performers' library

Acquiring Corporate Sponsorship
Martin Ewen

Having just scoped out North America for the first time this season, I've noticed that street venues are receding. To survive, rugged solo loners and rebels are going to have to survive by affiliation and there are more than enough new-money eccentrics to remove the stigma of corporate sellout. Life seems to be all about grabbing attention and after all, that's our main skill, is it not?


Nearly every company will require a written approach before they decide whether or not they will meet you. Most companies receive a considerable number of requests, nearly all of which are turned down. Many of them are turned down because the information is presented in such a way that the executive simply cannot assimilate it in the brief time available.

Common faults include:
Too much irrelevant information.
Bad presentation - Page after page of long, closely typed paragraphs.
No directions - Why are you writing? What would you like them to do?
No sign posting - Numbering points and subheadings make a document easy to read and will enable you to focus on key points.

Ideally, the written approach should consist of a two page proposal (consider 3 pages the absolute Max) accompanied by a brief covering letter.

The proposal must give the facts about your organisation and the event for which you seek sponsorship, together with the list of benefits which will accrue to the sponsor. Neither the facts nor the benefits should occupy more than a page each.

of the proposal might run as follows...

WHO YOU ARE. A paragraph describing the aims, objectives and activities of your organisation. If you wish to expand on this, do so by means of an attachment.

WHAT THE PROJECT IS. An equally brief description of the project for which you are seeking sponsorship.

WHERE the project will be taking place.

the project will be taking place.

. Grants from arts bodies should not jeopardise your chances of obtaining sponsorship. Rather, they constitute endorsement of you and your project by the professional arts world.

There is no need for a budget breakdown at this point, simply state the amount of money you are looking for. Further budget information can form an attachment if necessary. You may find the emphasis on brevity restricting. Remember that at this stage all the company will be doing is deciding whether or not they want to meet you. It is rare for a company to endorse a sponsorship project on the base of a written application alone.

PAGE TWO of the proposal should list the benefits. The prime benefits you are able to offer your potential partner will certainly include:

YOUR AUDIENCE. A brief analysis of your audience . Quantify wherever possible.

PUBLICITY MATERIAL. Say what you plan to produce, how many of each item and where these will be displayed or distributed.

HOSPITALITY. Outline the opportunities your project might generate for entertaining. Give details of priority booking schemes or concessional rates for the companies employees. Identify any items that the sponsorship might generate with a life beyond that of the project.

MEDIA COVERAGE. Mention any media coverage that you might expect your project to receive. Show yourself to be aware of the difficulties encountered by sponsors in getting media acknowledgement for their sponsorship of the arts. Say that you would like to work with them in order to maximise their chances of obtaining appropriate media credit. When presenting benefits, try and be as specific as possible. You should aim to give sponsors sufficient data so that they can evaluate the cost effectiveness of your project alongside other promotional opportunities

This should be brief and to the point. It should contain a one or two sentence summary of the proposal and an indication that the attached project and accompanying benefits analysis is only one example of your organisation's activities. Express willingness to explore alternative ideas. You have outlined benefits for the company by their sponsorship of the stated project but you would not wish this to preempt any more flexible or imaginative approach which might develop during discussion.. Avoid saying that you 'look forward to hearing from them.' Instead, retain the initiative by courteously indicating that you will telephone to arrange a meeting unless you hear from them in the meantime.

As a general rule, keep these to a minimum and make sure they are absolutely relevant. If you wish to send examples of publicity material or press cuttings, one of the former and two of the latter should be sufficient. If you have a number of projects for which you are seeking sponsorship, attach a list of them, indicating the amount of sponsor investment required for each. Avoid sending bulky plastic folders containing loose leaf papers. Clarity, neatness and the avoidance of jargon are much more important in your written approach than the use of multicoloured folders and glossy printing.

REMEMBER THAT ONE OBJECTIVE OF YOUR WRITTEN APPROACH IS TO AVOID A NEGATIVE RESPONSE. You are unlikely to have 'Yes' said to you at this stage. It will either be 'No' or 'lets discuss it at a meeting.'


There are several ground rules for a successful first meeting with your potential sponsor:

Present yourself well. Dress according to their conventions, not yours.

Remember your homework on the company's operations and show an interest in them. Don't assume too high a level of knowlege on their part concerning your activities. On the other hand, never patronise.

If you have decided that two people from your group are going to attend, define the role of each in advance. You may choose to have a 'talker' and a 'listener.' You may choose to share the giving of information to the sponsor, and responding to the sponsor's comments. (Or you may decide to have a single representitive at a first meeting and, later, if the opportunity is given to you to make a presentation of the proposal to other executives within the company, use a two person delegation.)

When you enter the meeting, establish a dialogue at the earliest opportunity. You may be nervous. You may feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. You will give yourself a chance to relax, as well as gaining useful insights, if you begin the meeting by asking questions rather than selling your proposal.

Although you have studied information about the company, this is your opportunity to ask questions which will enable the sponsor to restate the company's position. For example: What are the criteria against which they assess sponsorship proposals? What are their sponsorship objectives? How long have they been sponsoring the arts? Who are their target audiences? Which of their projects do they regard as having been the most successful? Why? How are their decisions made concerning sponsorship?

LISTEN to the information you are given and be prepared to modify your own proposal accordingly. You must think fast and possibly be prepared to discuss alternative ideas and projects. Sponsorship companies can find that their most successful projects evolve during discussions, with benefits being negotiated accordingly.

When you are describing your project, try and be as clear, concise and informative as possible. Use verbal signposting (e.g. number your points) and respond quickly to any requests for specific information. If possible, finish the meeting with a clear idea of what happens next. Don't let it tail off into the equivalent of 'I look forward to hearing from you.'

Ask if they require any further information from you. Would they like you to develop a more comprehensive proposal for presentation to a committee or board? You should already have determined how the decision will be made: Try to determine the schedule for the decision-making. Establish who will next contact whom and when. Once again try and keep the initiative. It is in your interest to be able to instigate any followup.

Write promptly and say thank you for their time and for their interest. It is courteous and will leave the company with a positive impression of your organisation. Maintain a file on all the responses you recieve. Make notes of meetings and telephone calls for the record.

You should be continuiously reviewing your methods of approach and refining your techniques. Gradually you will learn how to generate more sponsorship with less effort. Try to maintain contact with the company. Invite them to a performance or an exhibition, or to tour your premises. Send newsletters and press clippings.

If your request is rejected, do not challange the decision- however politely. This does not preclude you from asking why you were turned down. Although the reason is likely to be one of company policy or fully committed funds, you might get some clues as to how you could improve your presentation.

Continue to maintain contact, if possible, but let at least 9-12 months go by before putting in another application for sponsorship. Remember, too, that in the case of projects with large investment implications for the sponsor you may have to see an initial 'no' as part of a longer lead time requirement.

Once your proposal has been accepted and you have entered into a partnership, it is necessary to get the terms of the sponsorship clearly agreed in writing. This might take the form of a letter of agreement, or a more formal contract.

The agreement is the first step in developing the working relationship and there are five steps in all. They are:
The Agreement
The Timetable
The Workload
The Commitment
The Followup

Key points to cover are:
A clear description of the project, including venues and dates.
The sponsorship payment.
The method and timing of payment.
The wording of the credit to be given to the sponsor on the publicity material. If the sponsors name is to appear in the project title, you must also agree on the wording of the title.
Any arrangements such as advance booking facilities or concession rates for the sponsors employees
Any restrictions on the sponsorship. For example, if the company is to be the sole sponsor of the project it should be clearly stated that no other sponsor will be associated with the project.
Arrangements covering any cancellation or postponement of the project.

Develop a timetable for the sponsorship which is compatable with your existing commitments and those of all deadlines for printing the publicity material. Ensure that the sponsor is given the opportunity to see and comment upon such material before it goes to press. Ensure that the sponsor knows the deadlines for any priority booking schemes.

Many sponsorship projects generate extra work, both in the excecution of the project itself and in publishing it. If there is extra work to be done it must be clearly identified well in advance and then by mutual agreement allocated either to your organisation or to your sponsor. Typical areas where this may occur include:
Project management
Media liaison

Publicity material

. Although you should retain control of all artistic decisions concerning the project, there might be a certain amount of project management. (for example, in the production of a book or record) which the sponsor is better equipped to handle.

MEDIA LIAISON. If the project is expected to generate media coverage you need to be quite sure who will co-ordinate the writing and distribution of press releases and the issuing of invitations to press launches. If you are responsible for contacting the media, you should ensure that the sponsor has the opportunity to read and endorse all the information you produce concerning the sponsorship.

HOSPITALITY. Be quite clear as to who is expected to book caterers and arrange venues. If you undertake the responsibility for any of these arrangements ensure that your plans are endorsed by the sponsor well in advance.

PUBLICITY MATERIAL. It is well worth working closely with your sponsor when planning the production of publicity material. Your sponsor may have in-house expertise, or contacts with good designers. They may wish to invest more money in publicity material than you can afford, but for which they have additional resources. Whoever is responsible for co-ordinating the production of publicity material, it is essential that both of you have a chance to see it and comment upon it well in advance of any print deadlines.


A good working relationship requires that commitments entered into are intended to be met. If, on your part, you find that commitments cannot be fully lived up to-- for whatever reason-- then warn your sponsor as soon as possible. Often they can help to rectify matters.

At the end of the project, you and your sponsorship partner should hold a debriefing session on highlights and/or lessons learned. If the sponsorship is long-term an annual audit can ensure that it is working satisfactorily for both parties and, at the same time, can lead to development of ways in which the relationship can be strenghtened and improved.

Never presume to think that because your sponsors are 'commercial' they will be brash or insensitive. They have decided to be your sponsorship partner because by associating with you, they can convey certain messages to their target audience. They will not want to alter your artistic identity. Always remember that you and your sponsors are living and working in the same society. You may have a great deal to offer each other..

Martin Ewen

Martin Ewen and his 3-meter-tall stilt character 'Lurk' have been traversing the globe for the past ten years observing the world from a slightly different perspective than the rest of us.

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