There's a strange phenomenon in the digital world. More and more, it's starting to intertwine with the physical world.
I don't mean AR and VR, though that's part of it. And I don't mean the Internet of Things, though that's part of it too. I mean the dance between virtual locations and relationships, and physical ones.
We see it in the way that you can now order stuff online and pick it up at the physical store, or order stuff online from touch screens at the store when an item is not in stock, sending it straight to your front door.
But mostly, we see it in the way that digital activity produces real, physical interactions with people. After all, if your Google My Business Profile is working correctly it's going to send people to your physical business, where you'll meet them, where they'll leave a review, which will make it easier for other people to find you. A sort of marketer's round song.
But reviews aren't the only way you can build visibility both online and off. Sponsorships and event participation, both offline, relationship-level activities, can gain backlinks, which of course helps your webpage SEO, which of course helps your GMB profile. And, of course, it can give you the chance to meet real people with real credit cards, who have a real need for your services.
It's also one of the most overlooked marketing channels. Sure, every now and then a link building article will sort of add sponsorship as one of the list items. But few people get into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to use and master this lucrative, vital marketing channel. Most of the advice is kind of nebulous, and when people use sponsorship marketing at all they often sort of trip into it by accident.
Which is why I'm so pleased to introduce our readers to Garrett French, Chief Strategy Advisor at ZipSprout, and Leigh Bhe, Chief Operations Officer. They know this channel inside and out, because sponsorship marketing is what ZipSprout specializes in.
They're both friendly, vivacious, captivating people who are fun to talk to, and they generously brought all kinds of insights to the table. This really is stuff you can't easily find anywhere else right now, so dive in, and enjoy!
On why sponsorship marketing seems to be an overlooked channel in digital marketing
Carmen: Sponsorship is a marketing channel that's often highly overlooked, even though it's full of opportunities.
Why do you think this happens?
Garrett: I think it's hard to get a sense of the swath of opportunity, or types of opportunities that are available through sponsorships, and they vary.
They're highly variable.
A big reason why they're overlooked is because they're not aggregated. We're trying to be that marketplace and help give insight into what things are there.
But a lot of these organizations, for example, have email lists. That could be a huge play for certain organizations. If they've got a lead gen kind of thing they're trying to do, an email list, especially a local one — there's no other way to access this group. There's no one-stop shop for finding all of them in a given area and getting a sense of what all the types of opportunities are.
So you don't actually have to go to every single event (though that is a large portion of what's there), but you could do banners, you can be in newsletters, be on their websites, in the brochures in print, shouted out at the event. There's just so many different types of visibility opportunities that are there.
I think it's either overwhelming and/or inaccessible.
Leigh: I would second the accessibility issue. What I hear happening is this: Companies that want us to help us with sponsorship — it's a time issue. They don't even know how to go about finding sponsorships.
We have it down to a science, how we do it. How we find sponsors, how we talk to them, how we talk about the sponsorship, what we need, and how we get it taken care of. For someone to do that who doesn't really know how to do it, it just is time-consuming, and it would be hard to find a large number of sponsorships.
Garrett: From a scale perspective, I think a lot of people are unaware of how potentially scalable sponsorships are. Especially if you're not doing an in-person portion.
But, again, to Leigh's point, so we've got the tool and then the agency services we do, which is: we've worked out the logistics side of actually getting the sponsorships executed. I think Leigh or Max, for a client, we were doing 30 a month for them. Month after month at that scale is — it's tough to do! It's hard to keep that going.
That company could do sponsorships at any city in the US. One thing I think that's important to talk about is the different types of sponsorships that organizations are doing and how their needs vary. There are local businesses that could be doing sponsorship marketing just for visibility in their area, and they could be doing more lead generation work.
There's a story there too — don't let me rabbit hole that way yet — but there's a story there. I've got some data and some interviews that we've been doing with a company that does a lot of lead gen at local events. B2C lead gen at art festivals and stuff like that.
It's just an inaccessible kind of un-networked channel at this point. I think the is the big issue.
On the benefits of sponsorship marketing in terms of links and lead generation and how to work events
Carmen: One of the things that confused me about that was there are a lot of organizations that would be happy for sponsors. But they're just not advertising or asking for them? What's the communication disconnect that's happening?
Garrett: Where are they going for sponsors right now? Why aren't local organizations going out actively looking for potential sponsors? Part of it is probably an uncertainty about what benefits marketers are looking for.
I think the link itself, which is what got us out the door on this project. It's why we started this company, but it's not where we want to live forever. It's how we pay the bills right now, as far as building the company up. A lot of organizations don't link. They don't know links are valued to marketers, necessarily!
We're part of the vanguard of change there.
Leigh: I think the thing that I have found in talking to organizations across the country is if they want a lot of sponsorships, a lot of them are volunteer-led. They may have one paid person and then they have volunteers who are trying to find sponsorships, right? They are trying to find people to sponsor them. They just don't know how to do it.
They don't understand why a large organization or a client we're working with is coming in and would want a logo and a link. So this education on our part, explaining that to them. It seems to me that they're used to pounding the pavement in their own neighborhood to try to find sponsors.
They're just coming on to this, "Oh, well we could do this differently. A logo and link is valuable. Why is it valuable?"
We have organizations say to us, "What kind of fees, what should our sponsorship levels be for this?"
Garrett: We end up educating a lot of these local organizations.
Leigh: I do think that organizations struggle in having the staffing that they need to go out and try to find sponsors. That's a part of it. We work mainly with nonprofits or events that support nonprofits.
In the nonprofit world, you really don't have a huge staff. You can't hire someone to be your SEO/Marketing person. That's part of it as well.
Carmen: When you started talking about the organizations asking about sponsorship levels, is there some sort of problem with that question?
Leigh: We'll get in touch with an organization to ask them for their different sponsorship levels, for an event, or just for their organization themselves. It could be: the Silver Level is $300 and it includes all these benefits, and the Gold Level is $500 and it includes all these benefits!
But then there are some organizations that don't really have their levels delineated. They haven't fleshed that out, and so they don't understand what a logo and link on the website is worth, and how that's important. They don't know that it's important to say, "Well, okay, at this $500 level, this is all the benefits you're going to get from it." We help them work that out.
We'll often send them an example of a sponsorship that looked appropriate, that worked well, and made it easy for someone to come and sponsor them.
Carmen: Got it! Have you guys completed any research on the kinds of ROI a business owner can expect? I understand, every business is different, and every organization is different, but do you have any input there?
Garrett: This is interesting. So, again, with multiple benefits there's multiple returns.
We have a case study we did with a company called Open Door who did lead generation at events. The lead gen portion is much more measurable, and the link building is also measurable.
I wouldn't say we've got anything great that we can point to.
We've done some proof of "hey links work" kind of stuff.
For instance, there was a local organization called the Flea Off Market. I'm in Louisville, KY, and there's this wonderful — it's not an art fair, but it's like alternative vendors. There's this guy who sells bugs that are very well mounted and beautiful. They're independent vendors and they've got booths. I started talking to a guy that was selling windows, doors, and gutter replacements, right? I started pumping him for information, because I've always thought that events with a booth can and should be a lead gen channel. And a branding channel. But that's how Open Door used us, as a lead gen channel.
I saw these guys out in the wild, and I thought, "Man, I've seen some people doing this really badly."
We went to the Train Show a few years back at the Convention Center, and it's just this poor guy back in the corner trying to sell gutters. He just looks bored, and lonely, and embarrassed of himself to be there. He wasn't really talking or engaging.
So these guys were out in the middle of the aisle, and shaking hands and saying hi to people. It turns out that they closed about $150,000 in business in one weekend. They have a team of 6 in Louisville. So in one weekend they closed $150,000 worth of business. Not just leads, but closed business.
They've got some really interesting techniques.
Here's how the lead gen happens. Most people get your name and number and they're going to call you back. Well, what these guys do is they try to pin you down for a time for their sales team to come out. So they're scheduling a visit. That business scheduling jumps them up in the minds of the people they're connecting with, and they're getting a higher return on their event expenses.
So this is a team of 6 that's opening up the Louisville market. They have a team of 30 in Cleveland Ohio. 30 people doing this, and their close rates are higher, because it's an older, more well-oiled team. They have a very elaborate event marketing program that is just completely under the radar in terms of any kind of discussion around lead generation at B2C events. It's astounding that this just isn't really talked about.
So that's one of the things we're going to be doing at ZipSprout is helping tell that story. There's a lot of lead generation opportunity at events. When you talk about measurable ROI, that's where it lives. But you have to practice to get good at it. You're not just going to go to an event and all of a sudden get return.
But I would humbly submit, that someone who is starting out in whatever service space, especially home services, get a booth and try to book appointments. "Hey, do you need any plumbing work done?"
You're at the booth, and you're just walking out into the middle, saying, "Hey! What do you need done on your house right now? What can I help you with?"
Because I'm looking, and this is all speculation and hypothesizing, but I need plumbing work in my house. I don't make time or even have time to schedule it. But if someone came up to me and said, "Hey, what do you need done?" It's like, "Oh, you can help me, and send somebody out, and actually schedule the time right now? Let's do it! Let's just get it done. Let's knock it off the list."
We've talked with some lawyers where we've made a similar assertion. You need to be at events to drive leads.
We had a lawyer who worked with people who had been wrongly fired. This was out of New York. He was looking for events that fit. So he wouldn't want to be at a general, family-friendly event asking people if they'd been fired recently. That just doesn't feel right. "Hey! Go get a balloon at the bank booth and go talk about getting fired recently at this booth!" It just doesn't fit.
He identified that he wanted to work with groups that are often discriminated with. He wanted us to help find LGBTQ organizations, any kind of immigrant organizations where there's a higher potential that someone's been fired unjustly. That was his thinking. He helped connect the dots for us, but lawyers don't do that! They don't go to events to try to get people there to become their clients. But they could!
So we're on this mission of suggesting to people that they try sponsorship marketing or event marketing. Just test it and see what happens.
We've got longer-term visions for development to become a stronger supporter of that lead generation portion of events, but that's 2 to 20 years from now. It's a gleam in our eyes, not something we've really broken ground on.
The lead generation stuff, there's definitely ROI on the lead gen, but it's not talked about!
Nobody that I can see, I haven't seen that much online about lead generation at events. The ROI on the links is — it's there, it's definite. But if you're just doing it for the links, look at all the benefits you're leaving on the table.
The email. The shirt. The shout-out. You go to the event to drive some leads!
If you come at it with lead generation first, and then you get the link as a side benefit, I feel like you're going to get much more bang for your buck. The leads are a much more measurable, tangible return. The ROI on a link can be two months. It could be six to eight months before you see any ranking impact.
A single link, this is where it gets prohibitive for smaller organizations. Links can cost five, six, seven hundred dollars each or more. That can be an entire budget, a full month's budget for some smaller businesses.
From a pure small business perspective, if all you're doing is focusing on obtaining links, you're leaving the lead generation and branding opportunity on the table. That's where I think we see the most overlooked sponsorship marketing opportunities. Be at the events! Go to events first and just see who's there. That's something I've been enjoying doing lately.
Who is out there?
It's a lot of windows; Renewal by Anderson is all over it, there's a lot of window companies frequently there.
That's who's driving leads right now.
The banks are there, too.
Here's the thing. There's an event I went to with my 2-year old recently. (He was terrified of the helicopter, they had a little police helicopter). So we went inside, and there was, from an efficacy perspective of the booth, there was not a lot of lead intent that I saw. It's not just about getting to the event. There were three chiropractors. This was my local neighborhood association event at the local high school. So there's three chiropractors. Meanwhile the bank was there, passing out balloons. But I don't even remember what bank it was now! The balloon was gone in 15 to 20 seconds.
So what I really appreciated about the guy that I interviewed was that he set the appointment. With the bank example, they should have had someone booking a meeting. "You looking for a home loan? You looking for this? Here's our schedule, when can you come by?"
Or "When can we send somebody over to the office to talk about a business loan?"
There's a lack of sophistication around events, and a lack of concerted "let's make some money here."
It's more like, "Oh, whoops, somebody signed us up for this, so we're going to send Susie and Fred out. Just bring the booth and give away balloons." I feel like that's what a lot of these things were, and there's not a lot of thinking around, "How do we turn this..."
They think just being there is going to be enough. That's not enough, that's where I feel like there's another level of opportunity there.
There may already be people there, but it's like — how are they making the best use of this employee? It's expensive! You've got somebody sitting there that could be doing real work for you.
They're just sitting on their hiney, talking to some people, but for a lot of the people working there, it's just awkward! You've gotta have somebody that's comfortable in awkward situations.
Leigh: The only thing I'd add is when we worked with Open Door, I went to a couple of their events just to see what they were doing.
You can tell when people are walking through. At one of the events, it's called Peak Fest, and it's like a barbecue, arts and crafts thing that happens in this little town. With 50,000 people in it. It gets to be a crowded event. I think they probably end up with a couple thousand people in their booth.
But they definitely didn't just sit back. They had two people there, they had two ipads, and they had a big spinning wheel.
Let me tell you, the spinning wheel got the children to walk over. They could win a cup or a pen or whatever, they had a bunch of different prizes. So the kids come over, and then the parents have to. That is the exact same type of thing.
If you're going to do events, you have to have a plan. You're going to work the crowd in a way that people are wanting to come and see you. You make it fun and it's exciting. There's no pressure, but at the same time the team were like, "Okay, we can tell you how much your house is worth right now. Just give me your address."
They knew what they were doing. In every new city, they went in trying to sell.
Garrett: They had the bait and the hook. They were serious. I don't see that level — I call it sophistication, but I don't know what to call it exactly —where you've really thought through your game plan on how you're going to be engaging with people.
On the sponsorship marketing beyond the booth and evaluating opportunities
Carmen: Is there any profit or benefit to sponsoring something where they wouldn't have a booth? Like fun runs or...
Garrett: Or like a T-ball or soccer? Absolutely!
One: That's visibility to the right audiences.
Two: If you're a coach, or you're responsible for a team, one of the things you do is send emails to people. That's a key part. I think we've got a nice anecdote about Open Door on that one. Leigh?
Leigh: Yes. So, as a footnote, I'm a soccer Mom. I'm not even going to tell you how many hours I spend on the soccer field at this particular soccer complex. So when Open Door wanted to do a sponsorship, I thought, "This is where they need to do it."
It's a very large soccer club in Raleigh. What we ended up doing was, we did a sponsorship that included email blasts. Those email blasts would go out to all of the people, all of the parents. Not only one parent, but every parent that gave their email.
Both parents could be getting it. I feel like thirty thousand, it was a high number of email blasts that went out. It went out once a month for the season, which is nine months.
It would have the logo and the link in there! One email went out that featured them. Based on their level of sponsorship, they got that feature. That made me realize, honestly when you're thinking about sponsorship, that going beyond the links is so much better. A logo on a shirt, in those kind of soccer clubs. My youngest daughter — Subway sponsors their team — and I could never forget that, because I've seen Subway on their jerseys for so long.
Carmen: Is there a right way and wrong way to choose those opportunities? I imagine once you open that door...I could keep of 16 different ones right now in my own town, and I live under a rock! (I'm always at my desk, it feels like.)
How do you sort through all those opportunities and pinpoint the ones that are going to work best for your clients?
Leigh: On our end I feel like we are looking at what their target audience is.
What is your target audience and where are those people? How are we going to find those people?
I just talked to a potential client, recently, and I'm basically his target audience. I thought, "Oh! Okay, I have ideas for this." Because I know exactly what they're talking about.
Having that conversation with clients and figuring out, "What is your target audience? Who are you trying to reach?" Taking that information and thinking about the types of events where we would find those people. Or the type of organizations or anything like that is essential.
On some of the unforeseen challenges with sponsorship marketing
Carmen: Got it! What can go wrong with sponsorship marketing?
Garrett: Leigh, tell her about the bad apples.
Leigh: Auuuuuugh! Honestly, we try our best not to have what we call bad apples. So, there are a couple of things that can go wrong, that have gone wrong repeatedly. I feel like it's an error on our part on some level and an error on our client's part on other levels. But let's say we put an order together, and it has events in the order.
Normally, what we try to do is have events that are three months away from the time we put them in the order. But sometimes our clients don't get back to us in a timely manner. So by the time we get approval for the event, either the sponsorship is already gone or the event has passed.
That's one way that it can go bad. Another way is often times we don't get all of the information from the organization, and they'll say, "Yeah, we'd love a sponsorship!"
Followed by, "Oh yeah, but we don't like that client. We don't want to do that. We want to have a relationship with the client."
Which I respect.
Garrett: There's some expectation from organizations, especially more of the non-profits.
Any time we're donating to a cause, as opposed to getting a booth where we've got these streamlined benefits, is they're really looking for social proof that these big companies care about these things. That means we're valued and important, which is great.
But then we're trying to do this at scale. A lot of the non-profits don't like to feel like they're being positioned as a line on a spreadsheet for a client. When you get down to some local non-profits, they're looking more for an engaged donor that has other assets to bring to bear.
Not just money, but maybe a space where we could have events. Or they're looking for more than just money. They're looking for a partner to engage with and really help them. It does more than just help them feel like they're important. It's also more that they just need money. Lots of times, local businesses can give discounted food or free food for these kinds of events.
Because we're doing work for national brands, I think that can sometimes potentially rub non-profits the wrong way. They'd rather have a one-to-one relationship.
Now we're describing an agency problem. If any of our larger clients were directly communicating with the organizations, they might not have these same kinds of issues. There can be suspicion around a third-party entity. The middle, the intermediary — nobody likes that person! They're like, "Wait, how much do you make? Why are you involved?" That creates a lot of suspicion. Leigh, how often do we have to get on the phone and say, "We are not a scam?"
Leigh: I have like four calls this week where we have to convince them that we are not a scam.
I get it! I absolutely get it.
Because there are a lot of organizations out there that talk about sponsorship, but then they're really charging a fee to the organization. So I understand it. But we really, as long as I have been working with ZipSprout, that's been a battle.
Carmen: How do you put their minds at ease? What do you tell them to pull them off the ceiling?
Leigh: Honestly, I just explain how our process works.
We have clients that have hired us to find great sponsorship opportunities for them. We work with nonprofits. We definitely offer them the opportunity to talk with other organizations that we've worked with. We simply explain that our job is to talk to the nonprofits, to figure out the best sponsorship levels and opportunities that our clients are looking for, and we are taking on the, as I say: the finding, the curating, and the fulfilling of these sponsorship opportunities. For that, our clients are paying us a fee.
So no fees are passed along to the organizations, because we believe that they have excellent sponsorship opportunities, and we would love to be able to work with them and help them with those.
It normally works out very well. There are very few that, once we have the conversation, are still not interested. We also reassure them that we let them know who the client is, before we do the sponsorship.
Because we've worked with some organizations that tell us up front, "Well, we will only work with certain kinds of sponsors."
And I understand that! Based on their mission.
So, I think just reassuring them is key. They also want to be able to tell us all about their organization. Which is fine! I learn a lot, listening to them. They want to be able to hear about us and have me listen to what they're doing.
On cultivating client involvement
Carmen: Backing up a little bit to something else you said — For every agency, no matter what services they are offering, securing client participation and the information can be a struggle and a challenge.
What do you guys do to minimize that struggle, and to get those clients as involved as possible? Avoiding situations where you're trying to set things up, and then by the time they get around to doing their part, the sponsorship is gone?
Leigh: I would say on our part, it's supportive, friendly encouragement to quickly make decisions on opportunities that we've presented to them. It doesn't happen often, but there are times that we would have a month between when we presented an order and when we've heard a response.
The best thing, the only thing that I can do on my end is to check in with, "Hey, how's it going? Just wondering how you guys are doing with this? Do you have any questions? Is there anything I can help you with?"
Garrett: Leigh's a master of that! The kind reminder that "we're here and waiting for you."
On the client side, what we have is an intake form:
What are you looking for?
What do you want?
What benefits are you trying to get?
What are your audiences like?
Then there's always a dial in phase, where we share what we've found.
"Ew, I don't want that!"
So, we get them dialed in. There's a lot, this is again that education side of it for clients.
But most people, often they're not aware of the events that are going on and what's even out there.
In a mid-sized city like Louisville, there's events that go on every weekend. I grew up here and have been living here as an adult for five years now. I moved back and realized there's tons of stuff happening in the city that I have no clue about.
There's plenty of opportunities to be a part of different cultural groups, different neighborhoods, different everything. We're all in our bubbles and we don't really know about what's happening around us.
For us, client participation is getting a good sense from clients, "What do you want," and then refining that at the first reveal, "Hey, here's what we've found."
Those are the two stages. Leigh was speaking more to closing the deal. Getting it done. "Hey, this client, wants to sponsor you, who do I send the money to and when will you put up the link?" That's where Leigh operates — don't mess with Leigh. Don't mess with Leigh!
Leigh: I like to find new ways to get in touch with people. I like to Tweet them or I like to Facebook them...
Garrett: That's what I'm saying! Don't let Leigh give you money and then not respond to her! Because it's not going to be good for you.
No, she's persistent, and multichannel in her approach. We are grateful for that, because that's what helps on the fulfillment side for clients.
They're expecting to get something done for this, and a lot of times these are small Mom and Pops. They're smaller organizations, volunteer-driven, and Bob might not have told Barbara that she needs to add this to the site, and she just doesn't know. It might just be that Bob hasn't told her that, or they haven't had a meeting. He's going to bring it up at the next board meeting or whatever for this $300 sponsorship! But that's how these things work. That's the other part of why. It's a really fragmented channel.
It's all fragmentation. This is another reason why there's not a lot of usage of this marketing channel, in my opinion. It's still in so many little pieces.
But in a lot of ways, there's a more authentic opportunity for reach with nonprofits and events then you'd get with a billboard. Not to knock billboards. I got nothing against them, but making those work together would be a real win for some big brand. That's our hope.
We'll keep doing what we're doing, keep building links for people in the cities they're targeting, but I think there's a real opportunity for opening new markets with events.
Another example, we talked with a meal kit company. They were opening up ten new markets in ten major cities. They had already did this in ten or twenty existing markets or something...in these new cities, they needed events for their field team.
They needed 30 hours of events for their field teams a week. That was one of the things that they wanted help with. To find and source events that they could have their team at to do this awareness work. At the market level, at the hyper-local level. What we're doing really is just leading people back to the Stone Age of marketplace.
Being at a place and selling things! In person!
This is where my hopes lie for a longer-term growth for us.
"Hey, you need to get back out there in person, and sell your stuff," because people are just completely overwhelmed with digital, print, and everything else.
Making that human connection is still very valuable. It's not for everybody, but for somebody like a meal kit company trying to open up new markets, it's a very useful method. Especially when you sponsor the right kinds of events, it's a very useful method of reaching a very specific audience.
On scaling sponsorship marketing
Carmen: You've mentioned scaling this up and growing this a couple of times. What would that look like for you guys?
Garrett: If a large company like a meal kit company came in and agreed to our proposal, then we would have had to work on the dev side.
I think in terms of scheduling. We don't yet have a good system internally for knowing dates of events and helping an organization select between multiple opportunities on a single date.
That's one challenge.
Being able to evaluate: "Hey, there's these three things this Saturday the 19th and we can only do one of them. Which one should we do?"
So that dev work would need to happen. Just strictly for a large scale events-as-a-channel project.
We could put something together in spreadsheets. That's how we would start. We would manually build everything with spreadsheets first, and then invest in development. Then if we landed something, we would make it work. But on the dev side, I feel like that's one area we could stand to have a lot of work.
From a personnel scale perspective, we would have to hire some more people. We do have good processes in place now. We have good management processes in place for scaling up the human side of it. Qualifying and making sure this event is in the right city, the target city. Confirming that we're delivering exactly what the client was looking for. So for us, the foundation to scale is in place.
But let me let the Operations Manager talk to you about that. You're talking to the excited ideas guy.
Leigh, really, practically?
Leigh: Especially after working with Open Door, while it was on a little bit of a smaller scale that we did events for them, we figured out a number of things that we could do better, and that we were doing well.
We were using spreadsheets.We definitely have a process, and we could do larger events.
It's an exciting thing to think about to be able to do events. The hard part is, like Garrett said, finding and figuring out when the events are and not trying to do events that are a week away. We would have to get a system down for that. It's just all about scheduling, where things are, and could they do two events at this time close together?
Garrett: It's a logistics puzzle for sure. I think we haven't addressed that at any meaningful scale, and I think that's one thing we'd have to solve for. But I know it's an enterprise problem, which is exciting and interesting to me.
As a business owner, I see that there's an enterprise opportunity here. Though we have a ways to go. We could do it now, to have the infrastructure in place, development infrastructure in place, we're at least 6 to 8 months, and that's being super generous, because developers take a long time.
Not knocking them! Just saying.
Carmen: Well I mean they've gotta do their code, so it takes awhile!
On the differences when it comes to producing your own events
Carmen: Does this type of marketing also encompass organizations throwing their own events, or is that a totally different channel you guys don't want to touch?
Garrett: It's totally different. We haven't thought about touching it.
Leigh: The only thing we really do with organizations having their own event is — we've really only had clients come in and do a sponsorship and get a logo and event. They haven't participated in the event.
Garrett: She means like a local — if Roto-Rooter was like "Let's have a plumbing party!" and they're going to invite everyone to Plumbing World, maybe they partner with Nintendo so it's like a Mario Brothers themed thing. So they might do that in a big city to get attention.
Carmen: Yeah, pop-ups.
Leigh: We haven't done anything like that.
On awareness of the channel and ZipSprout's Sponsorship Marketing Tool
Carmen: Given there's not a lot of information about this out there yet, is there anything you'd really like our readers to know about sponsorship marketing?
Garrett: I think, broadly, there's a lot of opportunity out there. It's not necessarily tough to look for. Knowing what to look for can be tough.
Every city has its organizations and events that are looking for partners. They have visibility opportunities. The visibility and the engagement you can get with those audiences is of a higher quality or a different quality to push advertising.
It's still essentially push advertising, where you're forcing your voice in front of an audience. But because it's cause-related, or event or, the Celtic dance festival or something, the people who are involved are passionate about it.
If you sponsor the things they love, they often remember that.
That's not a shoo-in that you're going to get business, but it's a strong component. There's a relationship that's built there that's much stronger than if you're simply advertising in the newspaper.
When we talk about sponsorship marketing as a channel, that's the piece that's so valued by marketers, but is also very difficult to accomplish.
There's this lacking sense of scope of the market or available opportunities at any given location. That's one of the things we're helping with with the new tool we've built. It's essentially a directory or index of opportunities by city.
But that doesn't exist right now! It's just weird that it doesn't. Nobody is busting down our doors for it either. It's one of those things we're slowly building on, because people don't even think of it as a channel, really. Or comparable to, "Hey, I'm in the phone book, I do local AdWords with Google, I did some billboards." It's not thought of as one of the things you gotta do. Events. Or donating to nonprofits.
We are helping people imagine and think about events, offering suggestions about ways to test it and try it out. We're doing a lot of our content marketing around it. We are working on a book right now.
We've got a team member side, she's more on the Citation Lab side than the ZipSprout side. This team memeber did lead generation at events for a large mosquito spray company. She's done it, has done it for years, and so has a good background in it.
But we're going to be drawing from that.
She's confirmed that there really isn't, a place to go to learn about sponsorship marketing. We're trying to solve that problem too. Really, we're at this place where we're trying to create the market, and also capture the entire market in every city. We want to facilitate the relationships between outside organizations and these local events and nonprofits.
While we didn't prove our case with you that links drive local rankings, I would say links work. They drive rankings, but a lot of times you've got to have a few local links to really see movement in any short amount of time.
For most small businesses, they don't have the money to do it and they shouldn't be thinking about link building. Really it's flipping it for them.
Do the lead generation work at events and make sure you get a link when you sponsor them. Slowly build links that way as you are building leads or driving leads at the event. Plan on being more a part of your community. At the end of the day, that's what we're really suggesting to small businesses. There's a good chance you're going into a blue ocean kind of scenario where you don't have a lot of competitors, like a law firm, so think through how you can really test the lead generation effectiveness of any given event in your city.
Flipping it around for people.
It's an uphill push to get anybody to go get someone to do something besides have a weekend. "Hey, you don't get to do your normal Saturday thing!" Leigh, you had to go out there on a Saturday. That was one of the big problems that Open Door had. Their team didn't want to do weekends.
Leigh: Right. Like it was all day each day. They'd have an event Saturday and Sunday.
Garrett: So even if they got Monday or Tuesday off, who cares? Their kids aren't off (which, okay, might be nice), they can't do the normal weekend things.
You gotta get links, but how do you get more involved at the event level, and drive leads, and then get a link as a result of the lead generation you're doing at events. That requires a lot of intent, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of learning.
A lot of people aren't in business to sell. They don't want to sell. They don't want to cold sell at an event. That's scary. So I think there's going to be a lot of reluctance about that.
It's a good idea, but I'm not sure what uptake's going to look like. We're three years into this and it still feels like we're just getting started. Trying to get more people excited about it.
Leigh: Do you want to talk about our sponsorship marketing tool that we created?
Carmen: Yeah! Let's talk about the tool.
Garrett: It's awesome! Let me just in one word: it's incredible.
So the tool is basically the outcome of us running all over the country by email for the last three years. We've got sixty thousand organizations and events that we've got organized by city. We've got some categorization around them. We've got pricing for about 10,000 or 15,000 of them. From a tool or scale perspective, the pricing is one of the hardest things to get at. Because the organizations are usually reluctant to just publish pricing on their websites.
So this is where you have to go, and again, it's one of the channel barriers.
"How much do these cost? Well, you're going to have to go talk to Linda, because she's not just going to put it on the website. First, we want to know what kind of money are you, how do you want to be involved?"
These days, events are much more likely to publish pricing. But even then, they don't publish pricing all the time. They still want to have a conversation and get a sense of, "Who are you?" So our tool brings all that in one place.
One of the issues we've had with it is there's always a city that we don't have in our directory. There's so many. 60,000, but somebody always comes in and says, "Oh, what about blah blah!" We've never heard of it. It doesn't mean it's not a great city, it's just we haven't heard of it, and we don't have any really results.
We've done large scale prospecting by scraping Google. We're pulling results directly from Google. We've got a set coming in, around 12 million or so URLs, and we've got some filtering and scoring methodologies that's machine qualified, but we've got some starting point visibility, into the rest of the US. Not just these major cities.
But even that's only the top 1,000 cities. By population. I don't know how many cities there are. There's in the neighborhood of 30,000 to 40,000 zip codes, so there's a lot of cities that aren't represented even in this enormous set.
But also, there's not enough to demand to really push us there. We've got a starting point for a large swath of the US, but there's always a city that people suggest. We think, "Man, we don't have that one. We will one day, I believe, but we've got to let the market catch up with where we are in terms of development and what we've put into it." It's in the neighborhood of about a million that Citation Labs has invested in ZipSprout over the years.
There's some on the dev side, but a lot of it is just paying our team to be as awesome as possible. We're getting the information at the local level about these local opportunities, one by one. That's what the tool gives access to — all this research that we've done in each city. You can input the city you're interested and get back results of events that you can filter based on the requirements you have.
Leigh: Basically what we have done in layman's terms:
Businesses can come in, pay a fee (we do a free trial), put in their area code or their city, and see how many sponsorship opportunities they have in that area.
Let's say it's in Raleigh. I don't know the top of my head, the number, but there's probably around 500 sponsorship opportunities out there.
You can look through all the different opportunities and select ones that you want to pursue more. Then you can download that information. It gives all the information you would need to contact the organization about the sponsorship. It helps small businesses that are looking to do sponsorship. We've weeded out things. You can search based on different criteria that we have: price point, and different things like that.
It's a process that maybe will help people find sponsorship opportunities easier.
On white glove sponsorship marketing services and recommended events
Carmen: If they have the budget they can then hire you to help them take care of it? Because it seems like this could cut you guys out of a lot.
Garrett: Right. That's part of the tool. This is something we did at Citation Labs, but the tool demonstrates capacity. Anybody who is going to use the tool and not use our services wouldn't have ever been a service client in the first place.
We kind of accept that circumstance. The intent with the tool is to be the only tool for finding these kinds of opportunities around the United States. Hopefully we will get mentioned more frequently at conferences. One of the most frequent things people say when you talk about link building is, "Well, you can do sponsorships."
Well, ZipSprout is where you go for sponsorships. If you want to have them done for you, or if you want to use our tool.
It's a marketing play as well.
The tool itself is going to always be bleeding clients, because we will become disintermediated. This is a wonderful word I learned about recently. Our users will make connections with these nonprofits, and then they won't need our monthly fee anymore to find these organizations. But we're also not expensive.
Leigh: $20 a month, and that gives you one city. That is 5 downloads, I believe.
Garrett: You get contact information for up to 5 events. You can see everything, but you can get contact information for up to 5.
Leigh: The next level is $50, and then $100. $100 is an unlimited number. You can look at the whole country. Most of the people we've had that have asked us about it and are interested in it really have specific cities they're looking in.
So we don't have as many people looking across the country. I don't think, like Garrett said, that it's going to take away from what we're doing. I think it's just giving people an opportunity to understand how to find sponsorship, and then if they want to do it on a bigger scale I think they would come to us and ask them to help them do it. Even if you have the information, it's time consuming.
Carmen: One last question, do you guys have any events you're going to where potential clients could meet you?
Garrett: We frequently go to Local U. That's our main stomping ground. I don't know if we're going to the next one or not for sure. We haven't decided for sure. When we go to events it's usually Local U.
We did Moz Local, I guess three or four years ago. I don't think they do that local event anymore as a stand-alone. That was another fun one. Local U is our favorite, and it's just a wonderful community, a wonderful group of people.
We've been scrambling a little bit, Leigh and I haven't talked about it. I don't think she's good to just up and go, or if she has willingness. Because I don't. I don't want to up and go. Nah! I love it, I love it when I get there, but ugh, travel! It's always so good when I go, but I've also got the 2, 6, and 9 year old...
Leigh: Garrett likes to stay in his basement.
Garrett: I work in a basement.
Carmen (laughing): So you're telling people to get out of their basement...
Garrett (laughing): But not. Yeah! Do as I say, please, not as I do!
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