What does it take to secure event sponsors who can not only help offset cost, but also assist in increasing a company’s bottom line? The question went out to Czars, a closed Facebook group for PR, marketing and media professionals. Ian Gerard, CEO of Syndicate-5, a consultancy connecting brands with art and entertainment events, shared his insight with me.
Prior to Syndicate-5, Gerard ran Gen Art for more than a decade. The company's primary source of revenue came from corporate partnerships and at one point, partnerships with brands like American Express, Acura, Maybelline and Armani brought $6 million into the company, annually.
Via email Gerard provided a deeper understanding of what it takes to secure corporate sponsors. Here are lessons he learned from more than 15 years in the business:
Timing depends largely on the ask.
The bigger the dollar amount, the more time needed to pitch. “If you’re looking for a six or seven figure sponsorship, you generally need to propose such partnerships prior to the brand’s annual budgeting process,” said Gerard. “Often times that’s about three to six months before the fiscal calendar year in which your offering takes place.” That means if a brand’s fiscal year begins in January, Gerard recommends pitching to them the summer before.
The timeframe for smaller partnerships is more flexible. “Most brands and their agencies have discretionary funds that can be doled out throughout the year,” said Gerard. A lead time of two to four months is ideal for an in-kind partnership or a monetary ask under six figures. However, there are [smaller] brands who will participate in an event within a month of it happening.
The difference between in-kind and monetary sponsorship.
“In-kind donations tend to be the easiest to procure because it solely depends on a company providing samples of their product,” Gerard said. “This is a very cost-effective and efficient marketing method for brands because it allows them to get their product directly into the hands of consumers, media or celebrities.”
Certain industries are more inclined than others to provide in-kind donations. According to Gerard, beauty, food and beverage are the most common. “Almost any consumer-facing event can utilize beverage partners. For the event planner, it saves money on purchasing product, and it’s an easy way for the brand to promote itself.” Gerard recommends going after water, beer, wine, liquor, soda and other non-alcoholic options because they are relatively inexpensive. Premium brands, such as expensive champagne, are much pickier because the cost of providing product can get expensive. Look to them for small scale events.
If the cost of an in-kind donation becomes more expensive than a sponsorship fee, this is often when monetary partnerships come into play. This is most often seen in the luxury and high-priced product category -- automotive, high-end jewelry, consumer electronics and fashion. In these situations, an in-kind product is not usually a part of the partnership, unless it is highly targeted to select celebrities, media and/or key influencers.
Know who to contact.
Every company handles its corporate marketing dollars in different ways. Sometimes a brand only has an internal team. Others employ a variety of agencies. It is essential to have the right team handling the type of partnership opportunity that is being sought after.
In general, national brands have a strategic public relations firm, an advertising agency and potentially a digital, experiential and/or social media agency. These agencies are then allotted funds to utilize on behalf of their client because part of their job is to find partnership opportunities that match up with their strategic objectives.
According to Gerard, corporate brands will sponsor events across a diverse spectrum -- arts, entertainment, sports and charity -- but tend to avoid politics in order to eliminate the possibility of alienating potential consumers. And the reason why almost every brand, big and small, is receptive to sponsorship opportunities? It is because “brands don’t want to just say [‘we are creative and cool’], they want to show consumers that they are actually creative and cool through their alignments,” Gerard added. “This way, it’s not just empty marketing words, but a living, breathing reality for the brand and its products. Often time those partnerships better define a brand than what the product actually is.”