Event planning 101: Partners and sponsors -- who do you know?

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This story originally appeared in the Dealernews August 2010 issue.

In the world of events, we often form alliances with other organizations or people who can bring value to the table. The value might be an exchange of services between two parties, i.e., bartering for knowledge or skills. It could be connections or the ability to influence other people, assets that would enhance your event, or just good old-fashioned cold, hard cash.

The simplest example of bartering with someone for knowledge would be a partnership between your business (the party who wants to throw a party) and me (who, let’s just say, would like a new set of riding gear). This is a simple barter arrangement that meets the needs for both of us, assuming you think I have the ability to plan your party.

On your staff and in your circle of business associates and friends, you probably have access to a lot of people you could partner with to get your event produced. One scenario: You might need invitations, fliers or banners designed. I bet you know someone who does design work — or you know someone who knows someone. Maybe that person would do some work for you in exchange for something from you, like gear, service on their bike or a little custom work for their motorcycle. Take the worksheet you used to determine your budget and scan it. Anything on it that requires you to pay someone to get the task done is a candidate for possible bartering. Think of the money you can save!

• Connections: We all like to have people in our camp who have horsepower. You know, the guy or girl who seems to effortlessly get others to do their bidding with a smile and wink. Depending on the size of your event, you might call on people you know who can help you get a permit, or permission to close the traffic lane in front of your store. Maybe you want to have a vendor area in the parking lot, but you’ve got to go through city hall to get clearance. You might decide you want to float a giant blimp of a motorcycle over your store. Chances are, your city or town will make you jump through a couple of hoops to make that happen. Make it a point to develop relationships with the people in your community who can help when you need them.

At both the International Motorcycle Shows and Dealer Expo, we host a number of special events. These involve partnerships with people and companies who have the assets we need. We partner with clubs that can bring in vintage motorcycles. We partner with riding schools to help us host our Welcome Center. We partner with dealershipuniversity.com to host educational programs. We partner whenever and wherever it makes sense. If your event is going to have entertainment, demonstrations or feature displays, think about who you know who would have an interest in getting involved. Define what value you can provide in return for their services. This is important. Partnerships don’t work when you do all the getting and they do all the giving. Any marriage counselor could tell you that.

• Sponsorships are part and parcel of the event business. Potential sponsors are like the most popular kids at school — everyone wants to be their friend. If you think your event is a candidate for potential sponsors, you’ll need to ask and answer some simple questions. If you can’t answer them, chances are you won’t get very far with your sponsorship dreams. Sponsors don’t give you money simply because you’ve got a groovy event. What does your potential sponsor need to get out of the experience? Does it need leads? Does it want contact and connection with your audience (i.e., customers)? Maybe you’re doing an event that benefits a local charity. Maybe your sponsor wants affiliation with something that is giving back to the community. Once you’ve established the need, you have to provide the sponsor something of value that meets those needs. So if your sponsor wants leads, you need to make sure your event gives it the platform to collect them. A simple program might be a giveaway that features the sponsor’s products. You would put the giveaway in a high-traffic area, display the items being given away in an attractive manner, make sure you have giveaway forms, pencils and a place to put the forms, and, if possible, hang a banner over the area — at the minimum, have a professional sign. If you were promoting your event in advance, you would market the sponsor and giveaway on your website, on the event fliers and posters, and in any advertising you do.

What is all of that worth? It depends on how many people your event will attract, how many impressions your marketing will deliver and how many leads you will eventually capture for your sponsor. A side note: Just because you think your sponsorship program is worth a certain dollar amount, chances are, the sponsor won’t. Time to negotiate.

Because I’ve used giveaways as an example, I’m compelled to tell you that if you’re going to run a giveaway at your event or in your store, please, please, please know your local and state laws relative to this type of program. The laws are plentiful and tricky, and when you don’t follow them, it’s painful. Partnering does involve commitment. It’s a relationship that requires communication and a desire from all parties to make the event a success.

Pick partners who believe in your vision and who can enhance it, and you will have a better event with satisfied customers — which should lead to great word-of-mouth marketing for you, and more sales.