SImple math? An $8,500 advertising budget vs. $400,000 in sponsorship


Performing Arts season is upon us – with operas, symphonies, ballet and theatres launching this year’s programming across the US and the world. I hope you are able to attend an opening night in your town of something interesting. What is my favorite part of opening night you ask?

The program book.

I adore the program book and always have – as a CDO it felt the culmination of a year’s effort to sell sponsorship and build a donor list. When we opened the Carmel Palladium a few years ago my staff helped to frame up a version of our opening night program – a lasting memento of an amazing journey.

As a consultant I always ask to review the program book as an early step in working with a client – it reveals a great deal. How are sponsors recognized? How are donors? What sponsors go where and why? Are your sponsors allowed to own specific real estate or all clumped onto the Logo Soup page? Who are the general advertisers?

And this gets to our topic today. I cannot stand paid advertising in program books. I would ban the practice if I could and if I ever spend time with your sponsorship program that’s where we must begin.

Why? Our precious sponsors pay good money for the privilege of promoting themselves to our affluent audiences. That is a fundamental exchange in the partner relationship—investment for access, exclusivity and return on investment.

And yet symphony and performing arts centers have advertising sales people in the marketing department, or worse yet, employ commission based sales outsiders to sell, on the cheap, access and promotion to our audiences. The result is either crummy advertising, often sold to businesses beneath your brand, or to wily companies anxious to reach your demographic but clever enough to know they can ignore the sponsorship manager’s proposal and instead chat with the marketing department. Don’t do it.


  1. Keep full-page color advertisements in your program as an exclusive benefit to sponsors.
  2. Create additional inventory of season sponsors whose primary benefits is the program ad (it is something valuable. Someone will pay).
  3. At all costs, hold the premium placement ads in reserve for your sponsorship team. I promise you are seriously underselling your back page, your inside front cover, etc. if you are getting $1,000 (the average) for it. Make it a benefit to someone giving you at least $10,000.

Your program books are beautifully designed marketing tools to a captive, affluent and educated audience. Leverage this tool for increased revenue.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
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