Although we all hoped and crossed our fingers and toes, it has now become clear that summer events in the US are not going to happen as we know them. For most, they have been canceled or postponed and for the few such as farmers markets, they look quite different from years past. As these tough decisions are being made you may wonder how, or if, you will be able to keep your committed sponsorship dollars. I can’t lie and say it will be easy, but here are the main five ways I have seen events keep their sponsorships intact.
1. Communication is essential! Be honest and open with your sponsors. You are not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes by pretending everything is good with the event. We know and your sponsors know that it is more likely your event will be canceled or postponed, than it will go on like planned. So, make sure your sponsors know that you are working on a plan and let them know what that looks like. Keeping in touch and continuing to do so will keep sponsors feel more connected with your event and they may even have ideas that you could use!
2. Ask to roll over their sponsorship to next years event (or postponement date) by including them in additional marketing opportunities during this down time. Maybe include them in something extra that your event may do virtually or socially to engage your fans. Such as sponsored social interactive contests, email blast inclusions to your audience database, virtual marketplaces, or sponsoring a live stream of an artist or performer. *Pro Tip: To make things easy on you and your sponsor, have them sign a simple addendum to your agreement that changes the dates. This will make sure everything is in writing and you will not have to go through the agreement process again for the new event date.
3. Look at Virtual or Creative Options. Although I do not believe virtual will replace the live event experience it is an option that many events are looking to try. We have had several events create virtual options to save some of their sponsorship dollars. To do this, you need to keep a few things in mind. The principals for selling live event sponsorships are the same for virtual or creative options.
A) What is it that the sponsor is trying to get out of the sponsorship? If you cannot help them meet that goal through your virtual event then you will have a hard time keeping the money, the same as if it was a live event. Just taking a sponsor who had a major activation at your live event and offering them a logo on a Facebook stream will most likely not generate excitement or money.
B) If this is the first time you take your event virtual then you are up against unproven results. Keep this in mind when it comes to pricing and technology. If you are charging, you need to make sure the technology works! You also need to consider how you price. Perhaps you charge less than you normally would, but the event get’s more sponsorship dollars based on impressions or marketplace visits if you are doing a virtual marketplace.
4. If you are a non-profit you might be able to accept the sponsorship as a tax-deductible donation. All states have different rules around this but if your event has a 501c-3 behind it you should investigate the possibility of turning the sponsorship into a donation. We have seen success with this concept especially from those community events where the sponsors are invested in the return of the event. Even a few for profit events have had their sponsors be willing to “gift” them the sponsorship in order to see it recover next year.
5. If you have sponsors who have committed to this year but have not paid by the time you end up canceling or postponing it is still worth asking them to recommit to next year. Even if you must wait for the money knowing that you already have sponsorships committed to next year will make a huge impact on your recovery. Go ahead and have them sign an addendum that changes the dates on the agreement.
Remember that sponsorship is a partnership and if you treat your sponsors like partners you have a better chance of them sticking with you through these difficult times. How you treat your sponsors, vendors, and stakeholders during this time will make all the difference for when you come back next year.