Have a business idea, a start-up organization or perhaps an event you're planning? You might be wondering, how do sponsorships work? so that you can find some support for whatever it is that you're cooking up.
But perhaps you're looking for a sponsor for your organization, but you're not even exactly sure what a sponsor is, all the ways in which a sponsor can benefit your organization and how you land a sponsor for your organization.
Here's everything you need to know about sponsorship, the perks of sponsorship and how to find sponsorship.
What is a sponsorship?
Sponsorship is a simple concept. A sponsor is, boiled down, just an advertiser (usually a company) that chooses to usually financially support a business, an organization, an event or an individual in exchange for promoting the advertiser's products and/or services. So a sponsorship is essentially an agreement between two parties that exchange benefits — one monetary and the other with regards to exposure and image.
But the difference between a sponsor and an advertiser is key. Sponsorship is more than advertising; rather it's "advertising that seeks to establish a deeper association and integration between an advertiser and a publisher, often involving coordinated beyond-the-banner placements," according to Marketing Terms.
"Sponsorships attempt to deliver more than a 'drive by' impression," according to Marketing Terms. "Whereas much online activity is geared towards direct marketing, sponsorships add the element of brand marketing. Metrics such as CTR may be balanced with brand association, as sponsors seek to tap into the publisher’s goodwill and establish credibility in their target market."
Larry Weil, the Sponsorship Guy puts it this way:
"Most people think of sports sponsorships like McDonald’s and the U.S. Olympic team, or Bud Light and the NFL. There are many easy examples to see in sports and so it is a good place to start, but it really has grown to include, causes, not for profits, non-sporting events, associations, municipalities, airports and all kinds of social media. My formal shot at a definition is: Sponsorship is a form of affinity marketing that provides certain rights and benefits to the buyer or 'sponsor.' It is usually in conjunction with a property, venue, personality, or event. Most often the sponsors may use the images and logo of the partner and call themselves an official sponsor of the property. Sponsorship is particularly effective when the sponsor and the property have similar goals, values and vision. Properly activated this affiliation casts a 'halo' or conveys certain characteristics to the sponsor as a result of the strong recognition or fan base of the property.
"Sponsorship is much more than an outfield sign at a baseball park or a logo on a racecar. Sponsorship provides, business access, connections, hospitality, affinity, audience access, data, and helps to shape public perception in a way that can be hard to achieve using your own marketing and branding efforts alone. Sponsors and properties working together can create a broader reach and shared objectives, multiplying the resources they have and leveraging the combined power of the relationship.
"Sponsorship is much more than advertising. Well-conceived sponsorships include an investment in activation. Activation is a term that is used to describe the specific ways in which the sponsored properties assets will be utilized. This could include, physical space and interaction with fans or followers, direct contact via email or direct mail, special features and offers to brand customers, hospitality, entertainment and many other forms of engagement."
What he means is that sponsorships may vary widely. Often, organizations and events have sponsors as a primary form of financial support. Companies like Mountain Dew, M&Ms, Tostitos, The Sports Network, Monster Cable, Marmot and Heinz, for examples, sponsor the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Airbnb, United Airlines, Chase, ABC7, Wells Fargo, Tiffany & Co., Lfyt, the NBA, Deloitte, Metlife, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Uber and more all sponsor the New York Gay Pride Parade.
The aforementioned examples may summon thoughts of giant billboards plastered with brand names, but most sponsorships go beyond that. Many, for example, have rotating advertisements through a variety of mediums, from billboards to sponsored magazine articles and website posts, apparel branding, fixed ad placements and banners, advertorials, co-branded content and more.
How can sponsorships help your organization?
Sponsorships can help a business, organization, event or individual because they provide financial support to get them off the ground running. In return, the business, organization, event or individual can offer an exchange like exposure. For example, while a car company like Mercedes might pay a website to publish a "sponsored post" about their new car (or at least an organic piece that somehow ties in the new car), that magazine is doing Mercedes a service, as well, by giving Mercedes exposure to the magazine's audience.
Typically, sponsors work with organizations that align well with their own missions and values. This way, the sponsorship seems more seamless and benefits everyone better.
How do you get a company to sponsor you?
Getting a company to sponsor you may seem like a big ask. But if you play your cards right, you can pull it off. Here are four steps to finding a sponsor for your organization.
1. Really know your own platform.
In order to find a sponsor that makes sense for you, you need to first know your own platform like the back of your hand. You need to truly understand what it is that makes your organization unique and sets you apart from the rest. Why should sponsors want to work with your organization in particular? What is your target demographic, and what kinds of sponsors might share that demographic? What kinds of sponsors might not mix well with that demographic (for example, if you run an online magazine about cars, you're likely not going to want liquor brands as sponsors, which could suggest drinking and driving).
Understanding what makes you you is important to understanding what connections will work, and what won't. Weil puts it this way:
"In my experience, the real key to success with sponsorship is finding the insights that connect consumers and businesses. The time, the place, the feeling that connects them and creates preference, recognition, learning and buying. When it works we all get it. Sometimes we don’t get it because we aren’t the target. Other times it is off the mark. It is like making a delicious meal, most people can tell if it looks nice and tastes good. But, making the recipe, knowing the ingredients and the proper preparation is something that takes experience and a willingness to develop the insights that separate your deal from the crowd."
2. Offer unique value to potential sponsors.
Once you understand what it is that makes your organization unique and the kinds of sponsor you want (and, likewise, the kinds of sponsor you definitely don't want), you can figure out the unique value that you can offer to potential sponsors. Maybe, for example, you are running an event to raise money for Breast Cancer research, and you need sponsors to help financially support the event — to pay for the venue, to cover catering costs, to hire entertainment and simply to give the event some credibility in order to attract attendees. Perhaps the unique value you have to offer sponsors is that your event is set to be the largest or the first in the area — or maybe you have a major entertainer performing that'll attract a lot of media attention. You want to be able to tell sponsors exactly why they should pay to be part of your event.
3. Write a compelling proposal.
OK, now you know what your organization is all about, and you know the value that you have to offer, so it's time to go ahead and, well, offer it up. Write a compelling proposal to potential sponsors that's specific to each and every one of them. Don't just blindly send out a mass email to a bunch of similar companies in the hopes that one or a few of them will agree to sponsor you. Personalize these proposals so that each company understands why you want to work with them in particular. A proposal that's tailored to the potential sponsor, and perhaps even mirrors language from the company's mission statement or values, is a more compelling proposition than an obvious mass email.
You may also want to consider telling a story to explain your organization to the sponsor. Paint a picture for them, and describe your demographic in detail that'll captivate their attention. Once you have them hooked, you can promise deliverables that are even more enticing.
4. Follow up with potential leads.
Make sure to follow up with potential leads, as you never know who didn't see your email, who opened your email and forgot to respond, who didn't have time to get back to your email yet or who is still waiting on word from higher-ups at their company to confirm whether or not they can be sponsor or are at least willing to have a conversation about sponsoring your organization. So don't be afraid to send some follow-up emails to potential sponsors in order to reach them. If you do so respectfully and appropriately, those companies that are indeed interested will appreciate the reminder.
"Whatever you're doing, you can get corporate sponsors," Linda Hollander, founder of Women's Small Business Expo, who's known as "the Wealthy Bag Lady," told Entrepreneur. "Don't think you're too small, and don't be sidelined by the fact that you don't have experience. When I got my first sponsors, I had no track record. But I sold sponsors on the concept, and I surrounded myself with people with more experience than I had."
Sponsorships can significantly impact the success of organizations by providing not only financial support but also credibility through the backing of a bigger name. While finding a sponsor may not prove to be a necessarily easy feat, it is doable if you approach potential sponsors the right way. Follow these steps, and you'll find support and, ultimately, success in no time.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.