Key Actions to Retain Sponsors

By Paula Beadle

Events large and small are contemplating what to do as COVID-19 continues to bear down on the U.S. Our immediate concern is how to work with and retain sponsors after an event has been cancelled. Here’s the topline advice we’re sharing with properties and events along with my one key action item:

Honor your relationships. Sponsorships are not purely transactional—they’re all about relationships. Connect early and often with sponsors by phone and direct email. Sponsors should never learn about what’s happening through a mass email or social media. Your organizations have chosen to work together for good reason. Times of crisis will strengthen relationships that are already solid if you communicate, listen, and take action.

Action Item: Contact your partners and ask thoughtful questions to understand how they personally and professionally are being impacted.

Know your contracts. Consult with your teams immediately (legal, financial, operations) to determine what you are contractually obligated to do for sponsors in case of an event cancellation and prepare to fulfill the requirement. Begin by assessing the impact on the organization if issuing full or partial refund of sponsorship fees if they have been paid, or cancellation of the contract if fees haven’t been paid. If the contract doesn’t clearly specify or address refunds in case of cancellations, consider what expenses you’ve incurred, what benefits have been delivered, the value, and the financial impact of losing the sponsorship revenue on operations. It’s important to prepare for potential negotiations and your approach for each sponsor.

Action Item: Collect all pertinent and current information about contracts and payments and discuss with leadership the impact of refunding sponsorships.

Play offense, not defense. Reach out to sponsors before they reach out to you. If a sponsor connects with you first, don’t avoid the conversation. Don’t delay it until you have a better idea of what others in the market are doing. Don’t wait to see how the crisis unfolds. Share specific details whenever you can. For example, if there is an 85 percent your event will be cancelled altogether, tell your sponsors that. If there’s a chance it will be pushed out three months, share that information. Sponsors want to be able to plan for the future and need facts to do so. Going radio silent or simply telling them that planning is underway is not enough during times of crisis.

Don’t get defensive if there is talk of refunds or cancelling a sponsorship. Be very direct in asking sponsors not to evoke the force majeure in their contracts at this time – just because it’s there doesn’t mean it will or should happen. Take a leadership approach by proactively and calmly managing the situation. Remain focused on the current circumstances and respond to the facts. Avoid “what if” conversations whenever possible, assure sponsors that the lines of communication are open, and reiterate your commitment to the partnership.

Action Item: Ask partners to be patient and withhold taking any action until you and the leadership have developed a plan and until more information becomes available.

Involve sponsors in the process and offer solutions. Ask your sponsors to share the challenges they are facing and how you can be helpful. Involve them in your planning process and make sure you’re the voice that represents sponsors within your organization. Ask sponsors for their patience and understanding as you navigate the path forward together. Think about ideas and solutions beyond sponsorship. For example, how can you use digital platforms to support your sponsors by creating specific content. It’s important that you are sharing concrete ways you will help them RIGHT NOW as well as in the future. For example, use your voice to share what your partners are doing during this crisis to support the community. They came to you for solutions, you have a unique opportunity to problem solve and show them the value of why they chose to work with you in the first place.

Action Item: Make a list with your colleagues how you can use the resources of the organization to support your partners NOW. Discuss how can you integrate sponsors into your digital and social platforms.

These are uncertain times. Staying well informed is critical. As you assess your current situation, determine the best course of action, make decisions for the future of your organization, and deliver information to your team and partners, the Caravel Marketing team is here to help. We’ll continue to provide resources as you navigate the ins and outs of sponsorship and business development and support you along the way.

About the author: Paula Beadle is the CEO of Caravel Marketing, a national consulting company specializing in sponsorship marketing, and the founder of Sponsorship Mastery, an annual summit and programming dedicated to improving individual and organizational sponsorship performance. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of developing smart strategies and creatively connecting the right partners. Paula has helped iconic events and major brands achieve their goals through innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.