sponsors: make fa$t money

Leagues need money to run, and sponsors are a good way to get it. So in this article we’re going to talk about how to get sponsors and keep them happy. This is learned from personal experience, reading other articles, talking to people who are better at this and going to Rollercon classes. You should definitely do those things to learn as much as you can.

We’ll start with one method of reaching out to sponsors, then talk about representing yourself professionally and keeping those relationships alive. What we won’t talk about is making your league worth investing in. Make sure you do that and understand what value you can actually offer. 

Sponsorship Outreach Methodology

Here’s the idea: we’re going to track all of the businesses we can, contact everyone we can to make the sale, follow up, then we’re going to keep them happy. This method is a variation of what’s called a sales funnel.

Businesses start out as prospects, possible sponsors. If you have more reason to think they’re a match — targeting, conversations, whatever—  they become leads. These can convert to sponsors.  I also like to rank them in tiers. High value targets are those that have obvious tie-ins to your league or otherwise seem very likely to sponsor. The prospects, in our case, are all nearby business that aren’t off brand. We’re going to reach out to all of them.

How much you do depends on staffing. If you’re one person you might focus on high value leads exclusively, trying to build personal connections. Personal connections and contacts are still the most effective method, as well as in-person networking. 

Baller $ponsorship Move 1: $preadsheetz

Most organizations fail at step one, which is the hardest and most boring. You’re going to need a database. This could be a spreadsheet, or Salesforce entries if you’re really advanced. How you do it doesn’t matter. The key is to do it. This is critical no matter what your scale is or how you reach out. My example picture is the first part of a document with hundreds of rows.

The goal is to list every business in your region. You should have a name, mailing address, maybe email, and notes on your past interactions. Try to flag ones that you think are especially good fits.

You want the process to speak for itself so you can collaborate. If you’re suddenly out of the picture, whoever takes over should know who you’ve talked to, what was said and what the disposition of each sponsor is. It could happen. Maybe you’re a sleeper agent and someone says the code word and you leave. Or you get put under the Imperious Curse and don’t have time to do sponsorship.

I’m almost done reading through Harry Potter. It’s getting pretty exciting. I’m thinking the Weasley’s joke shop is foreshadowing, and that they’re going to come up with something to totally stop the death eaters. I’m looking forward to seeing where the twins end up after all this. I can’t imagine them being separated.

Anyway, the point is you need to take notes.

Make a Super Professional Letter

What we want to end up doing here is mailing out a sponsorship packet to every, every, business in town. You can automate this with the help of a print shop. Consider your resources, and do as many as are reasonable. Maybe send mailers to the highest values, and email or call everyone else.

The letter should include a quick review of what the league is doing that’s so exciting, how their sponsorship helps the community, what your audience reach looks like and what you’ll do for them. 

Stay away from saying much about supporting your league as a charity. It’s a bad angle since you’re competing with animal shelters in that space, and it makes you sound desperate. People do business with successful people. Do include benefits to the sponsor, audience demographics and anything else useful. If you have specific things to fundraise for you can mention them here.

Attached to this should be a packet that explains the different levels and a form that they can send in. You want it to be a painless process. Existing sponsors should get renewal requests, preferably discounted. This can also be done via the Internet.

Follow Up

That stuff you just read? It probably won’t work. Sorry. It won’t work because it can take years to make a sale. But if you follow up you can build relationships and get people interested. So far, you’ve managed to run a direct marketing campaign that gets your brand in a lot of people’s heads, which is a plus.

What does follow-up look like? That’s up to you. The best thing you can do is to build street teams that go into every business to make sure they got the mailer and to pass out some fliers for the next event or more information. Members of the street teams should be able to answer questions. If you split into regions, you can have coordinators schedule this. This is what Humboldt Roller Derby does, and they are by far the most successful league when considering population and local income. If you don’t have that kind of staffing, which almost no one does, you can visit only your most valuable prospects.

If that’s too much, you can send out an email or call a few. Remember, them saying no isn’t a loss. It’s something they can spend the year thinking about while they see you in the community.

Other Outreach Channels

Remain visible and remain accessible. Bring sponsorship packets to outreach events. Have an info table at your game? Same deal. You want business owners thinking about this before their next budget meetings (side note: Do this before their budget meetings, Novemberish).

Not included here are the highest tier, most valuable leads — people you know. You should be building those strong relationships as you go. All of the possible methods mix together to eventually reach a critical mass where someone gives you money. The mailer is only step one. It augments your other efforts, which should be continuing all season.

The Packet

I assumed that you already have a professional looking sponsorship packet. Before you even think about reaching out to businesses, make sure everything they see sends the message you want. They’ll check out your website next, and whatever comes up on a Google search. So you should, too. Imagine you’re them.

Whatever your packet looks like, it needs to be available online. I made a responsive version with Adobe Spark that I rather like, but a PDF gets the job done just fine. All that matters is that it’s no hassle. Some leagues put forms on their websites for sponsors to sign up. I consider that a bit impersonal, but it depends on your needs. They’ll also be looking to see if you represent existing sponsors well.

Retention/Relationship Management

So let’s say you have some sponsors. Would you like them to renew for next year? You have to keep them happy. Want to get new sponsors? All those people you sent mailers to are watching you to see how you handle the existing ones. So make it count.

What Do They Want?

No business pays for ads in a program. You have to understand what they actually want. Is it to drive new customers? Create brand awareness? Add coolness? Get some tickets for their friends and investors? Get invited to your Christmas party (they should be)? I don’t know. You’ll need to find out and think through what can get them that thing. This is exactly the same as how you recruit skaters, volunteers and fans. Know what they want, know what you need and what you can offer, meet somewhere that makes everyone happy.

Social Sharing

When you’re mentioning sponsors on social media, don’t just say “Thanks to our sponsor XYZ Apparel; check out their store downtown!” That’s not going to drive business. I mean, yes, you can do that, but don’t stop there. I try to share posts from the sponsor’s pages covering events, products or something else that makes our reach useful. It’s good to keep an open dialog as well so the sponsor can give you warning when they have a new campaign. Your social reach is a force multiplier.

Small business owners are rarely marketing experts. It’s good practice to give them some suggestions on how they can best utilize your brand partnership. I’ll leave it to you to think of what those are in your case. But they don’t just want your gratitude. Stay in contact, they’ll let you know what you can do to help them more.

If you have a large membership base, try to encourage your league members to visit the business and report back. Then you can collect the numbers of league members who went there to report to the sponsor at the end of the year, which is an effective strategy Rose City uses.

Creativity and Added Value

There was a really good class at the 2016 Rollercon on sponsorship presented by Rocket Mean of Rose city . It included points on creativity and some added value options.

Creativity can include finding in-kind donation options. Things like a hardware store donating track tape. Or thinking of a gimmick before you approach. Bail bondsman for the penalty box, VIP seating for a vehicle dealership when fans have that type of vehicle, things like that. Rocket Mean once secured a huge sponsorship deal for a theater by realizing the company just needed a good Christmas party.

Added value can be any of that plus padded seats for sponsors, special entrances, catering, whatever else you can think of. Sacramento sets up a VIP catered seating area. You might consider, for very large sponsors, getting into non-compete agreements where they get exclusive sponsor rights for a given industry.

I asked Santa Cruz about keeping sponsors happy, and Jenny Lawless gave me this:

“Once we have a new sponsor, we work hard to make them feel part of the family and treat them well, including holding tickets at a VIP entrance, catering to them onsite at games with drinks and snacks, and other perks. We want them to feel as valued as possible and be HAPPY to write us a check, or have us help with their event, or them at ours.”

Santa Cruz does very well in sponsorship, considering their population density, and this is why. The transaction doesn’t finish after the prospect responds. You build a relationship and welcome them to your group.

Closing and TL;DR

Target your personal connections, but cover everything for your generic outreach. Sales can take a long time; you have to be visible, engaging and valuable. Keep your sponsors happy, be realistic about what you can offer. And good luck.

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