Spotlight on… Rights Holders - Securing A Sponsor For Your Event

Partnerships with events form the backbone of the global sponsorship industry. But changes in business practice and technology mean that rights holders need to constantly evolve their strategies to increase their chances of securing investment from brands. To help, The Sponsorship Collective and Eventbrite have joined forces to produce a detailed report called The 2017 Guide to Event Sponsorship. In the report, they outline current trends and best practices for success.

This is the third in our Spotlight series.  To read our Gaming and Arts Spotlights, please click here

One of the key changes identified by the report is the impact of digital media on the sector. One of the contributors, Joe Waters of Selfish Giving, says this has transformed the way sponsors evaluate their investment: “The abundance of data and analytics in the digital world has greatly influenced how sponsors measure success in the real world.” Another contributor, Katie O’Neil, Senior Corporate Events Manager for LogMeIn, notes that: “There are so many more ways for an event sponsor to interact with their event attendees now.”

Accustomed to real-time feedback and data-rich reporting in the digital world, Sponsorship Collective president and CEO Chris Baylis says there has been a paradigm shift for event sponsorship. “In order to build a foundation and win sponsors, events need to change their perspective. While there are still aspects of sponsorship focused on brand awareness, today’s customers know when they’re being advertised to and can more easily ignore marketing messages.” As a result, “sponsors don't just want your attendees to be aware of their product or service. They want to offer value, provide solutions, and create deeper, long-lasting connections with attendees.”

Sara Berry, who has sold sponsorship for properties such as the New England Patriots, says sponsorship is “about partnership these days. Successful sponsorship happens when sponsors and events work together to advance one another’s goals.”

O’Neil adds that rights holders really need to know their events in detail if they want to win brand partners: “There are too many events offering the same access to the same sponsors. If you want to win sponsorship, you’re going to have to know who your attendees are and how sponsors can help them.”

With this in mind, it’s also crucial to have a clear sense of what your event’s assets are, says the report: “A logo placement, for example, is an asset. So are speaking opportunities or complementary passes. But if you’ve taken the time to learn who your attendees are, you’ll be able to identify more valuable assets. Let's say a large number respondents to a post-event survey from last year mentioned wishing there were more networking opportunities at your single-track conference. You want to fulfil their wishes, but you only budgeted for one cocktail mixer. This is the perfect opportunity for a sponsor — and a valuable asset, too. Gather your team for a brainstorm and see how many assets you can come up with.”

If you need inspiration, says Waters, keep an eye on the competition. "A lot of people don't look at similar events to see how they’re doing sponsorship, but they should. Look at events and see if they're making money off something you're not.”

Once you have a list of assets, the next crucial step is to determine the valuation of each opportunity. Baylis warns that a lot of events get this part wrong. “A majority of event organisers have no idea what the market rate is for their sponsorship properties. So they tend to make up their value.”

This may win a handful of sponsorships, but equally it could leave money on the table. “By blindly assigning values, you can undercharge sponsors or ask for too much,” says Baylis. 

To maximise your sponsorship revenues, you'll need to find the sweet spot between the actual cost of each asset and the perceived value of it. This will involve researching the market rate for your assets. “Seeing what other events charge for similar sponsorship opportunities is a common method for determining your price," says Waters. “But when you look at other events, don’t just look at what they're charging sponsors. Look at what they’re offering them for that price.”

Keep in mind that you’re also competing with other methods of advertising. “Potential sponsors invest money in advertising and marketing on a daily basis. They know exactly how much an email blast or logo placement is worth — you should, too.”

Having said all of the above, the report acknowledges that setting the initial price for sponsorship assets can be tricky. Even with all of the best research in the world, no one guesses the “perfect” price on their first go. So be prepared to treat sponsorship pricing as a test-and-then-iterate exercise.

The next step after establishing a price for assets is knowing how to package them, says the report. “Most of our experts believe that gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship packages — or any naming scheme — can be effective conversation starters,” says the report. “But they all agree that custom packages are key to discovering more valuable opportunities that sponsors really want.” Baylis goes further – arguing that packages are the most overrated, unnecessary tool in your tool box.

The key point is that sponsors don't want to buy a bunch of assets they don't need. Forcing them to choose between arbitrary levels may mean you're leaving money on the table. Instead of offering packages, give them a menu of assets to choose from. This can lead to bigger sponsorship deals and longer lasting partnerships with valuable sponsors. “List your sponsorship assets by activation type,” says the report, “branding, on site, samples, experiential — to help sponsors quickly understand the potential value of each asset.” When it comes to including prices, associating values to assets can be helpful for sponsors. Assigned values provide a baseline and let the sponsor know if the opportunity is feasible on their budget.

With all of the sponsorship elements in place, how do you present your offering to brands? The Sponsorship Collection and EventBrite note that: “Nearly half of survey respondents say their primary method for contacting sponsors is email”.

If that’s the case for you, then you should never lead with a proposal or package – build up to it via an iterative process. Likewise be cautious about mass emails. “One of the most common mistakes I see people make is sending 600-word emails with a proposal attached,” says Baylis. “They hope the recipient will open, read, and respond by purchasing a prepackaged opportunity - it doesn’t work like that.” 

As you begin to approach potential sponsors, remember your goal is not to sell sponsorship — it's to find the decision maker and ask for a meeting. So when is it okay to send a proposal? "After the sponsor asks for one and you know enough about their goals to create a custom package," says Baylis.

So what other advice does the report give? Berry says: “The best advice I have for people trying to win sponsorship is to listen. As you meet with potential sponsors, validate your assumptions about their goals and objectives. Ask them to speak about their challenges and successes. Genuinely listen.”

Waters stresses the need for follow through: “Sponsorship isn't just picking up a check and saying, ‘Thanks, see you next year”. You have to work. And when the work is done, you need to prove you did it." Failing to deliver or over promising to sponsors will limit your ability to win future sponsorship.”

This follow through continues after the event is over, adds the report. “Send out a post-event survey to ask attendees for feedback, including their experiences with sponsors and activations. Within two weeks of your event’s end, call a meeting with your sponsors to discuss the outcome of their investments. Come prepared with a fulfillment report.”

Final thoughts? “Stay on top of trends in technology that help you learn more about your event and attendees. From targeting methods to robust data analytics platforms, event technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Also, sponsorship is supposed to be win-win. So be ready to outline how you’re going to help your sponsors grow their business and how you’ll measure success. Show you have their best interest at heart.”

And some advice for brands…

The Report also argues that business to business events are an area that sponsors should be investigating. Unlike most concert-goers, sports fans, and festival die-hards, people who attend B2B events make important business decisions and control corporate budgets. As a result, says Baylis, these attendees can be 10 to 100 more valuable than the public. 

“B2B events have more layers to them, which means there’s more opportunity for sponsorship," says Waters. “At a conference, for example, not only can sponsors get on stage and directly address the audience, but they can have face-to-face conversations with their most interested customers.”

Turning to rights holders again, it’s not enough to tell potential sponsors that your event attracts a B2B audience, stresses the report. If you hope to utilise your secret weapon, you'll need to know who your attendees are before you can determine their value to sponsors. “If you use Google Analytics to track your event website or listing, you'll be able to gather basic demographic data about your attendees,” it suggest. “Then with a data management platform like Umbel, you can combine the data from Google Analytics and your ticketing and registration system with their third-party data. Now you know things like household income, purchase behaviour, and more.”

This is fine as far as it goes. But thanks to free web analytic tools and inexpensive databases, you can bet your competition also has an easy time getting to know their attendees. As a result, says the report, you must go deeper. “From purchasing market research to analysing your attendee data, there are numerous ways to define your attendees — but the best method is surveying. Surveys allow you to go deeper by asking your attendees about their frustrations, goals, budget responsibilities, and other information potential sponsors will find valuable. In addition to basic questions about age and job function, find out how many people they manage and if their team is national or global.” Just be careful not to ask so many questions it puts people off bothering with the survey.

The UK Sponsorship Awards offers a number of categories for event sponsorships, and also has a dedicated rights holder award. For companies and organisations interested in entering the 2018 edition of the event, follow this link for more details.

View the 2019 Winners

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