How To Catch the Big Fish – Sponsorship Strategy for Associations 

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11/23/2022

Original Author: JP Moery

Trying to land big sponsors for association events is a little like sport fishing—you can be lucky and catch a whopper on your first attempt, but not likely. Landing a trophy sponsor could be labeled a “stretch goal” at best. However, the expectation of landing big sponsors in your association’s boat is frequently placed upon sales teams anyway. That’s why we’ve put together a list of tips on how to enhance your sponsorship strategy to help you win those big fish sponsors. 

Know the waters you’re fishing in

Just like researching where to take your big fishing trip, if you want to land big sponsors for an upcoming event, you must realize:  

  1. Big sponsors have certain expectations, and you must tailor your offering to meet their expectations, not the other way around. 
  2. Big sponsors want (almost demand) one-on-one access with your members. That’s why they are paying the big bucks.
  3. Big sponsors demand big-time exposure, which can include naming rights and the opportunity to present to all the event’s attendees.
  4. Big sponsors want to deliver strategic marketing programs that leverage diverse opportunities such as live events, webinars, email, and other platforms.
  5. Big sponsors want to see the metrics. They will not accept your “word” about the data. 

When considering your sponsorship strategy, you need to be realistic about what big sponsors you can attract. For example, just because you have members who are CEOs doesn’t mean you can attract Fortune 500 CEOs. It’s good to have a healthy dose of confidence, but the reality is it’s possible your association may not be able to significantly move the interest needle for the Googles, Apples, and Toyotas of the world.   

Why?

Because big companies often think they are doing you a favor by participating in your event—not the other way around. Think about it this way. Some big sponsors may be bigger than your boat.    

Big sponsors may already be in your lake

The truth is the best sponsorships likely exist in your space today. These sponsors are existing suppliers who want to take things to the next level, for the right opportunity, and often in collaboration with you.

Be proactive with your large and small existing sponsors. 

A sponsor’s priorities and business goals change. For example, when a new sponsor came on board and started working with you two years ago, the idea was to present and introduce their brand to your industry and the association because nobody knew them. But, that was two years ago. Your association has changed and so has the sponsor. So, why keep doing the same thing? Do something that facilitates the key accounts they want to meet; perhaps, discuss the opportunity to branch out in new areas such as sponsored research

Our recommendation for association sponsorship strategies is to have at least an annual meeting with your big and small sponsors together to listen to where they want to go next and how they want to execute it. 

Try new bait

Has your prospectus not changed since before COVID? Chances are your prospectus needs a fresh approach. It’s time to shake your sponsorship strategy up and create something that will catch prospect attention. 

Here are a few tips to help improve success:

  1. Prospective sponsors want to see data points in your prospectus. The adage goes, “Data tells and stories sell.” But you can’t ignore data. Data points such as: Who’s going to be there? How many attendees will the sponsor potentially reach? Who are the keynote speakers? What are the prize giveaways? Any relevant statistics the prospect can take back and share with their upper management to help close the deal are worth it.
  2. Share the stories of others (testimonials) about how they improved business through sponsorships. Six to twelve testimonials is a good number to shoot for.
  3. Organize your prospectus by business objectives. Instead of just listing sponsorships in chronological order, group them by thought leadership opportunities, access to VIPs, branding, etc. Showcase tactics they want to implement.  
  4. Provide customization. Contact sponsors directly to discuss their business objectives and customize a sponsorship opportunity that effectively meets their needs.
  5. Consider a sponsor’s “timing” for buying. Know the cadence of your industry and when your sponsors will likely be allocating their budgets for the coming year. Typically, the standard is September and October because businesses plan their buying during Q4 for the following year. If you miss the sponsor’s timing in their budget cycle to get new dollars, the likelihood of selling that sponsorship drops significantly.
  6. Create a new prospectus every year. This isn’t just swapping hotel images on the cover because that’s the event destination this year. This is about eliminating the bottom 10 percent of your inventory that evokes little interest and doesn’t sell. You should be adding new inventory every year.
  7. Interview your sponsors about the program a week or two after the event. While it is still fresh in their minds, their feedback will help you build a better prospectus for the next year. Be sure to ask these questions when you contact them:
  • What were you trying to accomplish with us? 
  • How do you measure success?
  • What would you change, or what didn’t you like?
  • What would you keep the same? 
  • What would you tell us about another sponsorship that we could learn from?

You will not know what your prospects want or need unless you ask. Remember not to assume. If your sponsorship program has hit a wall, start making changes today by picking up the phone to personally inquire about their business needs. Don’t email. That’s too easy to ignore. CALL THEM! Your prospects will be more receptive when you ask, “What could we build for you and your company for our next event?”

Conclusion

Let’s be clear. We are not saying, “Don’t go after big sponsors!” Just be aware that when they are on your association’s “fishing line,” they may pull hard and take up a lot of time and energy, which can be a problem. While it is tempting in the sponsorship game to catch the “big one,” growing and enhancing your existing program is often the best long-term play. 

Happy fishing!

Let us know if you need a fishing partner to talk sponsorship strategy with you. We are here to help!

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