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.