How to Cultivate Long-Term Sponsors

So how do you as a site publisher develop a profitable, sustained, win-win sponsorship program for a client? Like developing an ongoing relationship with a wonderful lover, it takes time to develop and effort to maintain.

Let’s talk first about setting the stage.

Hopefully, you are focusing your efforts on a particular industry or area of interest. It’s tightly defined. It’s got its own magazines and conferences and newsletters and discussion groups and so on. Whatever your area is, hopefully it’s one that you are deeply interested in and knowledgeable about.

If the focus of your site does not come close to anything in the previous paragraph, you should completely rethink your business plan.

If it does, you should make every effort to become a visible figure and major contributor in that space. Speak at the conferences. Schmooze at the networking events. Attend the trade shows. Read all the magazines. Interact with the opinion leaders or, better yet, become one.

Contribute to the discussion lists. Subscribe to the magazines. Learn all you can about the companies serving the space you are serving. Get to know people within those companies.

Know and understand the related industries as well. This means that if you have a snowboarding site, you should have a good handle on skiing, too. And maybe sledding and snowmobiling as well. Bottom line: Know the space you are in like the back of your hand.

Honing in on particular sponsors, you should track the companies that are committed to ongoing advertising in the leading trade publications, special-interest magazines, event and trade show sponsorships, and so on. You want to do business with companies that have a track record of – and a commitment to – building their brand and their business through advertising. That’s not rocket science: Unless they have a budget, you aren’t going to get very far with them.

Once you have identified the companies that look like they might be a good fit, you should do four things:

  1. Go over your site content and isolate areas where there are strong synergies for particular companies. If your site focuses on small business accounting systems, for example, there could very well be an area that Intuit might want to get behind to better brand its QuickBooks 2000 product. If your site focuses on successful sales strategies, there may be an area where a motivational seminar, sales tactics conference or sales management software would benefit from adjacent branding. Think about these things so that when you get to step 2, you’ll have some ideas to discuss.
  2. At the events you attend or email discussions you participate in, begin to develop relationships with key marketing people from the companies you want to do business with. Get to understand the issues they are up against, what they are trying to accomplish, what is working and what is not. Don’t push the sponsorship agenda until you have a comprehensive understanding of their needs and objectives. Fact is, you may find as you get to know them that they aren’t well-suited for you to work with as a partner… and you don’t want to get yourself into a long-term relationship with a mismatched sponsor. You’ll both be miserable.
  3. When the time comes to present your sponsorship opportunity, going a little overboard doing your homework is a pretty good idea. If you have the bandwidth and the resources, mock up a page that shows how the sponsorship might look if they worked with you. Again, think in their terms and speak about the win for them. Talk about having exclusive branding associated with highly relevant content. Seek feedback. Work with them. Spoil them a little bit. You’re working on a sponsorship that can become a template for future clients, so you want to make that first one successful. This could become the building block for a solid business. So do it right.
  4. Pricing is subjective, so it’s hard to recommend a particular number. If you understand what a new customer represents to them in terms of lifetime value, that can guide your decision process. If your client is a cruise line, you might price a monthly sponsorship at the rate of two to four paid tickets if you think you can deliver a good deal more than that. If your client sells airplanes, and your readers buy airplanes, an argument could be made for a substantially higher price.

Know your client and know your market: The answer will become clear to you. Just set your own agenda aside… and listen.

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