Last week, I had an interesting chat with a colleague on the topic of the perennial requests made of event professionals: "Will you sponsor our event?" (In other words, are you willing to donate your services and/or products for free?)
We've written before about how to determine whether participating in a styled shoot is worth the time, money and resources. Styled shoots, as common as they've become, are just the tip of the iceberg, though - most wedding businesses are solicited on the regular to sponsor networking events, charity functions, media bashes and more.
It's very easy to get swept up by the sheer flattery of having been asked, particularly if it's a well-regarded company or publication doing the asking. And the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out, for anyone who's been living under a rock) effect is real, especially when you consider that one of your competitors will most likely jump on the opportunity if you don't take it.
And, frankly, many sponsorship opportunities are very much worthwhile. My own company has participated in tons - from Washingtonian Magazine's On the Rocks and Tech Titans events to WeddingWire's Wed We Can and Running of the Brides, to countless charity events and venue/vendor open houses. Most of the time, they've been a great experience and provided the returns we hoped for when we signed on.
The next time you're presented with a request to sponsor an event or donate services or products in-kind, here are five questions to ask yourself:
1. What's the cost? This seems like an obvious starting point, but for good reason: in order to make an informed decision, you need to know exactly what your costs will be to sponsor this event. What products and resources are you using? Do you need to pay staff? And if not, what's your time worth in delivering on your sponsorship promise yourself? Are you or your team forgoing other work to do this event? Factor that in, too.
2. What kind of goodwill am I building? Goodwill doesn't pay the bills, and you can't support yourself and your family with pats on the back. Still, I'm of the mindset that, especially in an industry as relationship-based as weddings, it's good to have people feeling grateful toward you and your business - it can often result in reciprocal sponsorships if and when you have an event to plan, and it can create referrals for your company.
3. What purpose is being served by the event? There's no one "right" answer to this question; what matters is that the event is one that resonates with you on some level. Maybe it's a worthy cause you're happy to support; maybe it's a gathering of the industry's best and brightest and thus the perfect showcase for your talent.
4. How will I be paid? Wait - what? Paid for a sponsorship event? (Don't we all wish!) Sure, there may not be any monetary compensation involved, but in my opinion, that just ups the ante for the event organizers in terms of promoting you and their other partners. Anyone asking you to donate your services should be able to present to you a plan for exactly how the event - and, more specifically, the sponsors - will be marketed. Social media shoutouts, email blasts, event signage, program mentions...a combination of these should always be offered. Publications and websites should consider offering advertising trade or other opportunities for exposure. (And, please, event organizers...when you promise to promote your sponsors, please do it! My company's been burned several times by lazy marketing or by being left off the sponsor list - if there was any sponsor acknowledgment at all - and it's always made me think poorly of the vendors who planned the event.)
5. Why me? Existential, perhaps, but it's a valid question. Generally, sponsorship opportunities either come from vendors you already have a relationship with, or media outlets looking to "spread the love" around. If someone you don't know approaches you to ask for your in-kind participation in their event, ask yourself: why are they coming to you, and not the florists/DJs/photographers/whomever they normally work with? Is it because they've already burned up all their favors? Is it because they're asking a lot and don't feel comfortable hitting up their "real" network? Call me cynical, but in my experience, a virtual stranger who asks you for a sponsorship probably isn't going to come through with tons of referrals and other perks later - those quite likely will be reserved for the organizer's actual friends and "friendors."
Again, sponsoring a vendor party, magazine celebration or charity gig can be totally worthwhile in a business sense, and sometimes just feels damn good to do. As long as you're really examining the potential benefits and costs, and making a decision with your eyes wide open, you'll be much more likely to have a positive experience rather than feeling the sting of resentment when it's all over.