layers involved. From the budget to the registration, from the venue booking to the catering, from the transportation to the conference material, and even up to the sponsors, there’s so much to get ready!
The moment you know that you're the one responsible for the entire event, as well as your support team, you should plan to have at least 12 to 18 months until the actual event. This will give you time to make everything right… especially when you need to take care of sponsorship!
Getting the right sponsors can be somewhat tricky, especially if this is the first time you're doing it. So, here are four steps you will need to take to make sure that you get the best sponsors on board in time for your amazing event.
#1: Timing, Timing, Timing.
WHEN you ask is even more important than WHAT you ask for. Companies set their budgets in the fourth quarter of the current year for the entire next fiscal year. Most sponsorship dollars come from marketing budgets, NOT “charitable donations” - which means that you want your prospective sponsors to build in dollars for your event as a marketing expense. If you have an event in December of 2018, for example, you will have a MUCH greater chance of success if you approach the company between September & November of 2017, as opposed to waiting until March or April of 2018. Sure, you might still get $500 left in an unused category – but big money is planned well in advance.
#2: Plan your event with the sponsors you want in mind.
While you are still planning the event, take into account the kind of sponsors you'll be contacting. Usually, most events tend to be only planned considering the participants. (This just makes sense, but…) if you take one step ahead before you actually contact the sponsors or even invite the guests, this may help you get your sponsors on board.
#3: Identify what you have to offer the sponsors – and present it professionally!
You’ve already got the location – just take a look around and see how you can integrate sponsors’ logos and brand names. Do you have participant t-shirts, programs, banners, etc? Logos on these items catch a lot of peoples’ eyes whether it is conscious or subconscious. How about letting sponsors speak or air a commercial at your event? Can you give them a dedicated eBlast or Social Media post to your followers? Hand out marketing materials? If you can use your imagination and get creative, they will be much more likely to be your sponsor.
Also - talk in marketing lingo. How will their investment pay off by getting them in front of your audience? Tell them about your mailing list of 20,000 people who’ll be getting a postcard with their logo. If they’re buying a $5,000 sponsorship, that’s only 25 cents per impression, which is better than lots of the advertising they are probably doing. Make it easy for them to see why spending dollars on your event will pay off BIG for them.
Speaking of materials - make sure your ask is done professionally. Gone are the days of using Microsoft Word templates for sponsorship decks. Have your introduction letter, deck and agreement created by a graphic designer. Everything you send out reflects the image of your event – so make sure it’s branded and polished!
#4: Target the Audience.
When you reach out to a sponsor about your event, one of the first things they will ask you will be about your audience. They need to know who is going to be seeing their name everywhere and if your event is even worth their time. Ultimately, you need to understand that they receive a lot of proposals, and unless your audience and theirs are similar, they have no interest in sponsoring your event. So, make sure that your audiences are similar before you even approach them.
Only after you have all of these things covered should you try to reach a sponsor for the first time. As you can imagine, booking the right place, finding the audience that will attend your event, and every single factor that can affect the sponsor's answer needs to be known before the first contact. However, even after all of that, there are still many open questions that need to be discussed, such as: an original proposal that can be accepted or not, editing the proposal, negotiating the agreement, and finally reaching a good solution for both parts. All of these things take a lot of time.
Although you may think your work with the sponsors for your event is over as soon as you have the agreement signed, you're assumption is wrong. (Sorry, kid!) You need to make sure that you always keep the sponsors up to date on what's happening with the event preparation, and definitely make sure you're complying with your part of the agreement.
Although 12-18 months seems like a lot of time, it really isn't. Some people even say that the best time frame to consider for this job is between 18 to 24 months! (Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true!) So, make sure that you have everything planned to start contacting your potential sponsors as soon as possible. This will allow you to accommodate any changes and negotiations of the final agreement.
Hopefully, you see the importance of all of these steps and why they need so much time, because I assure you, your sponsors do!