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How to Secure Your Headline Sponsor

Securing a headline sponsor can provide the vital funding that makes your event possible, but with so many events vying for support, how can you stand out from the crowd?
We spoke to three event organisers with a track record of securing sponsorship to find out exactly how they did it, and how you can do it too. 
Related: How to structure a successful event sponsorship proposal 
Tom Bourtlet, The Eventa Group
Tom Bourlet

We gained a headline sponsor by speaking at a conference. Both myself and a colleague were speaking at the conference in London, which was attended by companies within Eventa’s industry. We discussed the progress the business had made, the marketing strategy we had adopted over the past 12-month period and how this drastically impacted our results.
At the end of the talk, we also spoke about an event we were running in six months and invited everyone to join us. We also asked them to let us know if they were interested in talking at the event. This helped us to open communication with many groups and individuals at the conference, as they were either interested in public speaking or in learning more about the event. As we continued discussions over a few post-talk drinks, two of the businesses expressed their interest in sponsoring the event.
We didn’t go out with the intention of gaining sponsors, albeit we were hoping to increase awareness of the conference, however it is now a key consideration of our marketing strategy for future opportunities.
Why I felt this tactic worked so well was that the company was considering sponsoring a few events and they finally decided upon us based on the impression he gained from the talk and the fact that he ‘had a face to match with’.
Face-to-face communication is almost always going to achieve greater results than cold calling or emailing, however this can be costly, which is why conferences can be such a good way of grouping together potential sponsors and clients all within one room. One great talk and you don’t need to approach them; they will come to you.
Related: How to get good event sponsorship
Foluke Akinlose MBE, The PRECIOUS Awards
Foluke Akinlose MBE

The PRECIOUS Awards celebrate their 10-year anniversary this year, and I can honestly say that we have gotten headline support purely through the power of networking, maintaining relationships and truly connecting with people.
I met our first headline sponsor at a dinner party thrown by a friend. During the course of the evening, I told the story of how and why I had set up the PRECIOUS awards. The woman sitting across from me seemed really interested and wanted to know more.
We connected and kept in touch. She also happened to be CFO of a major publishing company and was instrumental in helping us bring them on board as our first headline sponsor. You never know who you may meet and where. It taught me to always keep my eyes peeled for an opportunity.
Last year was the first time we had a high street bank as a headline sponsor. This came about through an introduction from another of our sponsors. Yes, we had to go in and pitch and tell a compelling story but the opportunity would not have come about if we had not ensured that we gave all our sponsors a positive experience that they would be happy to talk well of us when we were not in the room.
It also demonstrated the importance of maintaining connections with sponsors, not just when you need a financial contribution, but the times in between!
Related: Experts share how to win event sponsorship
Rebecca Elcome, Coveted Events

Rebecca Elcome

Sponsorship continues to be a challenge for event professionals, but if secured, can make a significant impact to your income. Over the years I’ve seen sponsorship trends change dramatically but one thing that remains is that finding it is not an easy task. Here are some of my top tips for identifying and securing event sponsorship.
1) Use your existing networks
Talk to any existing corporate partners supporting you in other capacities. They might appreciate the opportunity to sponsor a brand new or flagship event, particularly as events can offer so much in terms of promotional opportunities and beyond. Companies can use them as corporate hospitality, employee engagement or incentives, as well as receiving their benefits such as branding or media coverage. If they’re supporting you already they are more likely to welcome this opportunity.
2) Work with an event committee
Alongside supporting with event plans and identifying guests, committees can play an integral role in identifying and making approaches to potential sponsors on your behalf so you don’t have to go out cold.
From my experience, with the majority of events that have secured sponsorship, this has come through a personal contact of one of our committee members. In the current climate, it’s getting harder and harder to find sponsorship. I currently chair the Charity Sector Special Event Forum with 300 members from the non-profit sector. Many have referenced that the competition is so tough that they’re having to take sponsorship out of the budget altogether and make up the income elsewhere. So it definitely helps if you have those personal connections with potential sponsors.
3) Break your sponsorship target down into smaller figures
Finding a headline sponsor to contribute a large sum is very hard, so you may wish to break it down into many smaller packages. There are a couple of ways of doing this. To raise £100,000, for example, you could break it down into 10 VIP tables paying £10,000 each receiving enhanced benefits (champagne on the table, prime position within the room, additional branding in the brochure) and do away with the headline sponsor altogether.
Alternatively you could offer them the opportunity to sponsor different elements of the event, such as the reception, dinner or champagne. Particularly with colder approaches, you may have more chance of success with bite-sized sponsorship packages, as high-level figures are hard to come by.
4) Ensure that you’re aware of the market
It’s likely that any major corporates will receive hundreds of sponsorship approaches each month. It’s key that you’re aware of a) your competitors and similar packages that may be on offer and b) realistic targets to aim for. This will enable you to put together effective proposals to match your competition. Although special events such as gala dinners offer promotion to an exclusive, high net worth audience, corporates can just as easily sponsor a festival or exhibition where exposure and footfall would be far greater so you need to consider how you can stand out. Social media presence continues to be a growing interest for corporates, so don’t forget to use any impressive stats as part of your approach.
5) Be prepared to invest time and money
Of course, you have a much higher chance of success if you have a full or part-time resource specifically focusing on finding new partnerships and it’s critical to leave a long lead time to maximise the chances of successes. However, if like most people this is a luxury you can’t afford, there’s also the option to outsource to agencies experienced at winning corporate sponsorship. Many organisations recognise the need to speculate to accumulate in this way and will choose to pay a set fee or commission to ensure that they secure a headline partner. Just make sure you’re transparent about what you’re doing and communicate the fees to your potential sponsors.
Finally, I’d say always engage in an open dialogue with potential sponsors. Ask them, ‘What is it we could offer you that could make you want to sponsor the event?’ rather than saying, ‘This is what we need’. Being as flexible as possible will offer your sponsors a better return on their investment.
Related: Free sponsor fulfilment checklist template
Conclusion
When it comes to securing sponsorship, it’s who you know not what you know, so be prepared to get networking! Go to events, look for speaking opportunities, call up your contacts and recruit ambassadors to expand your network. A personal connection offers you the best chance of securing the support you need.
Source: Eventbrite

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