The Do’s & Don’t of Event Sponsorship

Last Updated on July 10, 2022

We’ve talked a bit about event sponsorships in the past – how and where to find the right contributors, how to bring people on-board, etc. Today, I’d like to expand upon the topic a bit. See, it’s not simply a matter of tracking down the perfect backer and offering up an amazing pitch.

There’s a bit more to it than that. Aside from the best practices we’ve already covered, there are a few extra pieces of advice we can offer up; a bit of additional insight that could potentially benefit every event organizer in the field.

It’s Sometimes Better Not To Seek Sponsorship

Although it might seem a bit counterproductive, there’s one thing you should always keep in mind – sometimes, you’re better off not seeking sponsors.

If you’re running a smaller event that isn’t likely to put much of a dent in your budget, then you’re probably better off not putting in the extra work. Sponsorships aren’t as easy as some might make them sound. You need to put in a lot of extra legwork to ensure that your sponsors are kept happy and that they contribute as much as you need them to; if you’re running a low-cost event or have a relatively small event team, then it’s probably better to seek alternative funding methods.

Similarly, events in which impartiality or neutrality is a concern – such as political rallies – generally don’t do all that well with corporate sponsorships. It’s usually better to draw from a campaign budget or from donations in order to fund these events. If a business sponsors a rally, it carries the implication that said business might be exerting undue influence over the event; something you can’t have.

Again, most events stand to benefit a great deal from sponsorships, and there’s a good chance that yours is among them – just be aware that sometimes it’s better to pay out of pocket.

Make Sure Your Sponsors Don’t Just Write A Check And Then Check Out

Many sponsors – particularly small businesses – have a tendency to simply hand over the money and materials necessary for their sponsorship and then vanish. This is a mistake, and it’s one you need to keep an eye out for. A failed sponsorship is a costly investment with a very small payoff; one which could leave a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone involved.

And that, in turn, could have an adverse effect on your reputation.

“Simply sponsoring an event will not yield results unless the entrepreneur is willing to make a time and financial investment in activating the sponsorship,” explains Cindy Vanegas of Fox Business. “This means creating opportunities for people to interact with the brand. Business owners need to have patience and a plan to measure return on investment.”

Don’t allow your sponsors to be ignorant. Make sure they understand exactly what’s involved in sponsoring your event before they turn over the money. That way, there’s a much smaller chance they’ll end up walking away dissatisfied – and a much better chance that they’ll want to work with you in the future.

Don’t Allow Sponsors To Dominate Your Event

One common mistake a lot of novice event planners make is that they allow sponsors an undue level of influence over their events. The sponsor’s branding is visible everywhere one looks, sponsor panels dominate the keynotes and presentations; sometimes the sponsors even noticeably control the direction and outcome of the event. Generally speaking, this isn’t something that should be happening – this is your event, and they’re simply guests.

While it’s important that you allow sponsors the opportunity to promote themselves and their brand through your events, it’s also vital that you know where to draw the line. Unless it’s clearly stated in your contract, sponsors generally should not have a significant influence on how things are run. They’re here for advertising, or lead generation, or to improve their relationship with their business partners; or any of a wide array of other reasons (which we’ll explain in more detail below).

They aren’t here to organize the event – that’s your job, and you should never be afraid to request that an overbearing sponsor dial things back a little.

Your Event Needs To Offer Something Of Value

We’ve covered this to some degree in previous pieces, but it’s important enough that I feel it bears further explanation. Simply put, if you’re offering an event sponsorship to an organization, you need to give them something in return. Most commonly, that’ll be the opportunity to market their brand, gaining increased exposure and an improved reputation.

That isn’t always what businesses are looking to gain, however. According to Business Case Studies, there actually exists a wide array of reasons an organization might become a sponsor:

  • Building B2B Connections: Many businesses may choose to sponsor an event in order to strengthen their relationship with any of the organizations participating in that event. Consider who you’ve got on-board already; you may be able to approach affiliated companies for additional sponsorship opportunities.
  • Communicating Values: This is what I’ve repeatedly referred to as ‘brand reputation’ in other sections of this piece. A business may often choose to sponsor a fundraiser or charity event to present a particular image to the public – or improve the image that’s already out there.
  • Advertising: The most common reason for event sponsorship is simple advertising – increasing awareness of one’s brand. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, such as branded products, brochures, logos, etc.
  • Benefits: If a business frequently sends its employees to a particular trade show, then it might eventually decide to spring for a sponsorship in order to secure an array of perks for those individuals. These could include discounts on ticket prices, reduced hotel rates, and priority access to keynotes. In addition, by sponsoring a major trade show in its industry, an organization gains a competitive advantage – thus making stakeholders happier.

Remember That Sometimes It’s Acceptable To Turn Down A Sponsor

Even if you’ve decided that your event should seek sponsorship, bear in mind that not every sponsor is going to be a great fit for you. If you don’t feel that maintaining a relationship with a particular sponsor is advantageous, then it’s perfectly acceptable for you to terminate it. Generally speaking, you’re probably safe to walk away if:

  • The sponsor operates in an industry that’s completely unrelated to yours (ie. A grocery/food chain sponsoring a mobile technology conference): They’ve probably got very little to gain from working with you, as the demographic they want to target at your events will be quite small.
  • The sponsor offers you an incredibly small sum of money: Generally speaking, you should set a lower limit on how much money you’re willing to accept; that is to say, you should aim to receive more than a particular amount of funding from each sponsor. When working out this figure, make sure you factor in all the expenses associated with a sponsorship – marketing, sponsorship fees, licensing, etc. Any business or group that tries to pay you less than your comfortable with can be safely turned away; you’re looking to augment your budget, not operate on a loss.
  • The sponsor’s brand is broken: Let me explain what I mean by a broken brand. Basically, it’s a term used to refer to a business whose publicity has grown so negative – whose reputation has grown so poor – that most people would prefer not to do business with it. Target immediately after its breach would be a good example, as would Time Warner and Comcast.  Generally speaking, you want to look into what people are saying about a sponsor before you agree to work with them. Signing on with someone your audience despises could have unfortunate consequences for your own reputation.
  • The sponsor seems spotty or unreliable: As I said earlier, sponsorship is a lot of work on both sides. If the organization you’re in talks with as a sponsor seems as though they aren’t committed to the job off the start, that could well be a warning sign that you should look elsewhere.

Closing Thoughts

Sponsorships can be complicated sometimes – but they don’t need to be. Provided you understand what you’re looking for, how much funding you require, and what you can offer in return, you should have no problem attracting the people you need. With the knowledge offered by this piece, you’re now even better-equipped to pursue only the best, most suitable sponsors for your events.