With a lot of the aspects of hosting a LAN event, you can normally find someone with experience in the area. That isn’t always the case when it comes to getting and keeping event sponsors. Most people fly blind when they start and frankly it leads to emails that if you look back later you would be extremely embarrassing. Even though I have always done well with sponsors, looking back on some of my emails I wish I could go back and just stop myself. Well, I don’t have a time machine, at least not yet, so for now I will settle for stopping some of you before you make mistakes. Hopefully, with a few tips I can help everyone host better events. Better events all over will lead to more events for everyone to go to and we can help keep the LAN tradition alive and well. So hang on I’ve put together a whole bunch of information, I hope it helps.
Written by: Wes
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Before we get started, I just want to remind everyone that these tips really only help if you manage to host a good event. So while good sponsor relations is important. The most important thing is to host a great event that your attendees have a good time at. Without that, nothing else matters!
What kind of sponsorships are there
Long before you are even thinking about contacting anyone, you do need to have a better idea of what kinds of sponsorship opportunities you typically see for LANs. What you can get will depend a lot on your relationship with the sponsor, event size, budgets, and how you approach the sponsor.
Swag -This is the most basic type of participation you will find from companies typically. They will send out promotional materials like shirts, hats, pens, etc. These are small, but when given in enough quantities they are a great thing to be able to give out to everyone to make sure everyone who comes ends up with something. In recent years the quantity of swag being sent out isn’t very high, but especially when you are starting out this might be the only kind of support you can get. If you have never priced what it costs to have some of these things made you should really look into it. They aren’t always cheap, so even though it isn’t hardware, I wouldn’t discount it.
Product – This is by far the most popular sponsorship type you will run into. Both with companies and with events. Basically, they are sending you their products for raffles or prizes in exchange for exposure. This includes exposure when promoting your event and people also being able to see and sometimes use their product. Now what they send is going to depend a lot on their budget and the size and history of your event. I’ve seen companies use this as a way to clear out old discontinued products, thin out slow selling hardware, or show off the latest and greatest. So the prices of the hardware can range from small trinkets to full PCs.
Financial – This is what a lot of people think everyone is getting but typically it isn’t the case. Financial sponsorships are out there, but typically more with large events. Some established smaller events can still get help if you can provide a good return on investment and find the right company. A good example of LanOC events doing this is with our name badge sponsorships. We exchange additional promotion and the sponsor's name on the back of our badge in exchange for their support in buying our badges. This helped us upgrade to much better quality badges for everyone.
Who to contact
Next, you need to start to pinpoint who you want to be contacting. I could keep this simple and just say contact everyone. The reality is that you are going to want to contact a LOT of people and most of those people are going to delete your emails. But putting out a wide net is important to bring in a few people that dig what you have going on. But who does that even mean? Well, you want to focus on companies who have a product focused on the type of people you have coming out to events.
A tip when trying to put together a list is to check out who is sponsoring other LAN events in your country. This should give you a good list to start with but don’t stop there. Think outside of the box and put other companies on your list as well. In the past, I’ve had great luck reaching out to companies who haven’t even considered hosting LAN events, hell some hadn’t even heard of them before. A few have even gone on to expand their LAN sponsorships by reaching out to other events.
You should also be looking local for sponsorships. Companies that aren’t even tech related might be interested in being involved. In the past LanOC has worked with our local Walmart, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Local Internet providers, Pizza hut, GameStop, and even a local movie rental company. Our early events also had TVs loaned to us by Aarons. What I’m saying is get creative and don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t ask just yet we need to talk a little about what you want to say first.
Once you know who what companies you want to contact, you still need to get the right contact information. For local companies, it's normally as simple as asking for a manager or owner and talking to them in person. But with most tech companies you will need to email them. Before just CCing everyone at every tech company you can find you should keep in mind that a lot of companies get a lot of requests for sponsorships and they will a lot of times have details on who or how to contact them on their websites. Sometimes this is a web form that will have all of the information they need. Other times they will have a specific person or email address they want you to use. Contacting a company who uses a form at another email address might be a quick way to have your email tossed even before they read it so follow the directions. For everyone else, I typically reach out to a marketing contact if they have one listed or I use a general contact email to politely ask who handles sponsorship requests.
How to contact
Okay, so you have your contact list all put together. Well, now we need to start thinking about what we are going to say. It’s easy to get excited or to try to save time and just shoot out a quick email but this is most likely your one and only chance to get your message across so you need to make sure it is well written and that it has the information you are trying to convey. You don’t want to sound like some kid begging for prizes for a 4 person “LAN” event they are hosting. Here are a couple things to keep in mind.
1 - First off, you should be contacting sponsor at least a month out. It sometimes takes time for things to get approved and that’s assuming they have time to even get to your email right away. Plus shipping takes time. I aim for closer to 45 days out when possible, but just don’t rush everything. It is also really helpful if you have your registration open and you have people signing up and paying. It shows that you aren’t going to take the prizes and run. So it can be hard to find the sweet spot between contacting early enough while still having people signed up.
2 – Make sure you have already setup your website and social media pages. Basic pages with no pictures or information don’t really help here. For starters, you want to show the sponsors that you are serious but really this is just as important to show your attendees as well. Having a domain name and a proper email address is ideal as well. You are a lot more likely to get a response to an email from wes@awesomelanevent over 420swagyolowes@att.
3 – You need to know your attendee. This obviously applies more to events that have happened before but it is nice to be able to tell a sponsor a few things about the people coming. I don’t mean tell their life story and you shouldn’t be giving out their private information. You also don’t need to get a bunch of information from them at the events. A good count of how many people you actually think are going to be coming, not just how many seats you have is a good place to start. Knowing the mix of men and women is even better and maybe even an estimate age group as well. Established events might have more of an older crowd or even families.
4 – With that information you want to break down how you can show the sponsor a return on their investment. Remember that at the end of the day, even though companies want to help out events, they do have to show that they are getting a return on their investment. So be very clear on how you will help promote them before, during, and after your event. Then also explain what you are looking for. I don’t mean asking for a specific product or even dollar amount, what I mean is you should explain that you are looking for prizing for your raffle/tournaments/etc.
5 – I’ve mentioned it already in this article, but you need to know that you are going to get turned down or completely ignored from most of the people you contact. It’s okay, they are still nice people, they just don’t think your event is a good fit for them. You will see other events get picked up by people you tried to contact but had no luck. It happens to us all, don’t worry about it.
6 - Double and triple check your email before sending it. I don’t think this needs much explaining. Spelling, grammar, and just look at the overall email. Have you explained everything? Are you showing them good ROI?
I originally had considered just tossing up an example email on here but frankly, I don’t think it would be helpful to anyone. It would end up being a copy paste email for some people and then it would be spammed to sponsors. Part of your email should be showing your personality and the personality of your event. A form letter from everyone would only lower everyone's chances. Just keep the tips in mind and try to look at it from the sponsor's point of view. Best of luck!
Starting out and growing
When you first start your event, getting any sponsorship at all is going to be extremely difficult. You and your event are complete unknowns and until you get an event under your belt you most likely will only be able to pick up local sponsorships and swag. Some events will subsidize and buy a few prizes of their own but I wouldn’t really recommend that. Use all of your funds for equipment, you are going to need it. There are a few things you can do when you start to help, though.
For starters, be upfront about your expectations for your turnout. I’ve seen a lot of people get really excited, book a big venue then promise sponsors 200 people. This is a quick way to disappoint and lose sponsors in the future. You are better off letting them know what capacity you can handle, then explain that you are projecting X and have room to grow. You can always contact them again later if you add the seats, but this way you aren’t overselling your attendance.
There are a few situations where new events will have better luck. College based events tend to have a little better luck, even when first starting out. They have a very specific age group focus, there are normally facilities with the space/power/internet needed, and college age kids are already a big focus for a lot of sponsors. Not to mention, you have a large group of gaming age kids to get a good attendance from without very much advertising. Charity events also can have good luck. Everyone likes to support a good cause.
Moving past your first event, you will finally start to be able to show that your event is real and you aren’t going to rip companies off. Keeping sponsors, on the other hand, requires a little work. One of the biggest things for me is really organization. Keep track of everything in a spreadsheet. I keep track of everyone I email, who says no and who says yes. I even have a spot to follow up with them if it’s a past sponsor and I think they missed my first email. Then beyond that, you want to track when things are shipped, when you get them, did you post them on your sponsor list, did you post them on social media, did you email them after the event. Ect. It is really easy to forget to contact someone if you don’t have a list. Being prompt, and following up with everyone without missing anyone will help grow the sponsor relationships.
Always be grateful… I’ve heard sponsors complain to me about other events turning down smaller prizes or just being rude when they don’t get what they wanted. Remember that these companies don’t have to support you. There are lots of events that will happily take the prizes. Also, remember marketing people know each other and they do talk… Hosting a good event might lead to friends of other marketing people contacting you because they heard of how well things went. Or if you rip a company off or treat them badly, it is just as likely they turn around and tell others to not be involved with you. Don’t burn bridges.
Try to have one specific person who handles sponsorships. Marketing people change from company to company a lot but you shouldn’t. Having a consistent contact helps sponsors get comfortable with a group. Plus when those marketing people change companies, you might have a foot in the door at the new company if they know you.
What to do at events for your sponsors
A lot of people might think that once it's time for your event that sponsor duties are all over. You have all of the prizes in hand right? Well if you want to keep sponsors on long term there are a few things you want to do at the event. The biggest and most obvious thing is photos but it is surprising how many people don’t even think about this. Some companies will even ask specifically for photos of people winning the products they donated for their record. I like to get a photo of every tournament and prize winner and send them over along with a few other things. Get photos of posters or any swap or information that the sponsors sent to hand out. Beyond that, I also like to send over a few overall shots, photos of people playing games or other activities, and anything weird and exciting. I even try to get pictures of some of the rigs and sort through the photos and send over in use shots when people are running sponsor equipment.
One of the biggest tips I can give when taking your photos, specifically the pictures of people winning raffles and tournaments is to be careful where you take the pictures. No sponsor is going to want to post up pictures of a winner with a big poster with a competitor's logo on it in the background. Dedicated photo areas are ideal, make sure there isn’t anything in the background.
During your event, posting up a few photos on social media and even tagging specific sponsors it also a great way to show them a little extra love. If someone wins a prize and they are installing it in their PC right away, a picture and post tagging them in the upgrade for example.
If your internet can handle it, live streaming is another way to promote your event and the sponsors over the weekend. We put our event sponsors up on the stream and we also stream the raffles as well live for anyone to check out. This can give sponsors a way to check in and see how the event is going.
After your Event
Your sponsorship DOES NOT end at the end of your event. Really, half of the sponsorship work is post event. This is where a lot of the photos you took during the event become relevant. You should be following up with every sponsor and thanking them for their support. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth email, but send over a quick thank you and include a little information. Let them know how the event went well to start. Then if they sent raffle or tournament prizing over you can let them know who won if you took down that information. I send over copies of relevant photos, but at a minimum you should be linking them to a gallery and your social media. That way they can see how everything went. The social media links can help you as well, some sponsors like to share the photos and help promote your event. Also don’t forget to share details on your next event, if they are really happy with things they may even sign up to sponsor your next event right away or at least make a note of it for their budget.
A thank you post on your website or social media is a great way to show some love as well, but don’t let that replace a direct email. This is a great time to also encourage your attendees to let your sponsor know they appreciate the support. Thank you posts from your attendees are huge, they are a reminder that the support is appreciated from a different person.