When I first started on my sponsorship journey there was very little information or help available. So I tried a whole range of different ideas and strategies on how to get sponsored. Some of them worked but many didn’t.
After years of trial and error I’ve finally put together a straightforward process that works really well for me, and has achieved great results.
To save you the hassle of working it all out for yourself, I’m happy to share it. I’ll show you how to get sponsored using my tried and tested real-world techniques.
There are 5 easy-to-follow steps that you can start with right away and, if you follow them carefully, the process will work for you too.
Here are the 5 steps to follow on how to get sponsored.
- Build your minimum viable audience
- Research your sponsorship prospects
- Prepare your sponsorship pitch
- Meet with your sponsor
- Create your winning sponsorship proposal
How to get sponsored – the 5-step process
Step 1: Build your minimum viable audience
Before you start to look for sponsorship, you need something that sponsors want: access to your audience.
Simply put, your job is to:
- Build an audience of passionate fans your sponsor can market to
- Help your sponsor leverage the benefits of your sponsorship opportunity
- Provide your sponsor with a good return on investment
If you do your job, you will enjoy sponsorship success. First, though, you need to build your minimum viable audience.
Your minimum viable audience is the smallest possible market of fans that will provide your sponsor with a return on their investment. Ask yourself this: what’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort?
The minimum size of the audience will depend upon the nature of your sponsorship opportunity, how passionate your fans are, and how connected you are to them.
Some sponsorship opportunities are more likely than others to attract passionate fans. Good examples are sports, entertainment, hobbies, personal development and cause-related organisations. They often attract passionate fans, who have a strong affinity for brands that support their passion.
The other determining factor is how connected you are to your audience. The closer the connection, the stronger the relationship; the stronger the relationship, the greater the influence you have over your audience’s buying decisions.
A direct relationship has the greatest influence. Your aim is to build a minimal viable audience, creating connections and strengthening relationships as you go. The stronger the relationships, the fewer audience members you need to represent a viable opportunity for a potential sponsor.
In summary: it’s better to have 1,000 people who love you than 10,000 people who like you.
Build your audience
Never before has it been easier to build your audience and create direct relationships. Think website, social media and email subscribers. The Internet can provide you with all the tools you need to succeed.
Let’s start with your website. It’s vital that your organisation has one. It’s your home base on the web – where you have complete control of your content and where you can create direct relationships with your audience.
If you don’t already have a website, you can create one with the help of any one of a number of online tools. They are really easy to use and you don’t need to be a technical wiz to get your website up and running.
My personal favourite is the Wix website builder, which allows you to design and build your own high-quality website.
Once your website is up and running, the objective is to drive traffic to your website via various channels (such as social media, SEO, and live events) and to encourage visitors to join your audience. From there you begin to create relationships, and turn visitors into fans.
Social media platforms help you connect with your audience, increase awareness about you and your organisation, and drive traffic to your website.
Each social media platform has its own identity. This identity is shaped by the audience demographic, and the things a particular demographic is interested in. Choose the right social media platforms – those your audience uses. Where does your audience hang out online?
Like anything worthwhile, this part of the process takes time. That’s why it’s crucial to focus your limited resources on the most relevant social media platforms right from the start. Customise your message and voice based on the platform and audience.
- Facebook: Videos and curated content
- Instagram: High-res photos, quotes and stories
- Twitter: News, blog posts, and GIFs
- LinkedIn: Jobs, company news, and professional content
- Pinterest: Infographics and step-by-step photo guides
One of the best ways to create relationships with your audience is with an email list. In subscribing to your list, people give you their permission to communicate with them.
Use your website to build your email list. Include an email subscription form that visitors can fill in to join your list. There are various tactics you can use to encourage them to join. Here are some examples:
- Use a lead magnet. Provide an exclusive piece of content to visitors who join.
- Regularly publish evergreen content. This is content that never goes out-of-date and draws visitors to your website.
- Publish calls-to-action throughout your website. This can be a combination of subscription forms and pop-ups.
Once people join your list you can send them customised emails to build loyalty and trust.
Segment your audience
Segmentation means dividing your audience into groups according to certain characteristics. By doing this, you demonstrate to the sponsor that you have a good understanding of your audience and can provide specifically targeted promotional opportunities.
Here are some common segments that can be customised to suit your audience, listed from least to most engaged:
- Passive followers. They know about you and might follow you on social media but they don’t yet participate actively in any offline or online activities.
- Active followers. This segment is actively engaged with you and open to a two-way conversation.
- Subscribers. By supplying their personal details, these people have given you permission to communicate with them actively.
- Members and evangelists. These people have made an economic commitment to you (in time and money) and they actively promote your organisation to their peers, family and friends.
Understand your audience
To approach a sponsor you need a clear understanding of who your audience is.
There are 2 key types of information to collect:
- Demographics. These are the characteristics and statistical data that relate to your audience.
- Psychographics. This refers to the classification of your audience, according to attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria.
Information-gathering techniques, such as surveys and one-on-one interviews, can be very time consuming in the initial stage of getting to know your audience better. I recommend the following simple techniques:
- Social media analytics
- Google analytics
- Online searches
- Online forums
- Membership databases
Use two or more of these sources to collect and verify your demographic data.
Psychographics, your audience’s attitudes and aspirations, can be a little more challenging to uncover without speaking directly with your audience.
However, there is a way. Niche online groups and forums that your audience visits are a rich source of information to help you understand their attitudes and aspirations.
Follow the threads of conversations. You can learn a lot about what makes your audience tick, from the challenges they face to their goals and motivations.
Here are several groups and forums you should investigate:
- Facebook groups
- Niche website forums
Step 2: Research your sponsorship prospects
Choose an industry to target
Rather than focus on an individual sponsor, decide which industry you will target. The aim is to contact multiple sponsors in the same industry. This maximises the use of your time and increases the chances of getting one or more face-to-face meetings.
To maximise your chances of getting sponsored, the industry you choose should satisfy one or (preferably) more of the following criteria:
- Similar audience. You’re fundamentally selling access to your audience. The industry you choose has to be one that offers products and services your audience wants and can afford.
- Competitive market. In the industry, are numerous companies aggressively marketing and advertising to win customers? If so, they are looking for ways to gain an advantage over their competition; sponsorship might be just what they need.
- Consumer sentiment. How do consumers perceived the industry? If an industry is not seen in an overly positive light, sponsorship might be the answer. The power of sponsorship comes from creating positive experiences – memorable and natural exchanges with your audience, which will ultimately improve consumer sentiment.
Once you have a list of target industries, choose one on which to focus your efforts.
Understand the sponsor’s challenges
To create an impact when approaching a sponsor you must demonstrate that you understand the sponsor’s industry, you are aware of the challenges involved in connecting with customers, and you can provide some insight.
You need to do your research and find the ‘pain points’ that will really resonate with the sponsor. You will focus particularly on the challenges that you are uniquely qualified to address, using the 6 benefits of sponsorship.
For example, these challenges could include:
- Increased ad-blocker usage
- Decrease in traditional media viewership
- Change in media viewership trends
- Increased subscriptions to on demand video services
- Negative consumer sentiment towards advertising
Use the 6 benefits of sponsorship to address the sponsor’s challenges:
- The halo effect
- Engaged and passionate fans
- Irresistible experiences
- Social proof and influence
- Interactive content
- Word-of-mouth referrals
For more information on the benefits of sponsorship see 6 reasons why you should be sponsored.
Shortlist your sponsors
Sponsorship is a numbers game. The more potential sponsors you contact, the more likely you are to get that all-important meeting.
When you have decided which industry to target, make a list of companies in the industry that meet the following criteria:
- Audience. How closely do you and the company share a common audience?
- Geography. Does the company operate in the same area as you do – national, state, regional, city, district, suburban level?
- Size. How does its size compare with the value you can provide and the audience you can connect it with? The bigger the gap the lower the compatibility. Sony, for example, is unlikely to sponsor the local junior soccer team.
You should aim for a list of 10 to 20 businesses that operate within the selected industry, share your audience, are looking for customers in the areas where you operate, and are a good fit in terms of size.
Step 3: Prepare your sponsorship pitch
Find the right contacts
Now that you have a list of 10 to 20 companies, you need to have the right contact information – details for the person to whom you will send you sponsorship pitch.
You should contact someone who can schedule a meeting with you, and ultimately approve a sponsorship agreement.
Depending on the size of the company, look for titles such as:
- Brand Manager – in larger companies with multiple brands.
- Marketing Director or Marketing Manager – in small to medium sized companies, where the marketing director or manager is responsible for all marketing activities.
- Managing Director or General Manager – these are often the titles used in smaller companies where the director or owner makes most of the decisions.
To find the right contact information, there are four main sources to try:
- The company’s website
- Google search
- Online business directories
Use all four sources to cross-reference and verify the information.
- Full name of the person
- Position title
- Physical or postal address
- Main phone number
- Email address (if possible)
Remember to follow-up with a phone call to confirm the person’s position title and address details. You don’t need to get this directly from the contact; just ring the main number and ask the person on the other end of the phone to confirm the details.
The Perfect Sponsorship Pitch
I’ve tried lots of different approaches but, from my experience, this one will give you the very best chance of reaching the next stage – a face-to-face meeting with a potential sponsor.
My sponsorship pitch involves 9 elements:
- A bold cover statement. Start with this to grab the sponsor’s attention.
- Background. Set the scene by providing details to back up your bold statement.
- Specific challenges. Flesh out the sponsor’s individual challenges and how they are affecting the business. Hint at how you can help overcome these challenges, through sponsorship.
- The 6 benefits of sponsorship: a better way. Provide detail for each benefit.
- Breakdown of audience segments.
- Promotion and marketing strategies. Provide detail and examples of how you will market the sponsor’s brand to your audience segments.
- Property overview. Talk about your property and opportunity; provide details about who you are and what you do.
- Next steps. Always thank sponsors for their time, indicate when you will call them, and provide your contact details.
- Executive Summary. Where applicable, provide sponsors with executive summary to help them ‘sell’ your ideas within their organisations.
For detailed information on how to prepare your sponsorship pitch take a look at The Perfect Sponsorship Pitch. It guides you through the entire pitch process and includes a complete sponsorship pitch that I have personally used to get sponsored.
Deliver your sponsorship pitch
The key to the success of your sponsorship pitch is to have the right person open and read the package.
Use the following steps to contact your sponsor and organise a meeting:
- Make sure you direct it to the right person
- Make it ‘lumpy’ and personal
- Use a courier or priority mail
- Send in batches
- Follow up with a phone call
- Get conceptual agreement that your sponsorship opportunity is good for the sponsor’s business
- Organise to meet with the sponsor
Step 4: Meet with your sponsor
Your sponsorship pitch and subsequent phone call have convinced a sponsor to meet with you face-to-face and discuss the opportunity further. Now you must prepare thoroughly for your meeting.
Prepare for your meeting
- Refresh your research. Before meeting with the sponsor, reacquaint yourself with the company website, the sponsor’s LinkedIn profile, latest news and current marketing.
- Prepare follow-up material. During your initial phone call you might have discussed topics and ideas that you need to follow up on. Prepare your follow-up material so you have some additional talking points.
- Like attracts like. People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those who are more like themselves. It’s a good idea to learn a little more about the person you’ll be meeting. LinkedIn and social media profiles can be a wealth of information.
- Dress for success. Capitalise on the ‘like attracts like’ phenomenon, and dress appropriately for your meeting. How you dress and present yourself can convey a great deal, and create perceptions about your character, values, work ethic and viability as a future marketing partner.
10 questions to ask your sponsor
To be successful in your search for sponsorship, you need to get to know your sponsor, so you can customise the sponsorship benefits and marketing initiatives to suit the sponsor’s objectives.
Your first meeting is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the sponsor and the sponsor’s objectives, so you can create a winning sponsorship proposal.
Here are 10 questions you should ask your sponsor during the meeting:
- What has been your experience with sponsorship?
- What is your target audience?
- Who is your ideal customer?
- What products and services do you want to promote?
- What is your current marketing strategy?
- Which promotional channels are working best, and what’s your current conversion rate?
- What are your marketing objectives for the next 1 to 3 years?
- What resources do you have to activate the sponsorship benefits?
- Do you have any reservations about our working together?
- What should I include in the proposal to help you build the business case?
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Get agreement from the sponsor
At the conclusion of the meeting you should have a clear picture of the sponsor’s objectives, and an agreement that your sponsorship opportunity is good for the sponsor’s business.
The first part – understanding the objectives – is fairly straightforward. They include:
- Marketing Objectives. Once you’ve developed the necessary trust and rapport with a sponsor you investigate and explore the marketing objectives – for example, to increase revenue by 10% in the South Eastern region through onsite sales.
- Measures of Success. The success of any sponsorship can be measured in two ways:
- Quantitatively: tangible results you can count – for example, subscriptions to the customer loyalty program to increase by 25% by June
- Qualitatively: less tangible results that improve the sponsor’s position or circumstance – for example, positive brand chatter on the various social media networks.
- Value to the Sponsor. How much is the sponsor willing to invest? What is the sponsor’s expected return on investment? It can be difficult to get these answers directly from the sponsor. You will find it helpful to refer to my article: How to put the right price on your next sponsorship proposal.
The second part – getting an initial agreement from the sponsor – can be a little more tricky. Here is the approach I use.
When people make a verbal or written commitment to others, they are more likely to follow through and remain consistent with their previous commitment.
When you are dealing with potential sponsors, this commitment and consistency will help. Ideally, you can nudge them towards commitment to a sponsorship opportunity by asking them to agree to a series of requests.
For example, during the meeting:
- Ask them to agree that sponsorship is good for business
- When they have agreed that sponsorship is generally good for business, ask them to agree that sponsorship is good for their business, based on the alignment of the target audience and marketing objectives
- Next, ask them to agree that your sponsorship opportunity is good for their business
- When they agree to that, ask them to say yes to receiving your sponsorship proposal
As you can see, by agreeing to the series of requests above, the sponsor is making incremental commitments towards saying yes to your sponsorship proposal. They are not being asked to say yes straight away, but you are gently guiding them through the process, educating and influencing them along the way.
When you understand the sponsor’s objectives, and when you have agreement that your sponsorship opportunity is good for the sponsor’s business, it’s time to create your winning sponsorship proposal.
Step 5: Create your winning sponsorship proposal
The final step is to create your winning sponsorship proposal, which outlines what you have agreed to, and is customised to meet the sponsor’s objectives
Understand how the sponsor does business
Recently, as I was chatting with prospective sponsor, I realised that the sponsor was looking for a ‘return on investment’ model that was similar to one that was already working well for this sponsor. Basically, it involved spending a set amount on traditional advertising and expecting a predictable return (see question 6 above – ‘Which promotional channels are working best?’).
For example, if the sponsor spent $10,000 on radio advertising, the predictable result would be to generate 100 new customers. That’s an acquisition cost of $100 per customer.
To sign the deal, I knew I had to match, or better, this result. Accordingly, I modified my sponsorship proposal, based on a ‘fee per new customer’ model and setup costs. If I had proposed a more experience-based, lead generation model I wouldn’t have been able to finalise the deal.
Be flexible. Adjust your approach, based on what you learn from sponsors. Don’t get stuck, or fail, by trying to sell them something they don’t want.
Create a win-win-win scenario
For a sponsorship partnership to be successful, there must be three winners. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but you are last on the list.
Winner #1: Your Audience. You have a duty to your loyal and passionate fans to make sure that any partnership with a sponsor enhances and adds value to their experience.
Winner #2: Your Sponsor. Sponsorship is the art and science of tapping into the emotion and passion of your target audience and connecting them with your sponsor in a meaningful and positive way.
- Understand the sponsor’s objectives
- Provide opportunities for the sponsor to create valuable connections with your audience
- Deliver a good return on investment
Winner #3: You. Ultimately, you must benefit from any partnership. I often see sponsorship seekers undervaluing their contribution. To be successful:
- You must be fairly compensated for your expertise, your effort and for the access to your audience
- The partnership must strengthen your relationship with your fans
- The partnership should provide you with the capacity to meet your organisational objectives
The sponsorship proposal structure
If you follow the steps above, the sponsorship proposal will be about documenting what you’ve already discussed and agreed to with the sponsor.
The sponsorship proposal is not a sales tool. You are no longer trying to convince the sponsor that the opportunity is good for business.
That work has already been done in the previous steps. The objective of the sponsorship proposal is to have the sponsor agree to the terms and conditions, and to formalise your partnership.
Your sponsorship proposal will include the following 7 sections:
- Sponsorship Opportunity. An executive summary, or synopsis, which focuses on the outcomes and benefits for the sponsor.
- Marketing Objectives. An outline of the marketing objectives, as discussed with, and agreed to, by the sponsor.
- Measures of Success. This section documents the quantitative and qualitative metrics you will use to measure the success of the sponsorship program, as discussed with, and agreed to, by the sponsor.
- Value to the Sponsor. This details the value to the sponsor, as agreed to previously.
- Unique Marketing Initiatives. This section proposes a number of unique marketing initiatives, which are designed to meet the sponsor’s objectives, are measurable, and provide the required value.
- Terms and Conditions. These include costs, time frames, payment terms, and expectations for both parties.
- Call to Action. This section reiterates the benefits of the proposal, includes your contact details, and a form where the sponsor can sign and agree to the terms of the proposal.
For more detailed information see 10 steps to create a winning sponsorship proposal.
Finally… a recap
If you follow the 5 steps outlined above you will get sponsored. It’s not rocket science but, even so, you must put in the required effort. No one will simply give you money because you’re a nice guy or gal, or because you represent a worthy cause.
You have to understand the sponsor’s challenges, establish value, and provide evidence that the sponsor will get a good return on investment.
You can do this if you:
- Have something the sponsor wants: access to your viable audience
- Demonstrate your detailed knowledge of your audience
- Understand the sponsor’s challenges
- Apply the 6 benefits of sponsorship to address these challenges
- Prepare and deliver a sponsorship pitch that grabs the sponsor’s attention
- Arrange a meeting where learn more about your sponsor and the sponsor’s particular objectives, and get agreement on the fundamentals of the proposed partnership
- Create and deliver a customised sponsorship proposal that outlines what you have agreed to and meets the sponsor’s objectives.
Happy sponsorship seeking!