Small Event, Big Sponsors Vol 9: Five Things to Expect When Approaching Sponsors During the Pandemic

A year ago, I was at my computer writing this column as a sort of “state of the sponsorship industry.” As a sponsorship agency, we were fielding an abundance of questions about what to do when it came to sponsors, events, and COVID-19 shutdowns. Now here we are a year later. As venues begin reopening across the country and events start reworking their structures to accommodate mass gathering mandates, the questions about sponsorships and what to expect are surfacing yet again. I thought this would be a good time to give an overview of what our agency, Green Cactus, is seeing in the sponsorship world and how to approach sponsors in this complicated landscape. Here are five key things to know and expect when reapproaching past sponsors or reaching out to new prospects during the pandemic: 1. Many brands and companies are still hesitant to get involved with events, even as many states are reopening. Your event may be housed in an “open” state, but their company may not be. Plus, their priority will most likely be their own employees. We are seeing lots of brands willing to talk sponsorship and look at proposals, but when it comes to onsite activations, they aren’t willing to send their teams out yet. Our suggestion is to try and create a sponsorship proposal that meets their needs. This may require your team helping with any onsite activations, or you may have to get creative and come up with ways to involve brands without the requirement of onsite activations. 2. Budgets have been severely altered this year. With the uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact on 2021 and the economic hit that many brands saw last year, sponsorship and marketing budgets have been cut this year. We have talked to brands who had to let go of their entire field marketing teams and have cut events completely out of their 2021 budgets. Although this can be discouraging, don’t let it define your sponsorship program. These budgets will come back and so will the field teams; it is just going to take some time. Use this year to keep in contact with those brands you want to sponsor your event. This could also be a way to incorporate a brand in a smaller way that could grow into something bigger later. For example, maybe the brand sponsors a live stream for your hybrid event for this year, but you can cultivate them into a full blown onsite activation for next year. Finally, you do not want to wait when it comes to prospecting. Because these budgets are smaller, there will be a lot more competition vying for those sponsorships. 3. The beverage category is actively seeking event sponsorships. I regularly get asked who wants to sponsor events, and right now the beverage category has been our number one sponsorship buyer for 2021 events. I believe that it’s because although they were financially impacted on the event and restaurant/bar side of things during the pandemic, what they lost on that side they made up for in retail. Beer, hard seltzer, spirits, and energy drinks have all been looking for events to sponsor that also give them pouring rights. Make sure you are developing this category because they are currently spending in 2021 and are ready to get back to events.

4. You need to know what your event is going to look like before you reach out to new sponsors. This is another topic that comes up a lot with my clients. Right now, some of the events we work with don’t know from week to week if their event is going to happen or not in 2021. Some of our events know they are going to have an event, but they will have to structure it differently or they are required to reduce their capacity. So if you fall into one of these situations, you may be wondering how to approach sponsors. First, if you are in the category of not knowing whether you will be able to have an event yet, I suggest you continue to approach sponsors as if you were. The sponsorship process takes time. If you have the event, you will be in a much better position than if you are trying to approach them last minute. If you must cancel the event, then you address that situation with each sponsor at the time it happens. Now, if you are one of the lucky events that knows it is happening but must make adjustments, be clear with your sponsors on how the event will look, then and adjust the price accordingly. Sponsors are very aware that reduced capacity means reduced engagement and sales. It is not responsible to ask for the same sponsorship fee that you normally would when this is a non-normal year. 5. Some of your faithful sponsors may not come back this year. I know this is not good news, but it’s the nature of the economic hardships that many businesses faced over the past year. Don’t just assume your recurring sponsors will be back this year. Several of our clients saw sponsors who have been with them for years have to step away due to budget cuts. Knowing this now will give you more time to find other sponsors. Because we are a capitalist society, when one business steps away there is usually a competitor ready to step in. This can be great for open sponsorship vacancies but remember to respect those long- standing partnerships and have an open dialog with them. The sponsorship landscape is a little rocky right now, but it isn’t a drought. Sponsorships are out there, and they are ready to jump in as events begin to happen again! My biggest piece of advice is to start early. Decisions are taking a lot longer than usual, so last-minute or quick answers are harder to come by. Don’t get discouraged. Instead, use this time to open conversations with brands now. Even if they don’t come to fruition this year, they may be ready in 2022!
This article was written by Teresa Stas and was originally published in the International Festivals & Events Association “i.e.: the business of international events” quarterly magazine May 2021. The premiere association supporting and enabling festivals and events worldwide. For more information on the IFEA, go to www.ifea.com.
Crowd Hands

Knowing The Basics

The following is an excerpt from “Sell Your Event! The Easy to Follow Practical Guide to Getting Sponsors” A few years back, I got a call from an event producer who reached out to me to ask if I would take her on as a brokering client, which meant we’d represent their event and generate sponsorships. She began to explain this awesome dog festival concept where people could bring their dogs to a concert, and there would be pet-centric vendors and activities. As I listened to her, I was getting excited. It sounded great. Then I started asking my usual questions: “What are the dates? Where is it taking place? How many expected attendees?” You know, the general questions anyone would ask when you tell them about a cool event. My fears were realized when I learned she actually didn’t have definitive answers for any of my questions. As much as I hate to say it, this is pretty common. People have great ideas all the time, but unless you have the details figured out, it’s nearly impossible to sell them to sponsors. I try to explain this to my clients by asking this question: “Would you want to invest your own money in an event that hasn’t figured out its details?” For a brand or company to be interested in looking at your event, you need to make sure it has moved from concept to reality. You need to make sure it’s dialed in. Most sponsors want to buy into a fully formed event. Just an idea or concept is not enough. They want to know the people putting on the event are professionals who will produce what they promised. So, before we get too deep into the sales side of things, let’s make sure you have the information you need to get started. Before you can approach your prospects or start creating your introduction deck, you have to have the details. A lot of people come to me with great ideas for events, because they want help with finding sponsors. However, they want sponsorship money before they even have an event built. What they are really looking for is for an investor to fund the creation of the event. This is not the same as a sponsor. Finding capital for an event is different than finding sponsorships for an event. In this book, we will focus on finding sponsors for events that have moved out of the concept phase. These events are already established or are going to happen regardless of sponsorship revenue. Before you can create your Introduction Deck or start prospecting sponsors, you need to make sure you have the following information figured out.

Event Date and Timeline

I work with a couple of events where their timelines can change year to year. Sometimes they know the month but not the exact date just yet. They still want to get it in front of prospects as soon as possible. You really need to have your date and timeline locked in. Even if you do not have the exact date, at least have it narrowed down to the month and the year. The more specific you can get, the better response you are going to get from prospects. Sponsors build out their marketing calendar around events, and it’s important they are aware if they are doubling up events during certain months or days.

Event Location

Where are you having this event? If you are still working on that, you at least need to know the city and the state. If you have an exact location, fantastic! If you have an exact date and location, you are doing even better.

Event Name and Category

What are you calling this event? What type of event will it be? Is it a concert, a festival, a race, or a foodie event? It is critical to know what category your event is. I assume this is the easiest question I have asked so far. If you do not know your category, you need to figure it out before you do anything else. When it comes to the event name, make sure you have one. It’s really hard to sell an event when you don’t know what to call it.

Audience Numbers

How many people are coming to your event? If you have never had your event, then what is your expectation? Be reasonable! You must be fair and honest when it comes to expectations. If you are going to sell based on attendance numbers, then you need to make sure it’s close to the actual attendance. You will have a lot of trouble with sponsors returning the next year if they feel like they can’t trust you to tell the truth. You are better off going in and pitching lower attendance numbers and having more patrons show up then pitching high numbers and having significantly less show up. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to attendance numbers for sponsorships.

Advanced Details

Now that you have the basics down, it is time to start collecting some more advanced details. These are the items you will have to start collecting to make some serious sales.


If you have never had an event before, you might not have photos. You might have to pull some stock or generic photos to spice up your introduction deck. If you have had the event, then you need to find your best photos. Every year make sure someone is taking good photos. In particular, you want to get some of the crowds and the overall event. Be sure to also make past sponsors a priority. I always tell my clients photos sell more than words do. And it’s true. Humans are naturally visual beings, and the more you can appeal to that sense, the better chance you have. During the event, I would suggest even creating a shot list for your photographer. A shot list is an inventory of all of the various types of photos you want. For example, shots of the crowd from above, photos of patrons visiting a sponsor’s booth, and so on. It’s also important your event looks into investing in a professional photographer if possible. A good photographer can make even the most mundane and non-exciting booth look awesome! Many photographers like the chance to shoot events and would even do it for tickets or VIP. Just make sure whether you trade or pay your photographer, you have the rights to use the photos.

Asset List

We will cover this in detail in a later chapter, so we won’t go into too much detail here. The asset list is the general list of items you must sell. It’s like an inventory list. If you are an established event, you probably already have one of these, and if you don’t, we will go over how to create one in chapter three.


Demographics are the lifeblood of sponsorships. You would be surprised at how many events I come across that do not have demographic information. You cannot sell significant dollars if you do not have this information. In chapter four, we will cover ways you can collect audience data and how you can use it to your advantage.

Marketing Plan

You do not necessarily have to have a marketing plan to get sponsorship sales, but it does make a difference, especially when you are targeting your title or presenting sponsors. Those are the ones that are going to benefit the most from your marketing plan. If you know what your marketing plan is, then it is so much easier to sell to those larger sponsors, because you can show them how they will be included in your marketing efforts. If you don’t really know your marketing plan or just kind of wing it, then I suggest you take the time to lay out a plan. At the very least, get a basic understanding of what your goals are and what you can offer a title or presenting sponsor. If you are lost on how to develop your marketing plan, take a look at the companion workbook for an easy-to-follow template on building your marketing plan.
The above is an excerpt from the book Sell Your Event! The Easy to Follow Practical Guide to Getting Sponsors by Teresa Stas. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without written permission from the author.