Wednesday, 13 June 2012

How to Gain and Retain Professional Sponsorship

A huge part of of the business world and more specifically the promotion and entertainment industry is obtaining and retaining business relationships with similar, or sometimes completely unrelated companies and individuals who are often referred to as "sponsors." A sponsor can be defined as "a person or organization that provides funds or support for a project or activity carried out by another, in particular" (see below for citation). Often a sponsor is an entity that is going to provide financial support or support through products or services to help an individual or a group reach an ultimate goal or flourish in their career. These relationships exist everywhere, from professional sports, television programs, charity events and more. Sponsors, in many ways, make the business world go round.

There are many ways to go about obtaining sponsors for yourself or your organization and there are many ways to go about retaining them. A relationship with a sponsor is as important as a business' relationship to it's customers and suppliers, as sponsors often fill both roles. 

Understand the relationship

The first step to considering the search for sponsorship is to understand the relationship between a recipient and the sponsor. A sponsor isn't always a faceless, nameless "sugar daddy" who's going to give you or your cause cash to do with what you will (although that would be nice!). A sponsor is usually a business or individual who is often more likely to help you when they think they are getting a return on their investment and an appreciation for their involvement. Sometimes it may be advertising, a tax break, a discount on your product/service or even a feeling of generosity and a sense of just helping something they believe in. Like any relationship both parties should feel a sense of fulfillment and worth.
Know yourself and your industry

The next thing to consider is how much you know about yourself and your position in your industry. Are you a professional athlete? What is your level of experience? How well known are you? Does your cause or organization have a clearly defined message? How are you affecting the community around you? How many other organizations or individuals are there like you in your area? What sets you apart and makes you different? These, and many other questions should be considered before moving forward. It doesn't matter if you are an aspiring athlete, an entrepreneur with an idea or an international champion; if you know your industry and believe in yourself you will be able to sell it to sponsors and you will find the help you're looking for. You may want to consider creating a "resume" style document outlining and highlighting the "selling points" that you would want sponsors to know about you.

Choose the right sponsors

 If your industry is health and fitness then chances are you're not going to land a sponsorship with a tobacco company (or you shouldn't at least). Although there are many endorsements that may be questionable (such as a professional athlete being sponsored by McDonald's) building a relationship that's both beneficial to you and your sponsor you should first attempt to find those connected in some way to your industry. This may seem discouraging, as many businesses may not appear to be affiliated with your industry, but I assure you, there is always a common ground. Athletes still need homes, therefore real estate agents and construction companies are great choices to consider. Musicians drive vehicles to their shows, therefore mechanic garages and car dealerships are suitable. A memorial or health fundraiser marathon may have a route going right near a business' physical location, why not ask them to sponsor? There is no limit to what and who you can approach. At the end of this article is a link to link to a few suggested leads for various industries.  

Tip: It is much easier to obtain sponsorship from a small business than a larger company. Often with large company there will be many chains of command to go through and your request will get lost in the shuffle. Always attempt to approach an owner first and if they're not available look for a manager of advertising or sales. 

Build your network

Another huge asset in today's business world is your "network." Often a business is going to decide to sponsor you based on what they can get in return in way of advertising, exposure and representation of their business or product. If no one in your community knows you or your cause exists then how can you properly represent someone else? There are many ways to build your network including soc. You can send a simple email to friends, family or business contacts simply letting them know what you're up to and ask them to tell their friends and family. Another huge aspect of building your network is social media, which we'll touch on shortly. At the end of this article is a link to a great article on building and maintaining your personal network.

Create a brand

When considering building yourself in the eyes of businesses and individuals you need to treat yourself or your cause as a business would treat a product or a brand. When you think of Nike you think sports, when you think of Black and Decker you think power tools. When people think of you or your cause an idea should come to them. A professional fighter may be known for his humble attitude, or impenetrable will; whereas a ballet dancer may be known for her grace and mannerisms both on stage and off. Create a consistent brand and stick with it.

Build a social media presence

In today's information age we have access to an infinite amount of data at our fingertips. International news travels in an instant and tales of celebrity mishaps surface before any damage control can be applied. As someone looking to build a network and business relationships this phenomena needs to capitalized on. The best way to utilize this is through social media. Social media includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and many other websites, as well as blogging, the posting of pictures, videos and more. Social media has taken the world by storm, with Facebook alone being worth $100 billion. A simple silly idea has become very real. 

In order to establish a positive social media presence you want to again know your brand. Are you the athlete that will be posting recipes and training tips, or are you the cancer survivor who will share your message through personal experiences and fundraisers? Once you establish your brand you can start to build your social network presence in a consistent, relative manner.

Social media is free advertising and one of the most powerful tools in today's business world. It is not to be overlooked or undermined. Below is an article on the importance of social media as well as tips to establishing your own social media presence.

Sell yourself

The most important step to gaining sponsors is to sell yourself. After all, if you don't believe in yourself, who will? You need to ask yourself what you can do to help these businesses and how they can help you in return. In fact, you may want to ponder how this business managed to get by without your help up until now. You want to show them that your network and image is a valuable asset to their company and will assist in their goals while helping with yours. Creativity will play a huge role in your sales pitch. It is encouraged to educate yourself in basic selling principles. Again you must treat yourself or your vision like a product that is valuable and helpful to this company, not just a way for them for fork out some cash. 

Some things you may want to offer sponsors are:
  • Advertising opportunities at your event or function; be it your competition, fundraiser, marathon etc. on your clothing or banners such as logos or messages. 
  • Promotional opportunities such as handing out flyers, samples or even surveys. 
  • Personal messages and testimony in interviews such as radio, TV, newspaper or on their website.
  • Personal messages and testimony through your own social media network.
  • Being present for marketing events that they may hold.
There is no limit for what you can offer and an unlimited potential for creativity. The more you can offer sponsors the better. 

At the end of this article is a link to some helpful sales tips.

Give back

Finding a good sponsor can sometimes be very difficult. When you build a relationship that works for you and your cause then you should do everything you can to maintain it. After  competition or fundraiser send your sponsors a thank you letter or give them a phone call. Send some memorabilia, maybe an autographed picture or item that they can display in their business. A little gesture can go a long way. 

Own it 

When a company endorses you they are trusting that you and/or your organization will represent their company in a positive, responsible manner. When you take on a sponsor you become a face for their cause and their business. The way you act on stage, in the ring or at the event is  as important as how you act in your own personal time. Just as you wouldn't expect the CEO of a company to cause public scenes and act irresponsibly nor should you. Own the role and act accordingly.

Try, fail and try again 

Finding sponsors is a grind. It's not easy and often you will want to give up as many people do, but your hard work will pay off. If you have to ask 100 people to sponsor you and only one does then it makes it all worth it. You should never be ashamed, discouraged or embarrassed to ask people to sponsor you because as mentioned above you are giving them a valuable asset and providing assistance in building their business and mission through a much more personal avenue than could be achieved with traditional advertising and promotion. You are offering a symbiotic business relationship that both they, and you will benefit from. Seek assistance, ask questions and take the initiative to continue building your network and your brand.

Leads for sponsors in various industries

Google's definition of a sponsor: 

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