How To Sell Sponsorships For An Event

I run a lot of events - everything from the Hacker News Seattle Meetup to Ignite: Seattle to Startup Weekends to the Seattle Customer Development Meetup. For most of these events, I end up selling sponsorships to cover the costs. My friend is planning a conference and recently asked me for advice on how to sell sponsorships. This is my email back to her:

The biggest thing you need to answer is “What does the sponsoring company get out of this?” For the tech meetup events I run, it’s usually either A) They’re recruiting and want to recruit people at my event, B) They’re trying to promote their product or service and get more people to use it, or C) They recognize the importance of supporting the community, and they’re successful enough that they can spare the resources (this one is extremely rare. People will often say this, but the real reason is usually more like #1 or #2).

Once you figure out what they company wants, you can tailor the message a bit to them.

Now that you know what they want, it’s time to go talk to them. You need to figure out who the right person to talk to at the company is. A good hack to do this is find other events they’ve sponsored, talk to the organizer for that event (organizers tend to be very friendly people! Just shoot them an email if you don’t know them) and ask who their primary contact was.

If the organizer doesn’t know you, they may not be comfortable introducing you. Instead, try asking for the contact information and offer to cold email the contact and not mention the organizer at all.

If the company haven’t sponsored any events before, you can try Linkedin stalking people at the company to try to find someone with the right job title. Typically a product marketing person or a marketing manager will be a good place to start.

Warning: Don’t try to sell them the farm in the first email. Sell them on the dream first. “Hi Bob. I’m putting together an event for Cosplayers - people who enjoy making costumes of their favorite video game or anime characters. We’re expecting about 500 people for our first event, and I thought your company might be interested in getting involved. Are you the right person to talk to about this? If so, I’d love to schedule a quick 15 minute call to tell you more about it.You’re revealing what the event is and who the event is for, and you tease them a little with an estimated attendance. But don’t drop a price tag yet - you haven’t even technically said the word “sponsorship” yet. You just asked if they’re interested in getting involved - that’s a very low commitment ask, and it helps you get them on the phone.

Once they’re on the phone, you can find out if they’re the right person to talk to (do they have check signing authority? If not, don’t waste too much time talking to them - talk to them just enough to get introduced to the person who does), you can start telling them a few more details about the event, etc. Once they ask how they can get involved/what you need help with, you can make your ask. Is it money? Donated supplies? Promotion?

No matter what it is, have your ask planned out (or better yet, a few asks) ahead of time. Also be prepared to tell the sponsor what they’re getting out of it. You get $5000, they get signage, or a public “thank you” prior to the keynote, or a chance to come up on stage and talk to the audience for 2 minutes, etc. For Meetups, it’s usually okay to just have one sponsorship level. For a bigger event, have a few levels available. If they want to talk to the audience, if they want their brand prominently displayed somewhere, make them pay more for that.

General rule of thumb - fewer bigger sponsors are better than more smaller sponsors. It tends to be a similar amount of work, but having fewer companies to deal with greatly reduces the complexity (you can also tell the companies (after your ask) that you prefer a few larger sponsorships to prevent sponsor dilution. If there’s 10 companies sponsoring, no one pays much attention to any of them. If there’s 2 companies sponsoring, everyone remembers who they are).

Once you have everything planned out, make a list of your ideal sponsors. Don’t call them first. Call a few less than ideal sponsors. This is a great way to get some practice before you go after the big dogs. If you screw up a few times, it’s okay. You haven’t burned any of the companies you REALLY want to work with.

Questions on selling sponsorships? Email me, I’d love to help:

Written on January 15, 2013