By Art Menius, Associate Festival Coordinator, MerleFest

Sustainable event sponsorship must be a win-win for all involved. The complete set of circumstances and arrangements that make a successful sponsorship agreement include defining sponsorship opportunities and rewards, matching sponsors with events, how to place the sponsorship opportunities so that they are attractive, how to approach potential sponsors, what firms sponsoring bluegrass events look for in selecting these investments, and how to nurture long-term business relationships.

Why events seek sponsors
This requires examining why you want sponsorship for it provides more to an event than dollars, raffle prizes, or in-kind services. It enhances credibility. It sends messages that help shape the image of your event. Beer and tobacco sponsors suggest one thing and a tie in with the American Cancer Society something else altogether. Lots of local sponsors suggest widespread community awareness and support; national sponsors a high profile in a wide area. Instrument makers involvement promises plenty of pickers at the festival.

Why sponsors sponsor
"What can appeal to potential sponsors is that bluegrass has a lot of young, energetic talent coming into the field," Tom Robinson from Nashville PR firm Dye, VanMol & Lawrence told a seminar at the IBMA World of Bluegrass 1997 in Louisville. "They want to bring along that next generation that probably doesn’t have that brand loyalty right now, and they’re looking for a way to reach them…. That’s the advantage bluegrass music has. That’s something you really ought to leverage when you go and pitch it." Loyalty to bluegrass music suggests brand loyalty, Tom asserted.
Examine why sponsors get involved with events. At the 1997 seminar Todd Wright of Gibson USA expressed that children’s programming and getting kids into bluegrass was crucial to Gibson’s sponsorship decisions. Tony Polychronis from Salt Lake City volunteered how Founders Title became the major sponsor of IAMA’s festival because they wanted comp tickets to give to real estate agents since their business was prohibited form traditional advertising in Utah. Eric Hoogstad from the IBMA European Bluegrass Network described how, by creating a street fair environment, the European World of Bluegrass was able to attract support from entities, in this case, a tourism commission, interested not in bluegrass, an unfamiliar music, but in the potential audience for bluegrass music events. Look at other ways your audience can be defined beyond being a bluegrass festival audience..

Different kinds of sponsorships
The old days of one title sponsor footing all the bills have generally disappeared. Successful event sponsorship today requires building a full menu of opportunities that can fit almost any budget and marketing plan. Divide your event into components and create sponsorships for each one.
Evaluate your event’s needs to start. Develop packages that meet those needs in different categories such as title sponsors, sub-event sponsors, media sponsors, services sponsors, and etc. What have you gained if your get corporate underwriting to do something you had no intention to do?
Create perks for sponsors, often by using amenities designed for artists and staff: on site meals, backstage access, special parking. The benefits each sponsor receives can be indexed to the amount of their support.

How to identify potential sponsors
Identify potential sponsors through a variety of means: see whose sponsoring other events in your community, check out whose sponsoring other bluegrass events, approach companies directly involved in bluegrass and directly involved with your community, track corporate marketing approaches in the Wall Street Journal and more specialized publications (IEG’s Complete Guide to Sponsorship and biweekly Sponsorship Report; Entertainment Marketing Letter; Ad Age), remember your friends and business associates, and network. If, for one example, you have a positive, long term relationship with your banker, then approach your bank. Local franchises are the best route to major corporations. Wright noted that Gibson is sensitive to their artists participating in an event. IAMA reached three sponsors simply through a stage announcement that sponsorships were available.
Don’t get trapped in the bluegrass music business box when considering potential sponsors. Often the best support often comes from businesses in the greater community rather than our field. IBMA propaganda does a nice job of suggesting businesses that relate well to the bluegrass demographic.
Non-profits can pursue community development or relations money from corporations, instead of just marketing money for sponsorships.
Examine the market data compiled by IBMA for both demographic ammunition and to identify potential sponsors outside our field. IBMA propaganda does a nice job of suggesting businesses that relate well to bluegrass demographics. "The first place I’d go in bluegrass is to IBMA’s Simmons Research," Robinson stated. Often the best support comes from businesses outside our field. In Europe, this point becomes even more critical, as Eric explained. "The first step if you want to build a major event is to get sponsors who are not really interested in the music, but in reaching customers who are… at the festival grounds and want to sell their product to those people. Then you have a budget and you can get entertainment…. Then you can attract sponsors from within the music community."
Try to anticipate the needs of potential sponsors and bring them proposals that address those needs. IEG Sponsorship Newsletter reports what sponsors are seeking.
A key to success is matching the support requested to the budget of the potential sponsor. This requires considerable guess-work, but I’d guess that more proposals have lost steam due to asking for too much or too little (in the case of major corporations) than any other factor. On the other hand, one doesn’t want to offer a deal so sweet that you lose money on it.

What sponsors want from an event
You have to have the goods before you can sell sponsorships for your event. Every other aspect supports the sponsorship initiative, otherwise you can’t deliver the demographics. Building a great event will earn more sponsorship dollars than the best crafted proposal.
Robinson stressed that "a one size-fits-all approach no longer works…. Know the demographics [of a major corporation] and ask yourself if you can reach their buyers. If you can’t, don’t attempt it. They need very specifically to know how you’re going to reach them, what are the opportunities, and then what my net results are going to be…. How many cases will it sell for me? If you do your homework and present it a professional manner, then I think you can get their ear and make them see the big vision of what’s in it for them."
The decision makers need to know, not think, that the proper audience match exists ("You have to drive people to their business," offered California event producer Don Tucker.). Create opportunities for sponsors to accrue impressions: exhibit space on site, web sites, festival program books, raffles, title sponsorships of stages and specific events, inclusion in advertising and promotional mailings, and banner placements.
Realize that many sponsors, especially those in the bluegrass field, can better handle in-kind contributions than cash. Raffles are one example of converting goods into cash. It’s even better when one can also use in-kind donations to avoid purchasing or renting items

What sponsors need in a proposal from an event
Keep proposals themselves short enough to be read in ten to fifteen minutes. Book size proposals look impressive, but don’t quickly tell the sponsor what you want. Just cover the basics: who, what, when, why, where, and how, while providing back up materials in the form of a media kit.
Come to potential sponsors with as specific as possible proposals. Only go fishing when that’s the best option and even then offer a menu of specific options. Never simply provide general information with a tag to call us about sponsorship options.
Wright’s office receives about fifty proposals a week; about a fifth make it through the screening process to his desk. "What can you really do for the sponsor and what would you like the corporation to do for you. Don’t make them guess. We get so many you read and basically wonder what they really want." He also pointed out that large corporations need a lot of lead time, six months or more.
Use exclusivity, right of first refusal, tie-ins, and on site product displays as bargaining chips.
Do not quantify the values of specific sponsor benefits. You’re selling the association with your event, not the individual perks that come with it.
Document your event: track impressions and attendance. Provide as specific numbers as possible.

How sponsors evaluate proposals
Sponsorship is measured in impressions, the number of people who are exposed to the sponsor’s name or message. Everything that builds impressions enhances your chances for success: number of people who read the magazines with sponsor logos in the ads, number of fliers mailed, number of hits on your web page, numbers in the audience who heard emcee announcements and saw banners.
If an impression costs as much as a penny each, the price is quite high in general. "What my directors ask for more and more are specific numbers of impressions – the number of times the company’s name or logo will be heard or seen," Wright related. "Good numbers make it so much easier to present it to the decision makers. You look at specific numbers of impressions and calculate the cost per impression." TV coverage really helps, he added. Document your event.

What makes for a successful sponsorship arrangement
Corporate sponsorship is a business deal that has to work for both parties. A few altruistic sponsors exist (more if your event benefits a community charity), but success requires sponsorship deals that provide real or perceived benefits for the sponsor. Unless you’re producing a clearly worthwhile charity events with benefits to the community, the doing good approach won’t have strong legs.
Corporate sponsorship is about building relationships over time. Get sponsors on board, even if at lower than the desired level, then build up. Sponsors need to feel that they are valued parts of the event, members of the team. "A lot of companies will tell you, I can write you a small check and get you some product. If it’s a good match, consider it seriously," Robinson asserted. "Give them an alternative, especially if they seem genuinely interested." "Give the corporations options," says Wright. "Try to be creative and kick some ideas out." Sponsors need to feel that they are valued parts of the event, members of the team.
Sponsorship requires a total team effort on the part of event staff. Emcees need specific announcements to make, which should be tracked by the stage managers. The gate people need to be prepped to provide a warm welcome to the sponsors. Identification of sponsors through such devices as name badges makes things much easier for the event staff. Little works worse than to have a $10K sponsor treated rudely by a teen-aged security volunteer.
Follow-up and renewal – nurturing the relationship - requires providing strong customer service and an event even better than promised. Make sure they know they are appreciated in every aspect, and momentum will build year after year.

No Matter How Important Your Event May Be, If It’s Not On TV, Then It’s Local
That, unfortunately, proves a truth of sponsorship marketing today when dealing with the mainstream corporate world. By being on TV, one does not mean local TV coverage; we’re talking about events covered on at least a decent national cable channel. This is why sports occupies the kick-butt position in event sponsorships. With musical events, especially in bluegrass, we’re talking about an audience that includes few beyond those on site, or who visit the web site. It is true that we are on the cusp of anything and everything being cybercast, but once high speed Internet connections make that possible, the advantage will remain with those having the greatest pull power, which will be off air and cable networks for a long time to come.
The ramifications prove extraordinary for our industry particularly because the business entities in our field are not large enough to fund major sponsorships. Yet without TV, our proposals often involve figures that fly below the radar of major corporate sponsorship marketing departments. In other words, we ask for too much from our internal sponsors, while we can’t ask for enough from mainstream corporations. And, since we’re not on national TV, the major businesses consider us local and those we’re left to fish for whatever local co-op or community involvement funds that the local or regional dealer may have.
This puts bluegrass in a position similar to what NASCAR faced in the 1960s – big crowds, but little TV or sponsorship money. NASCAR proceeded to build one of the extraordinary success stories in event marketing by building upon a national network of local events long before stock car racing became a hot TV property. Clearly cooperation among a select number of the strongest festivals working together as a package can accomplish a lot more than each of us individually.

Individual Donors
Develop programs to handle smaller, individual donations – a friend of the festival approach. This also recognizes that the needs of those looking for a marketing tie-in are much different than those of someone who simply loves the festival. A number of people exist who’ll give $100, $500, even $1000 who have no interest in being sponsor of anything except for the event in general. This approach works particularly well for concert series.

IEG, Inc (
www.sponsorship.com; 640 North LaSalle #600; Chicago, IL 60610-3777) is the world’s leading purveyor of information, books, periodicals, annuals, and seminars about sponsorship. Although a for profit business, it functions in many ways as a trade association for sponsorship, networking sponsors and events.
IBMA’s "Developing Sponsorship: A Guide to Building Investment and Marketing Relationships for Bluegrass Events." $15 for IBMA members.
Entertainment Marketing Letter (160 Mercer St., 3rd Floor; New York, NY 10012-3212; 212-941-0099)