Tour Sponsorship: How Creativity Can Become Dollars

Science! - Pyragraph

Justin Stang and Jim Elenteny of Science! Photo by Patrick Snapp.

Guest Blogger Justin Stang of Science! talks about how they funded their tour in a unique way: with sponsorships. Originally published at Indie on the Move.

When you’re out on the road touring, saving money can (at times) be the equivalent to making money. Many nights are spent sleeping in the van, couch surfing, or camping in order to keep the necessary funds for essential and costly items like food and fuel. Every dollar counts, and the difference between a profitable tour and a disaster can simply be in the organization and decisions of the band while on the road. Taken a step farther, sometimes the fate and success of your tour can be set in motion long before you get in the van.

Many companies would be happy to pay a few dollars to support live music.

Tour sponsorship is one way that a band can generate funds for a tour in order to start off in a place of relative financial security. This is particularly important because the first few dates of a trip might be a few tanks of gas apart, and you never know if your Tuesday night show in San Francisco is going to pan out quite the way you had hoped. Bands commonly desire endorsement deals with music companies in exchange for gear; however, this idea is something completely different.

Our Story: How Science! Raised $1,600 in One Week

Following a five-week tour in June/July, we had decided to go right back out and do another six weeks in August and September. The problem we encountered was that following our first trip, we were facing the beginning of the second installment flat broke. Adding to this dilemma, we had a show in Seattle followed by a few days off to get to San Francisco for that Tuesday night show I previously mentioned. We were looking at earning some income once we started up from SF, but had no idea how to finance a way to get down there. So, how were we supposed to get to San Francisco with no money to start the next portion of our trip?

We determined that we should make an attempt at soliciting corporate tour sponsors to provide us with the necessary money to get the tour off the ground and get us down the road and on our way. While there are an infinite number of ways to go about doing this, we settled on a route that was advertising-based and that allowed for companies to put sticker ads on our band van in exchange for money and, in some cases, goods. We stickered up the van with sponsors, raised $1,600 in about a week, and were flying towards San Francisco with extra money for any emergency or dud show that could arise. Here are a few steps to see how you can do it too:

Come Up with a Sponsorship Plan

The plan can be as creative as you’d like, but ultimately all sponsorship relationships are a two-way street. The most important aspect of this step is to closely examine what YOU’RE GOING TO DO FOR THE COMPANY. Their corporate role is easy: Give money. But, for that money, what will you provide in return? If you can outline a great way for them to increase their brand exposure, expand their markets, or target their customer base effectively, then many companies would be happy to pay a few dollars to support live music while making that happen. Maybe you can wear certain company’s T-shirts on stage at every show? Maybe you plug a company into the mic on stage? Have fun with this step, as there are countless great ideas out there. Think of companies you and your band like and how you can help them make money or increase their number of customers.

In our example, we sold advertising space. Each sticker ad and its placement and size had a different corresponding dollar amount. As we drove across the US, we were exposing each company to tens of thousands of potential customers as they passed us on the highway. The bigger the ad, the more money we were able to charge since it was more visible to people on the road.

Determine What Companies to Solicit

Supporting your tour with sponsorships is far more cost effective than conventional media advertising.

This step is crucial to your success in raising money because if you can properly identify companies that you can help, and you illustrate how you can help them, then you will significantly increase your ability to have them say, “YES!”

We found that starting with smaller, local companies and people that you have a good standing relationship with are the best folks to approach with your idea. It’s also imperative to target companies that love live music! While it would be great to have a big national chain to help you out, they are asked far more often and lack a personal attachment to you and your music. Moreover, they need far less help in expanding their customer base than a smaller company will. Do you have a local music store, restaurant, bar, pizza place, clothing store, etc. that you frequent? Do you have any family, friends or fans of your band that own a local business?

Try to figure out who you can partner with to make the best possible outcome in terms of exposure for you both. Maybe that new pizza joint would love to have all your rabid fans in there supporting them because they supported you. More importantly, maybe they would be open to supporting you, because you and all your fans support them. Always remember that this process is about how you can help their company.

The Pitch

Now that you have a great plan and some companies to approach, you need to have an avenue to deliver your message. I suggest email for this step, as it allows people to have a low-pressure environment to evaluate your pitch on their own schedule without feeling the stress that comes with a cold call or unwanted solicitation. Think about it. Everyone hates telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen, so don’t jeopardize your success by annoying people. The fastest way to get the door slammed in your face is to have people think you want something from them. I usually mention in my email that I will follow up personally so that if I call or see them later, they are not surprised and caught off-guard by the pitch.

The goal here should be how you can help their company, and that should be reflected in the language of your email. Introduce yourself, describe how you can help their company and then lay out your plan. Tell them how many people come to your shows, how many are on your email list and social media sites. If they can see that you have a growing fan base that you’re willing to share their brand with, they may be willing to support you.

We phrased it as an opportunity to support live music and to get their brand exposure out to as many people as possible. After all, supporting your tour is far more cost-effective than conventional media advertising like TV, radio and print, and if done properly, could have more impact on their business. Make sure you keep in concise and polite too—a well-articulated message will always be more successful than a terrible one (just like a booking inquiry email!).

The Intangibles

A few odds and ends to increase the odds of success:

  • Do your homework before you get started. Don’t charge someone $10,000 for $200 worth of sponsorship. Make it comparable to other advertising and make sure that the companies are getting a good value for their contribution.
  • Identify the proper recipient for your pitch! Each company will have an appropriate advertising/marketing contact to approach and you should personalize each pitch. If you know them, feel free to add a personal message or note at the beginning of your email too.
  • Have a way to take payments. Are they mailing checks? Are they sending via PayPal? Many folks will want to feel secure and know how they can contribute in the best possible way. Can companies make in-kind donations? Sometimes their products can be just as helpful on the road and they might even let you sell them on the merch table and keep the money!
  • Attach a PDF of your proposal. Take some time to outline your proposal and create a document that clearly illustrates how each contribution dollar amount can benefit them. Use photos and graphics to make it visually attractive and make sure you have a brief description of the band in case they are unfamiliar with your work or want to share with co-workers or other companies.
  • Act professionally. Remember this is the music “business.” Always carry yourself in a positive and professional manner as a representative of your band and brand. While we all started in this to make great music, the successful people always recognize the importance of working hard at the non-music related aspects of this business.
  • Stay positive. Most companies will say “NO” or not answer you at all. Maybe they don’t have the funds at that time; maybe the idea isn’t right for them. Like booking shows, stay upbeat and DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Don’t get discouraged, don’t hold grudges or punish those that don’t support you. They may be your greatest supporters next time you ask.
  • Learn. If you’re having difficulties, review the above steps and ask yourself some very important questions. Is the plan a good one? Have I targeted the proper companies? Is my pitch well delivered? You can revise and review at any time with your team to ensure that you’re most effectively working towards your goals.

Good luck and have fun out there trying to get some sponsors for your next tour. Don’t break the law, and remember to make reasonable goals for the amount of money you hope to raise. You never know how much a little ingenuity and hard work can help make powerful business allies while getting you a bit of gas money for your trip. Travel safely!

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