Many years ago, well before my partners and I started SilverCrate (and understood how sponsorships really work), we were asked to help some friends with an event they were hosting in Oklahoma. They knew we had event experience, and figured we’d be able to assist in a few key areas including marketing, and yes you guessed it, sponsorships.
“Can you help us finds some sponsors for our event?” they asked. “Sure,” I said, “shouldn’t be a problem at all!”
Little did I know I was about to fail harder than I had ever failed before…
The event our friends were hosting was a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event. While they had dabbled with some smaller MMA events before, this particular one was going to be their largest, and most expensive one yet. They knew that landing even just a few local and corporate sponsors could be a huge help in ensuring they turned a profit.
With 4 months until the event, I got to work. And what happened next still gives me nightmares…
After reaching out to 1,017 potential sponsors, I failed to secure a single one.
That’s right, 4 months, countless hours spent, and over 1,000 tries, and I could not find a single sponsor for this event! I was devastated! How could I fail so badly? How could I let my friends down?
It took me years of sponsorship trial and error (and eventually, continued success) to realize that there were 4 key mistakes I made with that event. 4 mistakes that got me ignored or told “no” from 1,017 companies. With a hope that you can learn from my mistakes and avoid this same massive failure with your own events, let’s take a look at each mistake in more detail:
Mistake #1: Not Thinking About My Audience
If you’ve spent any time at all reading our blog, watching our videos, taking our courses or downloading our tools, you know that your Audience is the key to any strong sponsorship program. The more you understand your audience, the better you’ll be able to target the right kind of sponsors. Because sponsorships are nothing more than a conduit, connecting your audience with a potential sponsor looking to reach that audience.
In the case of this event, I actually thought very little about the audience. Instead, I thought more about the potential sponsors I wanted to target…not because they aligned well with our audience, but because I thought they had deep pockets. But here’s the thing, sponsorships are not charity. Just because a company has a large marketing budget and is doing well does NOT mean they’re just going to write you a check for your event. If a company is looking to market to 45-65 year-old females, and your event targets 18-25 year-old males, it makes no sense for that business to be a sponsor, plain and simple.
Because I failed to target companies that made sense with the individuals attending our event, I created a list of 1,017 bad leads. Ones that would have said “no” regardless of how hard I tried to sell them!
Our Actual Lead Spreadsheet for the Event (Not shown...another 1,000 rows!)
Mistake #2: Sending Long, Generic Emails and Letters
Now, not only did I identify a long list of bad leads, but I did a very poor job of reaching out to those leads as well. My original cold outreach email was 290 words long! 290 words…my own mother wouldn’t read an email from me that was 290 words long, let alone a complete stranger (ok, well maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea).
Point is, this email was way too long. People don’t want to read long emails from complete strangers, especially when you’re trying to sell them something. Think about the last time you got a long email from someone you didn’t know. Did you bother to read it? Or did it go straight to your trash can?
Making matters worse was the fact that I was sending generic, templated emails. I did not take the time to address the potential sponsor by name, or to talk about their specific business needs.
“To Whom It May Concern” might as well come with a special tag reading “Delete this email immediately!”
Looking for examples of emails that will actually work? Check out our collection of cold email templates here.
Mistake #3: Focusing on the Event, Not the Sponsor
While two major mistakes would have already been enough to derail my progress, Mistake #3 would really ensure I’d never find sponsors for this particular event. Why? Because I focused all of my attention on the event, not the sponsor.
Within those 290-word emails, as well as the sponsorship proposals I sent to the brave few souls who responded to those terrible emails, was a ton of information about our event. In addition to the pertinent details (date, time, location), I included information on all the particulars of the evening. In this case, page after page of information on the different fighters, why MMA is important, why our organization was different, and so on.
But here’s the thing that I learned much later in life: sponsors really don’t care all that much about your event! Sure, if you’re running the World Cup or the Super Bowl, the sponsor is going to care quite a bit. But for small to medium size events, your sponsor is not all that concerned about all the finer details of the event. What they are concerned about, however, is how your event will be of benefit to them.
Now, I’m certainly not trying to bad mouth sponsors here. We have worked with many sponsors over the years that have come to care deeply about our events and our organization. But as a general rule of thumb, think of your sponsors as being very self-centered. Meaning that more than anything else, they want to know how a sponsorship of your event will be of benefit to them.
By using my long emails and sponsorship proposals to talk about ME and MY EVENT, I prevented myself from focusing on the sponsor, their needs, and ultimately, convincing them that partnering with our event would be of benefit to them.
Mistake #4: Offering Generic Sponsorship Packages Instead of Custom Programs
Now, thanks to the fact that I reached out to a massive list of 1,017 potential sponsors, I was in fact able to get a few nibbles. Several companies did respond and ask me for more information on our event sponsorships.
Knowing what I do now, I should have taken this opportunity to schedule a quick 5-10 minute phone call with the sponsor so that I could learn more about their business, target audience, marketing objectives, and more. But instead, I simply passed along a matrix with three pre-set sponsorship packages: Gold, Silver and Bronze.
We Made the Mistake of Sending Generic Gold, Silver and Bronze-Style Packages
Not surprisingly, upon review of these pre-made packages (ones that had zero consideration for the sponsor’s needs), they promptly responded with a flat out “no”.
How could I possibly have known what types of sponsorship assets would work for these particular sponsors without speaking with them first? Without taking the time to get to know them and their business better? Short answer? I couldn’t have! These pre-made packages were a shot in the dark, and the chances of putting together a collection of assets that perfectly fit all my sponsor leads was as likely as hitting the jackpot on a slot machine.
While I didn’t know it at the time, these 4 mistakes doomed me with this event. Even though I attempted to persuade 1,017 sponsors to join our event, I failed with every…single…one.
At the time, I thought this was the end of the world. I swore off sponsorships, and never wanted to be put in charge of sponsorships of an event again. Thankfully, this didn’t last. Like anything else, I kept trying, and trying, and trying some more. I learned from these mistakes and found ways to work around them. Eventually, my partners and I started the sponsorship agency SilverCrate, in hopes that we could help other people like us around the globe learn from these mistakes, and shortcut their way to sponsorship success.
We hope you can learn from these mistakes too. And if you ever need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Whether it’s through our consulting work, pre-built, proven sponsorship templates, or online courses, we have a variety of tools to get your sponsorship program on the right track, and help you avoid the feeling that comes with failing with sponsorships 1,017 times in a row.
Happy sponsorship seeking!