How to Create a Sponsorship Proposal - Lessons from SXSW

sxsw sponsorship pitch deck

The SXSW Sponsor pitch deck should inspire event organizers everywhere.

Focused, organized, good-looking, and with a killer proposition, it's a beautiful  sponsorship proposal that can inspire, and instruct, any event organizer. 

SXSW has a constellation of supporting stars to choose for their marketing. They've got Neil Degrasse Tyson, Lena Dunham and Lady Gaga giving their seal of celebrity approval. That might be an unfair advantage, but proof is in the pudding, and SXSW looks set to have 5,000 official branded showcases, plus nine Super Sponsors who will pay paying over $1 million each. How do they do it? Let's slice this deck open, and see what we can find.

Have a Clear Message From the Start

Pitching SXSW is quite a challenge, given the size of the thing. In fact, it's actually six discrete conferences held under one umbrella, with multiple tiers, channels and multimedia available, not to mention unofficial guerrilla marketing across Austin. So SXSW is competing against itself and the City of Austin for sponsor dollars. There is overwhelming choice, especially for first-time sponsors. Listen to how they maintain the vision.

"When your brand purchases a SXSW Sponsorship package, it is committing itself to delivering experiential relevance and value to thousands of industry influencers including press, creatives and their millions of collective followers, who have come to expect nothing less from SXSW and its partners. Through activations, product integration, social media and logo placement, your brand has the tools to educate, entertain and engage a captive audience on what it is doing to make a difference in the music, film and digital worlds today. So put your best foot forward."

Wow. See what they did there? The SXSW team turned the tables on sponsors, saying it's up to them to measure up to the event, not the other way around! SXSW has this kind of leverage because they've maintained their audacious vision for so many years. Take note of that confidence.


SXSW 2014 Attendee Stats

Show Us Your Stats

The SXSW pitch deck doesn't stop with star power. It continues taking potential sponsors on the journey to "yes" by answering the vital question: "who will we be there?" By giving attendee demographics, job functions, press potential and social media impact, they make it easy to fit SXSW into a marketing strategy. Whether a brand is after ROI or influencer attention, SXSW makes sure marketers know what audience they can expect in Austin and, even more importantly, how their message can tap into social networks globally.

Those SXSW stats are amazing. Over 23% of attendees are CEOs, and 33% have a purchasing power of over $100,000. If you've got those kinds of attendees, flaunt it. Sponsors want to know why your audience worth it.


Conference Sponsorship Costs and Benefits

Mind Meld Benefits with Costs

When you're putting your prices in the deck, you can sometimes worry that the readers will say "how much?!?" Or maybe you're leaving dollars on the table? The best thing you can do is to make sure that there's a clear visual link between cost and benefit. Take the image above, which shows a woman smiling and looking in the straight down towards at the SXSW Job Marketing exhibitor prices.

Put that technique on your sponsorship proposal checklist: wherever a price is mentioned, a major benefit is always included right in the reader's sight line. 


SXSW creative branding

Get Creative with Branding Everywhere

Sponsors and advertisers love the idea of being more than just a poster at your event. SXSW has some great and unique opportunities for experiential marketing, from sponsored pedicabs to food trucks to completely unique experiences.

This year 3M built a #LifeWith3M tent out of sleek materials they manufactured exclusively, and hosted a party with vibrant art projections, playing host to many a Meerkat. Last year's Mario Kart Reimagined brought super fun real-life go-karts to attendees while bringing a huge amount of media coverage to co-sponsor Pennzoil. Consider the co-branding route to double your impact.

The key is to make interactive experiences, where attendees can engage with the brand in creative ways that deserves sharing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. One more thing, don't forgot the #hashtags.


Treat Sponsors like VIPs

The marketers who make the "Go / No Go" call for your event may want to attend too! Especially for fun events like SXSW, you can use the VIP treatment to your advantage. 

SXSW offers favorable hospitality rates for those with a marketing budget, which is a terrific incentive in itself. If your conference is less of a draw, then ask what else you can do to make your conference worth attending? Remember that the sponsors who do attend in person may form a relationship with you that goes way, way beyond this year.

SXSW gets plenty of attention from tech and media brands, but they put in a lot of hard work to attract the likes of McDonald's and other mega sponsors. No doubt the team at McD's wanted to experience a little bit of that Austin authenticity for themselves.