When your business, book or podcast needs additional support, sponsorship can make a huge difference. Not only do corporate sponsors offer the capital to help you forge ahead, their backing brings new contacts and exposure to new audiences that can take your project to the next level.
But it’s not as simple as reaching out to a company you want to collaborate with and putting their name on your website in exchange for cash. To work, sponsorship has to deliver a return on investment for the sponsor and value to your fans. In that sense, you need to look at it like selling a product.
In this guide, we’ll show you the steps to take to get sponsorship. You’ll learn how to create a sponsorship strategy and get in contact with prospects. We’ll also show you what to do after deals end to secure long-term partnerships with backers.
Outline your goals and offer with a sponsorship strategy
Regardless of whether you’re seeking sponsorship for a product, event, book, or podcast, the overarching aim of attracting corporate sponsors remains the same: you need sponsors that engage your audience.
If your audience isn’t interested in a sponsor’s product or service, then putting their name to your offer won’t deliver the ROI they’re looking for, ruining any chance of a long-term partnership.
Take This Week in Startups, for example. Their podcast is all about discussing the startup news that matters. Among their sponsors, you’ll see names like LinkedIn, Fiverr, and Notion. All companies that This Week in Startups’ audience of entrepreneurs, company founders, and marketers would be interested in.
Put these same names on a sports podcast like Pardon My Take, and they may well fall flat.
A well-thought-out strategy lays the foundations for your sponsorship efforts in the same way a marketing strategy guides your marketing campaigns. It ensures you’re targeting the right companies with an offer that makes sense for both parties.
A sponsorship strategy should cover five areas:
- Audience data
- Asset valuation
- Market identification
Your assets are what you can offer to a sponsor to get them in front of your audience.
Your most obvious asset is the product itself. But it pays to think beyond that. Look at every point of contact with your audience as a potential asset, and build an inventory that can be put to sponsors.
This might include things like:
- Social media banners and content
- Digital and traditional media advertising
- Naming rights of a building
- Event sponsorship
- Speaking opportunities
- Exhibitor opportunities
- Access to influencers
As well as what you already have, think about the assets you’ll be building with corporate sponsorship funding.
For example, if you’re publishing a book you might run a book tour that allows sponsors to access physical audiences. Or you might create an event or course related to your product that sponsors can attach their names to.
As you build out your list of assets, do it with your audience in mind. If what you’re producing resonates with consumers, it will appeal to sponsors.
2. Audience data
Sponsors will have different reasons for backing your project: sales, lead generation, brand awareness, product launches, corporate social responsibility, etc.
In every case, they’re paying for access to your audience.
To demonstrate the potential of your audience, you need to show sponsors exactly who they’ll be reaching.
Start with demographic data. Detail your audience’s age, gender, income, education, and occupations. This will help sponsors quickly identify if your audience matches their target market.
However, matching demographics alone doesn’t guarantee ROI. Therefore, it’s important to dig deeper to provide information on:
- How your audience interacts with your brand (social media, newsletters, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc.)
- The problems they need to resolve
- What motivates them to engage with your brand, product, service, or content
- Their interests
This gives sponsors a clear idea if what they offer directly appeals to your consumers.
Data on interactions can be found in social analytics dashboards and Google Analytics.
Show (don’t tell) your prospective sponsors just how far your reach extends by sending them screenshots of your social analytics for related content. You can highlight the embedded media clicks and link clicks to show them how many users will take action on a similar post.
Or provide sponsors with proof that your related landing pages are getting the clicks they hope for. Sponsors will be happy to know that you’re capable of producing converting pages that may house their content.
To uncover audience problems and motivations, call on your brand market research or customer service data.
Alternatively, ask your audience directly through surveys, phone calls, or face-to-face at events.
Open-ended questions embedded on your website or in an email are two ways to collect qualitative data that reveals your audience’s pain points. You can easily do this with tools like Hotjar and Typeform.
The more you know about your audience, the better you can customize your offer to appeal to the right kind of sponsors. What’s more, it will help you narrow down who to target or accept.
3. Asset valuation
Once you’ve identified your assets and audience, you can begin valuing them.
The best way to do this is based on audience exposure. The more views, listens, or readers the asset has, the higher the premium you’ll be able to charge.
For example, when launching his book, Creativity for Sale, Jason Zook decided to value sponsor by placement:
“As I crunched a few numbers I randomly tried making the last page $3 and wanted to see what I’d end up with at Page #1 if I increased each page’s value by $3. I can’t explain why I chose $3, but I guessed it would end up around $600 on Page #1 (200 * 3?).
“Sure enough, it did. Starting on Page #1 at $600 and decreasing the price per page by $3 ($597, $594, $591, etc) ended up with Page #200 priced at $3. If all the pages got sponsored I’d stand to make $60,000.”
For advertising opportunities, research PPC, print, and traditional media fees based on similar audiences and value the asset accordingly.
For things like events, courses, and products, look at what the competition is charging in their sponsorship packages:
- How does your audience compare?
- What can you offer that they don’t to make your assets more valuable?
Whether you’re selling sponsorship per item (e.g., placement in your book or at the start of a podcast) or as a package (e.g., bundled offers with pricing increased based on level of exposure), each price must be backed by the benefits they offer to sponsors.
Railsconf 2021, for example, breaks their offers up into levels. Each one demonstrating value in brand awareness, lead generation, recruitment opportunities, and conference passes:
Packages range from “Bronze” level, which includes six benefits, to “Platinum” level that features all assets. This is a good way to appeal to multiple sponsors as it caters to different budgets and goals.
Activations are designed to help both your audience and sponsor meet their goals. They work by allowing your sponsor to make an impact with your audience directly, presenting a clear ROI.
Audience goals x Sponsor goals = Activation
To come up with valuable activations you need to find out what your audience wants. Like gathering audience data, this means asking them:
- What do they like about your business/book/podcast?
- What do they dislike?
- What would they like to see more of?
PR Week does this in a Twitter poll. If you have up to four options already in mind and your audience is active on Twitter, this is one way to get quantitative feedback that you can share with sponsors.
Next, provide examples of what you can work on with sponsors to engage audiences based on their goals. Or chat to sponsors directly to find out their goals and design specific activations.
For example, if your audience wants to learn more about a particular theme in your book, you could work with your sponsor to create a course that’s hosted on the sponsor’s website. This will mean the sponsor is offering genuine value while increasing brand awareness and lead generation opportunities.
5. Market identification
When you know your audience and what they like, you’ll have a good idea of the kind of sponsors they’ll be interested in.
Start your list of target sponsors around these interests. Which brands resonate with your audience and the content you provide?
For example, one of the sponsors for RailsConf is Zendesk. Zendesk maintains a Ruby on Rails API client, making it relevant to the conference as a company and potential employer for Ruby on Rails developers.
Next, look at any companies or suppliers you already partner with. Are they a potential sponsor?
Lean on your professional networks too. Who are you connected with on LinkedIn or friendly with at networking events that could make a good prospect?
These are good opportunities to generate warm leads.
Finally, check out the competition. What brands are sponsoring other businesses, books, or podcasts? If sponsorship is working between a company and a competitor, there’s every chance it can work for you.
Getting sponsors onboard
With a strategy in place, you have an offer and target prospects. Now, it’s time to sell your sponsorship potential.
Create a compelling sponsorship proposal
Your sponsor proposal document or webpage is a deal-maker or a deal-breaker. According to Bags to Riches author, Linda Hollander, who’s attracted corporate sponsorship from the likes of Bank of America, IBM, and FedEx, it’s the most crucial part of the sponsorship process.
“The sponsor proposal is the most important, but least-understood, document in the sponsor industry. If you want top-tier sponsors, you need a compelling sponsor proposal. This is basically a business plan—and snapshot of the benefits of your property [assets]. It contains the story of your property, mission statement, sponsor benefits, demographics, marketing plan, goals, media opportunities, advisory board, and the sponsor fees.”
Information around asset benefits, demographics, and fees can be pulled from your sponsorship strategy. These should be backed by social proof to show off your credentials.
RailsConf does this with stats from its 2020 virtual event to give prospects an insight into the size of the audience they can reach.
Web Summit uses partner experiences to act as testimonials from previous sponsors:
Ryan Holiday leans on the success of his Daily Stoic Podcast and its guests to demonstrate value:
Make your proposal easy to digest, using graphics and bullet points wherever possible to draw attention to key information.
Lead with the overarching benefits of your offer.
Follow these with audience insights and social proof before laying out your packages or items and detailing what each includes. RailsConf also highlighted purpose-driven benefits to appeal to CSR-minded sponsors.
End your document with a call-to-action and clear contact information.
Informa Tech Automotive Group does this with a contact form and links to the LinkedIn profiles of employees who can help:
If you’re pointing sponsors at your website, consider giving them the ability to sign up directly (as opposed to chatting to a member of your team first).
The Camilita Podcast has made it easy for sponsors by including add to cart and Google Pay buttons on its package pages.
This is a good tactic as it works as a standalone offer. People visiting the Camilita Shop can learn more about podcast sponsorship and decide to purchase without being sold to.
But for now, let’s concentrate on going after sponsors.
Build a contact pipeline
Before you get into attracting the attention of sponsors, create a contact pipeline spreadsheet to keep everything organized.
The first part of this should include:
- Company name
- Contact first name and last name
- Contact email address
These are the details you’ll be using to reach out.
Alongside contact details include:
- Submitted proposal
These can be checked off as you progress, depending on the outcome.
Reach out to potential sponsors
Unless you’re already connected to a prospect via LinkedIn, or a supplier or partner, chances are you’re going to need to cold email prospects.
It’s important when doing this to have realistic expectations. According to Campaign Monitor, an open rate of up to a quarter of all emails sent can be considered successful.
“A generally accepted percentage for an email campaign success open rate is 15%-25%.”
This is backed by MailChimp research which puts the average email open rate for all industries at 21.33%.
So if from 200 emails, 50 or more people open, you’re doing well.
To achieve this kind of return, it can help to follow the science around subject lines and personalization.
The latter finding feeds into Woodpecker’s analysis of over 20 million sales emails, which found that the average open rate of personalized emails is 17% versus 7% for emails without personalization.
To add to this, more than 20% of marketers say personalization boosts email engagement.
The more you’re able to find out about your prospects to add a personal touch, the better your chances of getting them onside. But don’t just take these companies’ words for it. Do your own email testing.
As Shanelle Mullion points out in her CXL post on email subject lines:
“Think of your email list as a living, breathing thing. It’s always changing. People come, people go, your content direction changes and attracts different people, etc. The email list you had six months ago is not the same email list you have now.
So, you need to be constantly testing subject lines because every insight you gain has a shelf life. What was once your top-performing formula could be useless in a matter of weeks, depending on your growth.”
With these things in mind, what should your email look like?
First of all, it needs to grab attention:
- Hi [name], I found you through [referral name]
- Hey [name], [mutual connection] recommended I get in touch
- [benefit] for [company] through sponsorship (e.g. Fancy growing your audience through sponsorship?)
- Had an idea for [benefit] (e.g., Had an idea for helping you increase brand awareness)
From there, the body copy needs to be concise and to the point. At this stage, you’re only looking to arrange a phone call or meeting with the prospect.
Here’s an example from The Sponsorship Collective:
I noticed on LinkedIn that you are involved in the sponsorship program at Company X, focused on high net worth moms who live in the suburbs.
We did some research and found that around 30% of our attendees match this demographic and thought you would be interested in a conversation.
Are you around on Tuesday at 3:00 pm for a 15-minute discovery call?
This example works because it adds a personal element (“I noticed on LinkedIn”), sells a benefit (“30% of our attendees match this demographic”), and offers an invitation (“Are you around on Tuesday”).
However, as good as your email is, it doesn’t guarantee a response. Remember, less than a quarter of emails get opened—even less get replied to.
Therefore it’s important to follow up. And you can enjoy success if you do.
According to Woodpecker’s findings, email campaigns of 4-7 emails in a sequence have a reply rate of 27%, compared to 9% for campaigns with 1-3 emails in a sequence.
In terms of how long to wait before replying, a general rule is two or three days. Close.io’s Steli Efti suggests spacing follow up emails as follows:
Day 1: First follow up (+2)
Day 3: Follow up (+4)
Day 7: Follow up (+7)
Day 14: Follow up (+14)
Day 28: Follow up (+30)
Day 58: Follow up (+30)
… (from there on once a month)
Keep track of email opens, views and clicks by using a CRM so that you know who to follow up with. Your CRM will also let you schedule follow-ups based on a predefined schedule, so you can reach out at the right time.
Like your initial email, keep follow-ups short and sweet. Each correspondence after your first should aim to:
- Add context: Reference your previous email to jog your prospect’s memory (e.g., I wanted to follow up on the email I sent [day/date] about sponsorship opportunities.)
- Deliver value: Each interaction should add another reason to open and respond. For example, with every new email, you could drop in a testimonial to pique interest, share statistics on the potential of your audience, or attach a digital resource.
- Explain your reasons for emailing: Add a reminder or mention again why you’re emailing (e.g., I think sponsorship could help [company] generate targeted leads. I’d love to have a quick chat to find out if I’m right.)
- Encourage action: If you’re trying to schedule a meeting, add a call-to-action by suggesting a time and date (e.g., Does Monday at 1:30 pm work for you?)
Close the deal
Whether your meeting is over the phone, video call, or in-person, the objective is the same. You want to hammer home why sponsorship makes sense for the prospect.
Try not to think of this as a sales meeting. Rather, approach it as a partnership opportunity. That said, the meeting should be focused on the prospect.
Ask questions about what they do and what they need. Then deliver your offer, explaining how it can help them meet their specific goals.
For example, if the prospect is interested in sponsorship to increase brand awareness, focus on the assets that help them do this. For instance, banner ads and a 150-word blurb on your website will give the sponsor good exposure to your users.
Close by clarifying their interest.
From there, summarize the call via email. Thank them for their time, and attach your proposal doc.
Create a sponsorship agreement
So that you have confirmation in writing, you should send the prospect a sponsorship agreement.
UpCounsel has a free sponsorship agreement template that includes the following details:
- The sponsor’s name and address
- Your name and address
- Your obligations (the benefits you will provide the sponsor)
- The sponsor’s obligations (the sponsorship fee and payment due date)
- Sponsor trademarks and materials (the materials the sponsor has offered to provide for marketing and promotional purposes)
- Limitation of liability
- Term and termination (sponsorship start and end date)
Note: A sponsorship agreement is a legally binding document. Therefore you should consult a lawyer before settling on an agreement.
Deliver a fulfillment report to secure long-term sponsorship
The post-sponsorship fulfillment report is a critical part of the sponsorship agreement. As Kathy Emery, Principal of The Sponsor Placement Company, points out:
“You should not be in this business if you don’t do them. They are as important as the contract or the event itself.”
The idea is to communicate the results of the partnership. More than that, it enables you to justify the sponsor’s investment, build your relationship, and kickstart sponsorship renewal.
It also provides you with insights that can be used to improve future sponsorship agreements.
For example, if insights reveal that sponsor messaging didn’t reach as many people as expected, you may need to hone your offer to partner with fewer brands and increase exclusivity.
On the flip-side, if a tactic such as including sponsors in five email newsletters generated more click-throughs than expected, you could double down on that offer in future sponsorships in the same niche.
How to present your fulfillment report
A report should be delivered in a timely fashion, ideally within two weeks of the sponsorship ends, but not later than one month. It should also be concise, divided into four easily digestible parts:
1. About you
2. Audience demographics
4. Thanks and feedback
1. About you
Include a brief description of your business, book, or podcast, with details of its success.
If you have testimonials or reviews, add them to give weight to your offer.
2. Audience demographics
Use graphs and charts to visualize audience data on the people that used your business, purchased your book, or listened to your podcast during the term of sponsorship.
Break these down in the same way as your sponsorship strategy:
- Education level
- Motivations for consuming
This will show sponsors whether or not their brand was positioned in front of their target audience.
Use this section to list out the sponsor’s assets and whether or not you delivered on them. Include:
- An inventory of impressions: Website traffic, ad impressions, social media impressions, newsletter views, print readership, etc. This will demonstrate brand awareness.
- An inventory of metrics: Click-through rates, newsletter subscribers, downloads, social engagement, revenue figures, etc. Highlight areas where you’ve exceeded expectations. Equally, if you fell short on a deliverable, include a notes section to explain why with ideas on how it can be improved.
- Visuals: Photos, videos, and screenshots (e.g., assets, website screengrabs, program ads, event photos, product placement, speakers, action shots of sponsors at events, etc.) Provide a visual representation of benefits to show deliverables wherever possible.
IGTLA shared their social analytics from the live-streamed event and images that showcase the sponsor’s logo.
4. Thanks and feedback
Use the last page of your report to extend a genuine thank you to the sponsor. Explain how valuable their sponsorship was for your audience and in helping you achieve your objectives.
Sign off with some overarching ideas on how future sponsorship can be improved and expanded.
Also, ask for their feedback and any ideas they have. This will help you improve future partnerships (with this sponsor or another), as well as laying the groundwork for renewals.
Successful sponsorship is based on research and value. Take the time to fine tune your sponsorship strategy so that it clearly defines your audience, target market, and benefits you bring to the table.
Focus on assets that meet the prospects’ goals and on prospects that meet your audience goals.
Once you’ve secured sponsorship, continually test, measure, and tweak to ensure you’re delivering on your offer and communicate results to sponsors. Not every asset will produce the kind of results you want, but understanding what works and what doesn’t will help you improve long-term partnerships and tailor future packages for better ROI.