12 Steps To Sponsorship Success

Guest post by Sylvia Allen
Author of How To Be Successful At Sponsorship Sales
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Sponsorship selling will be even more difficult than in the past. Why? Pending recession, reduced budgets, greater demand (on the part of sponsors) for validation of a return on their investment (ROI) and, of course, more competition. It's not just the major leagues going after sponsorship dollars. Both for profit and non-profit organizations have "jumped on the bandwagon" and recognized that corporations will invest money in their events IF there is some marketing value and payback to them for that investment.

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. It's a nice dream but the reality is much more complicated (and time consuming) than that.

Before getting started you should have a definition of sponsorship. The following definition is by no means perfect; however, there are some choice words that help you purse your sponsorship sales with a good foundation. Sponsorship is an investment, in cash or in kind, in return for access to exploitable business potential associated with an event or highly publicized entity.  The key words in this definition are "investment", "access to", and "exploitable"

First, investment. By constantly looking at sponsorship as an investment opportunity, where there is a viable payback, no longer are you talking to someone about a payment of cash or money. Rather, use the word investment which automatically implies that value will be returned to the investor. Second, access to which means they ability to be associated with a particular offering (event, sport, festival, fair … you name it). Lastly, exploitable, a positive word which means "to take the greatest advantage of" the relationship. In other words, allowing the sponsor to make the greatest use of their investment and capitalize on their relationship. 

Don't underestimate the value of your local events and local opportunities. Your read so much about the multi-million dollar deals you forget that there are many more small deals … $500, $2,500, $5,000. These can be as simple as vertical street banners (which offer great exposure for a very cheap cost per thousand) to title sponsorship of the local parade or festival. Once you have gone through the 12 steps you will have a better understanding of how to put together sponsorship offerings, what words to use, and how to not only price but evaluate, on a post-event basis, what you provided to the sponsor.

If you take these basic 12 steps you will be assured of greater success in your sponsorship endeavors. 

Step 1 … Take inventory

What are you selling? You have a number of elements in your event that have value to the sponsor. The include, but are not restricted to, the following:
· Radio, TV and print partners
· Retail outlet
· Collateral material … posters, flyers, brochures, table tents, payroll stuffers, bank and utility bill stuffers, etc.
· Banners
· Tickets: quantity for giving to sponsor plus ticket backs for redemption
· VIP seating
· VIP parking
· Hospitality … for the trade, for customers, for employees
· On-site banner exposure
· Booth
· Audio announcements
· Billboards
· Product sales/product displays
· Celebrity appearances/interviews
· Internet exposure

And, you can think of more. Look at your event as a store and take inventory of the many things that will have value to your sponsors, whether it be for the marketing value or hospitality value. Take your time in making up this list … time spent at the beginning will be rewarded by more effective sponsorships when you get into the selling process.

Step 2 …Develop your media and retail partners

Next, approach your media and retail partners. They should be treated the same way as all other sponsors, with the same rights and benefits. You want to negotiate for air time, with radio and television, and for print coverage with newspapers and magazines. (You can always try for money but be happy to settle just for barter … you really need this inventory to be competitive with other people seeking sponsorship money from the same sponsors you will be approaching.) This inventory of media can then be included in your total sponsorship offerings to prospective sponsors. 

The retail partner offers you a store relationship for various products. For example, if Walgreen's is your retail partner, they have shelf space, end of aisle display opportunities, weekly flyers, in-store audio announcements, bag stuffers, on-bag promotions and register tape advertising that can be offered to your product sponsor such as Tums or Schick razors. Because sponsorship has to become more and more accountable, and offer a strong ROI, this retail relationship is vital to ensure the success of your product sponsorship.
In fact, after taking your inventory steps 2 and 3 are done almost simultaneously as you must have something to give to your potential media and retail partners that describes the sponsorship. Briefly, here's what is important to these two key 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 media exposure that the media people 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 the air time or print coverage. Just make sure it is always coordinated through you so they are not approaching your sponsors and you are not approaching their advertisers. From radio and TV you want air time that can then be included in your sponsorship offerings. 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.

Treat your media just like your other sponsors. Give them the attendant benefits that go with the value of their sponsorship. When the event is over, they should provide you with proof of performance (radio and TV an affidavit of performance; print should give you tear sheets) and, conversely, you should provide them with a post event report 


A retail partner … supermarket, drugstore, fast food outlet … offers you some additional benefits that can be passed on to your sponsors. And, with a retail outlet, you can approach manufacturers and offer them some of these benefits.

For example, once you have a retail partners the following opportunities exist:
· End cap or aisle displays
· Register tape promotions
· In-store displays
· Store audio announcements
· Inclusion in weekly flyers
· Weekly advertising
· Cross-promotion opportunities
· Bag stuffers
· Placemats (fast food outlets)
· Shopping bags

Again, as with the media, even though this might be straight barter, treat the retail outlet as you would a paying sponsor. They are providing you with terrific benefits that can be passed on to your other sponsors, a tremendous value in attracting retail products. And, as with the media, have them provide you with documentation of their support … samples of bags, flyers, inserts, etc. In return, you will provide them with a post-event report, documenting the benefits they received and the value of those benefits.

Step 3 … Develop your sponsorship offerings

Now you can put together the various components of your sponsorship offerings so you are prepared to offer valuable sponsorships. Try to avoid too many levels and too "cutesy" headings. Don't use gold, silver and bronze. Don't use industry-specific terms your buyer might not understand. (If the buyer doesn't understand the words they probably won't take a look at the offering!). Simply, you can have title, presenting, associate, product specific and event specific categories. They are easy to understand and easy to sell. Of course, title is the most expensive and most effective. Think of the Volvo Tennis Classic or the Virginia Slims Tennis Classic. The minute the name of your event is "married" to the sponsor's name the media have to give the whole title. Great exposure for your title sponsor. 
The first step in preparing for your initial sponsor contact is to prepare a one page fact sheet that clearly and succinctly outlines the basics of your event (the who, what, where, when of your property) and highlights the various benefits of being associated with that event (radio, TV, print, on-site, etc.). Sample following.

LOCATION: Downtown Highlands, NJ

DATES/TIMES: 40 events from May 1-December 31, 2XXX including craft shows, bike tours, car shows, cruise nights and holiday activities

ATTENDANCE: 50,000 All demographic groups with average attendees 30-45 year old, professional, married with children. Visitors come from all over NJ with a concentration on
attendance from people in Monmouth County. 

SPECIFIC ACTIVITIES: Food, fireworks, entertainment, crafters, rides, vendors… everything you have come to expect in the way of family entertainment on the Jersey Shore.

OPPORTUNITIES: Large street banners, Vertical banners, Audio announcements, Inclusion on posters, flyers, etc. On-site signage

PROMOTION IDEAS: Product sampling
Database development (register to win)
Product sales
Premium incentives
Cross-promotions/sponsor partnerships


Allen Consulting, Inc. 732-946-2711


Step 4 … Research your sponsors

Learn about your potential sponsors. Get on the Internet, read the annual reports, do a data search on the company, use the Team Marketing Report sourcebook … find out what the companies are currently sponsoring, what their branding strategies are, what their business objectives are. Become an expert on your prospects … the more you know abut 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.

Be prepared to discuss the sponsor's individual marketing strategies with them when making the sales call. KNOW YOUR SPONSOR'S BUSINESS BETTER THAN THEY DO THEMSELVES! You will have to answer questions quickly and intelligently during the sales process … know everything about their brands, their sales goals, their sponsorship strategies.
Know and understand that 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, multi-cultural marketing managers, office of the President and even a sponsorship director! Look for different opportunities within the same company.

Step 5 … Do initial sponsor contact

Then, pick up the telephone. When you reach the correct person, don't launch right into a sales pitch. Rather, ask them several questions about their business that will indicate to you whether or not they are a viable sponsor for you project. Questions could be "Based on what I have read on 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 you ask questions that can be answered with yes.

Also, make sure you are talking with the decision maker. How do you know if they are the decision maker? 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 decision maker.

One of the questions is always "How do I get past the gatekeeper?" If you can't get through the gatekeeper, make the gatekeeper your friend and ally. Explain the program, explain the benefits of participation and get him/her to make the appointment for you Another concern? How to get through voice mail. Don't leave long, boring messages. Never leave more than three messages. Dial around … try to get a real person … talk to the operator … have the person paged … get their e-mail 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 the 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 it to you?". Then, ask for the fax number, send it 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 of afternoon. Don't give them a chance to say they can't see you.

If it is a company that is too far for you to meet with face-to-face, 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 that they can have in front of them when you are speaking with them so they can follow along with your discussion and presentation.

Step 7 … Be creative

Once in front of the sponsor, be prepared. 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 pet store, come up with a contest that involves the customers and their pets. 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 the sponsor understand how this sponsorship offers him/her 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

The moment of truth … 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?" or something like that. You will have to 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 your money before the event. If not, you could suffer from the "call girl principle". The only exception to this rule? If you are working with a Fortune 500 company they will want to hold back 10% 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 sponsor involved up to, and through, your event. See if their public relations department will put out a press release on their involvement. If they do, make sure you have approval rights before it is sent you. (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 collateral as it is being developed - posters, flyers, banners, table tents, invitations, etc. - to make sure they are happy with their logo placement. (With fax and e-mail this is now a very simple process.) Make sure they are kept up-to-date on new sponsors, new activities … whatever is happening. Discuss their marketing needs with them … make sure the contest or other activity they are doing is being followed through on. The more you involve them in the process the more involved (and committed) they become.

Step 10 … Involve the sponsor in the event

Involve your sponsor in the event. Don't let a sponsor hand you a check and say "Let me know what happens". You are doomed to failure. Get them to participate by being on site … walk around with them … discuss their various banner locations, the quality of the audience, the lines at their booth, 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, 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, retail brochures, 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 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 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

Now, if you've followed these 12 steps carefully, renewal is easy. In fact, you can get your sponsor to give you a verbal renewal during your event (if it is going well) and certainly after you have provided that sponsor with a post-event report that documents the value of all the marketing components he/she received. You should try for a three to one return on their investment. In many instances it will be even more than that if you have delivered as promised!


Selling isn't easy; however, if you follow these 12 steps it will be easier because you will have done your homework and will be prepared to discuss the sponsorship intelligently. These 12 steps make selling fun!