Selling Sponsorships: How to Craft a Perfect Pitch

Wooing sponsors requires an understanding of both their marketing strategies and the way they do business.

Travel & Leisure incorporated sponsor Leica into its World’s Best awards event at the Top of the Rock by putting logos on the outdoor spaces’ glass walls and hanging binoculars so guests could check out the New York skyline.
Travel & Leisure incorporated sponsor Leica into its World’s Best awards event at the Top of the Rock by putting logos on the outdoor spaces’ glass walls and hanging binoculars so guests could check out the New York skyline.

Whether you’re looking for a company to completely underwrite a large technology conference, or simply asking for free booze for guests at an upcoming product launch, sponsorships are an increasingly prevalent part of events these days. It’s not hard to figure out why: Done right, sponsorships help all parties involved. They bring in cash for event hosts—offsetting costs for some, earning revenue for others— while serving as effective marketing channels for sponsors looking to target specific demographics in unique ways. So how do you get your hands on those dollars?

Do Your Homework
Before you ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to craft a proposal, make sure you know about the company you’re pitching. “There’s a whole list of things to look at,” says Gregg Feistman, who teaches a class at Temple University in Philadelphia on sponsorships and sponsorship marketing. “What kinds of things have they sponsored in the past? What are the interests or causes they support? What are their business goals?”

That last one is a biggie. “Very few people do any sort of major sponsorship these days without a business goal in mind, whether it’s sales, entertaining customers, employee relations, awareness, or visibility. They don’t put out money for a golf tournament simply because they like golf. So you need to do your research. Then try to make your event fit [their needs].”

In other words, a successful proposal details what you can do for the potential sponsor—not the other way around. It shows an understanding of the target’s needs, and explains in detail what unique propositions you plan on offering to help it meet those needs. It doesn’t simply state in a generic way what your event is all about.

“We’re approached a ton, and I’m stunned by some of the poorly prepared sponsorship [proposals] that come my way,” says Melanie Young, president of M. Young Communications in New York, who has negotiated sponsorships for the James Beard Foundation awards, among other events. “Some are so unspecific, it’s unbelievable.”

It’s also crucial to mind the details. “Decision-makers at companies are so inundated with proposals, they’re often looking for reasons not to participate in a sponsorship, due to sheer numbers,” says Chris Previte, president of the Sponsorship Shop, a consulting firm in Cleveland. “Simple things can make a difference in a proposal: Get the contact’s name right, personalize the proposal to the company, and make sure it is professional-looking.You don’t need to have the proposal delivered like a singing telegram or have confetti explode out of the package to get considered—just pay attention to the small details.”

Feistman once reviewed a 60-page PDF proposal—a no-no right there, he says, because of the length and the time involved in printing out a PDF—for a music festival in New York that started referring to a different company’s name in the middle of the document. “They did a cut-and-paste job,” he says. “When the person contacted me and asked what I thought, I said, ‘I think you need to proof it better before you send it to someone.’ And that was the end of that. If you can’t even get the name of the company right, why should I pay attention to you?”

Christina Monaco, director of event marketing and public relations for Moët Hennessy USA in New York, whose brands include Dom Pérignon and Chopin, agrees. “The worst thing a company can do is send a proposal with another brand’s name in it,” she says. “The second-worst thing that we see a lot is incorrect spelling of one of our brand’s names, or referring to our brands incorrectly. I once received a proposal that requested ‘Henny’ and ‘Dom Perry.’ That one went straight in the garbage.”

Time It Right
Think you can successfully pitch a sponsor in May for an event in June? Probably not. “Timing is critical,” says Ellen Ornato, president of Solutions PR & Event Marketing LLC in Middletown, Connecticut. The late summer months into September are “when corporations are [already] generating [budgets for the following year]. They’ve got small pieces left. So to get major chunks [of money] at this point in the game is difficult.” One New York bank with which Ornato has worked to sponsor events has a six-month lead time on proposal submissions. “Small organizations need to know that bigger organizations have already figured this out and are ahead of them in line,” she adds.

Remember, too, that major deals will likely require a lot of time to close. According to research and consulting firm IEG, the average sponsorship of $100,000 or more takes six to nine months from phone call to signed deal; sponsorships over $1 million take nine months to a year.

Erik Gensler, manager of sponsorships for TMG—The Marketing Group in New York, which handles sponsorships, marketing, and promotions for Broadway theaters—recently secured a deal for the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, part of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, to sponsor the Roundabout Theatre Company’s series of post-show discussions with theatergoers and actors. The time from conception to contract: three months.

Find Creative Ideas
Once your homework is done and you’re polishing the proposal, find unique ways to attract sponsors and integrate them into your event. Perks like on-site signage and ads in brochures, while an important part of any package, are usually not enough to make a major corporation sign on.

Sponsors “want to be integrated into an event in a way that makes sense for them and gives them lots of exposure,” says Emily Prawda Weiss, special events manager for More magazine. At this year’s third annual More Marathon, Prawda Weiss helped secure the necessary permits for California Raisins to put its mascot on the Central Park course. “Having the mascot at the park really sealed the deal for them,” she says.

TMG’s Gensler was able to close the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel deal because he not only showed an understanding of the potential sponsor’s needs, he found creative and appealing ways to meet them. “New York is an important feeder market for Florida,” he explains. “They were looking for an opportunity to reach an upscale demographic, and people who have money to go to the theater have money to go on vacation. They were also looking to get tickets to entertain travel agents.”

The Roundabout’s series appealed to the client; it also provided an opportunity for marketing on the Roundabout’s subscriber brochures and provided a room for private parties. “This fall we’re planning a night on Broadway, where they can invite their clients to a cocktail reception and then to see the show,” Gensler says. “They’re using this sponsorship to give a great evening to a couple hundred of their clients.”

Erika Rasmusson Janes

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