Whether you’re starting from scratch or are planning your hundredth horse show, you know that these events take a lot of planning. From setting up the rings to ordering prizes and hiring judges, a horse show is not only time-consuming, but also expensive. And unfortunately, entry fees rarely cover the costs of running these events. If you’ve been having trouble finding ways to subsidize your show expenses, fear no more. Becky Miles, sponsorship coordinator for Classic Company horse shows, and Kelly Welker, global director of Alltech’s sponsorship activation for the FEI World Equestrian Games, offer advice on how to increase your sponsorship dollars this year.
Create a Marketing Plan
Before you even think about picking up the phone and calling possible sponsors, you need a well-developed marketing plan. The first step is deciding what levels of sponsorship you’ll want to offer the businesses that you contact. How are you going to promote your sponsors, and what do you want in return from them? You can include a range of options for potential sponsors, such as:
• offering a title sponsorship or partnership
• including their name, logo, or sign on-site
• including an advertisement in a horse show program
• asking them to sponsor a horse show class and naming the class after them
• asking for prizes or flowers for a class. In return, include an announcement about the donor over the loudspeaker or in the show program
• making a local business the “official” hotel, feed, restaurant, etc., for the show.
Sponsorships can range anywhere from non-monetary, in-kind donations, such as prizes, to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. If you’re planning a schooling show or lower rated horse show, you may be hesitant to ask for five-figure sponsorships, but don’t be afraid to include a large range of options in your marketing plan. Be realistic when approaching businesses—if you’re planning an “A” rated show, a local tack shop most likely won’t be sponsoring a $20,000 Grand Prix class, but an automobile company may be willing to pay a larger price.
“Don’t be afraid to think outside the box,” says Welker. “We’ve used this sponsorship [the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games] as a platform to launch new products. Don’t be afraid to get out there and be a little creative.”
In order to determine who to contact for sponsorship, you’ll first want to learn about the riders and spectators attending your event. “You really have to know your demographics and know your market,” says Miles. “Whether you’re contacting a local restaurant or a business at a corporate level, they want to know what they’re getting with their money.”
So how do you find out the demographics of your horse show competitors and spectators? A good starting point is to develop a survey for your potential competitors to fill out. If you run a lesson program, ask students and their family members to quickly complete a survey before a lesson. Some sample survey questions can include: What kind of food do you like? What kind of clothes do you wear? What cell phone provider do you prefer? How much money do you make? How many kids do you have? How old are you?
“Equestrians have homes, they have cars, they eat out, they wear jewelry, they get their prescriptions filled. Equestrians are just human beings,” says Miles. “I personally don’t limit my sponsorship contacts to just equestrian goods.”
Once you’ve discovered the demographics of your attendees, you’ll want to develop a list of potential sponsors. Sponsors can include tack shops, equestrian product manufacturers, trailer dealers, and equine magazines and publications.
You should also contact other businesses as well. These unconventional benefactors can include local banks, restaurants, and car dealerships. For many larger horse shows, sponsors may include automobile manufacturers, corporations, airlines, even fashion designers. If you’re planning an “A” rated show, these businesses may not be out of your realm of potential sponsors.
Making Contact with the Customer
Now that you’ve compiled a list of sponsorship options, a demographic of your attendees, and a list of potential benefactors, it’s time to set your plan into action. If you’re not sure how to approach someone, the best place to begin is with a friend.
“I really believe in the expression, ‘make a friend, make a sale,’” says Keller. “If you’ve built a relationship with someone in the past, call them back. I think you start with the people you know first. They’re usually interested in hearing about the opportunity. Then, if they are interested, I put a package together to send to them.”
Remember, too, that your clients may work for large companies, and they may be able to introduce you to the right people. That way, the company’s decision-maker can see the type of clientele you are reaching, and you have an ally in the ranks.
Although contacting friends is a good place to start, eventually you’ll have to move out of your comfort zone and start approaching businesses you’re not as familiar with. If you have a dollar amount goal that you want to reach with sponsorships, you’ll want to get in touch with as many businesses as possible.
When contacting someone for the first time, Miles suggests talking to people either face to face or over the phone. “I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and often call people over the phone and do cold calls. I also walk around venues and set up meetings with people. My last resort would be selling via the Internet, which I rarely do, unless I have an established relationship with someone, or they specifically request that I e-mail them.”
When initially calling someone to make your sales pitch, both Keller and Miles agree that the most important principle is to tell people what they’re getting for their money. Tell them why you’re calling, and why your event offers an advantage to them. If they’re interested in hearing more over the phone, introduce them to the different levels of sponsorship. If they don’t have a lot of time to speak with you, but they’re still interested in hearing more, ask for their address to send them a package.
That sponsorship package must showcase detailed information about the horse show. Incorporate strong graphics into it—either of previous shows, or of the show grounds if this is an inaugural event. Again, include information about show attendees’ demographics, as well as the number of people you’re anticipating at the event, so the potential sponsor knows why you’re pitching to them. Avoid writing a story about the event— instead, use bulleted points to discuss the class list, and any other miscellaneous occurring events, such as a welcoming ceremony, an after party, or a silent auction. Most importantly, include the different levels of sponsorship available, how much each level costs, and what you’ll do in return for the business.
After you’ve sent out your proposal, be sure to follow up afterward. Base your follow-up on how far in advance you’ve started approaching sponsors for the show. Miles suggests initially calling people 2-1/2 to 3 months in advance, and following up within the next month. If you wait too long, they may forget the details, or even that you contacted them.
And log the responses you receive. “Some people may tell me they’re not interested in sponsoring this year, but they’ll ask me to contact them in August of the next year for a November show. It’s a very detail oriented job,” says Miles.
After you’ve sent out your sponsorship kits, and followed up with your contacts, you’ll most likely have a large number of benefactors who are ready to sign on the dotted line. For the sponsorship contract, use your business letterhead and include information on how much money (or what type of donation) the sponsor will be paying, a detailed description of what you are offering in return, and the date and name of the horse show for the sponsorship. At the end, include a section for both parties to sign and date the agreement.
Following Up After the Show
Congratulations! You’ve run a successful show and made a large profit off of it. Before you start planning your next event, there’s one more step you need to take to ensure that future events are just as prosperous: send a thank-you note and package to every business that helped subsidize your event.
“I never ask anyone for more money unless I’ve thanked them for the money they’ve already sponsored us with,” says Miles. “Companies can pick and choose how they advertise, and I want them to pick me.”
Sending a handwritten thank you note to every sponsor after an event adds a more personal touch. And, if your horse show was covered in a local magazine or newspaper and the sponsors were mentioned, it’s important to include a copy of all publicity your sponsors received along with your note. Also be sure to convey your show’s success by including photos from the event, or sending a copy of the program the sponsor was mentioned in.
Once you’ve sent our your thank- you notes, you can start planning your next show, which will surely be an even greater success!