It’s rare to have a wild idea you dream up in your head actually pan out the way you envisioned it.
But this month that’s exactly what happened to me.
No, I am not referring to “the local bus system employing aspiring models” idea, or “the resident DJ who plays your favorite song each morning you walk into the office” idea, or even ”the killer combination of a tanner/Chinese restaurant business in a small town” idea.
Instead I am referring to the dream of having my 1-year-old’s birthday party completely sponsored by awesome local businesses.
No offense to Mickey Mouse, Clifford, Elmo or any other “age-appropriate” parties, but my wife and I have higher expectations for our little man.
We want him to think different. To be OK with trying something and failing. To pursue crazy ideas even if everyone else around him doesn’t think the idea is possible.
So a few weeks ago I went to work so my walk would match my talk.
I made a list of all the products and corresponding businesses that could possibly line up with our vintage newspaper themed party. I focused on smaller, newer, fresher businesses that likely had a desire to gain more exposure, yet without spending thousands on advertising. In exchange for their product donations to our party, I would promote the heck out of them through every means at my disposal.
Then I started calling, e-mailing, poking, AOL Instant Messaging, and well, stalking these businesses. Don’t worry, as of press time, no restraining orders have been filed.
I know this is crazy but many people didn’t respond. Like businesses I had frequented for years. A few politely declined. Others thought about it and then claimed something called “laws” prevented them from sponsoring.
I was discouraged. My goal was five sponsors and … I had none. At that point, I considered scaling back and settling for the typical party.
A sponsored party must be too crazy, I thought.
I was a few days away from quitting.
Just when I felt lower than Donald Sterling’s publicist, I received an e-mail that turned the whole event upside down.
I had a sponsor.
The uber-talented Anne Pageau, who owns Holland-based Give Studio, agreed to donate four of her trendy, decorative flasks to help make our party look even more authentic. The flasks, which come in bright colors and even louder sayings (Giggle Juice is our favorite), retail at $28 and are ideal for a sweet gift. We paired them with our collection of old cameras for a dynamite 1-2 combo.
And suddenly the sponsors started appearing one after another.
My long-time client Joe Nelis, who owns Nelis’ Dutch Village and the Thirsty Dutchman Pub in Holland, provided four bottles of his private label wine.
Then Nick Gillette, a manager with Grounds for a Better World Coffee in Midland, jumped on board by donating a stellar medium roast coffee for the party. The delivery of the product may have looked like a drug deal in a Subway courtyard but I am totally OK with that.
I couldn’t believe the sponsorship idea was actually happening.
With a few small wins on the board, I was confident and starting asking for products that weren’t on my original brainstorming sheet.
I had reached my goal of 5 sponsors but I wasn’t about to stop. During a non-driver’s ed approved commute home, I made a cold call to the Hawk’s Nest in Hamilton and landed two hot appetizers for the party.
The icing on the cupcake was convincing the emerging Scrumptious Cupcakes and Sweetery of Grand Rapids to donate a tower of gourmet cupcakes, 30 to be exact.
7. Freaking. Sponsors.
With just a few days to go before the party, I sought out last minute help from a team of experts. The legendary Melanie Gavie designed an incredible handout complete with QR codes to each sponsor’s Web site. Marketers Erik Morsehead, Ryan Litwiller, and Kim Jimenez helped me brainstorm social media and marketing strategy. And photographer Dennis R.J. Geppert donated a box full of old cameras.
The party was finally here.
I knew it was going to be great night when my family members were, gasp, early. Start time in my family usually means get there within an hour of that time.
All kidding aside, as guests arrived, the house looked stunning. Next to each sponsor’s donated product we had a small chalkboard labeling the business as well as business cards, logos, and coupons.
The sweet Late Harvest Vignoles white wine and the sweet de Rooie Molen red wine from Nelis’ Dutch Village started flowing and soon glasses could be observed inside and out. My wife now likes de Rooie Molen better than me. Great.
Our bartender then began to pour glasses of Essential Bean’s Silver Foam IPA, an amber colored beer with a tasty foam top. Easy to drink and much less bitter than your typical IPA. Comes in a stellar growler with a stylin’ vintage logo.
Rounding out the incredible selection of alcohol for a 1-year-old’s birthday party was … the Lemongrass Hard Cider from Sietsema Orchards. This self-proclaimed ”summer shandy of cider” is a sweet, refreshing lemon-infused cider that makes your typical cider seem, well, pretty boring. I may or may not have drank half the bottle myself during the party.
And because no party is complete without caffeine, I can’t forget the warm, tasty Medium Roast we had brewing from Grounds for a Better World. My dad couldn’t keep his hands off it and, because he is retiring soon, I didn’t have the heart to say no to the guy.
The evening would not have been complete, however, without our two, oh-so-sweet food options. The Hawk’s Nest brought it with a pound of hot, flavor-filled Breaded Cauliflower and a pound of crunchy Onion Rings. They went so fast I barely could photograph their existence.
Finally, for dessert guests d-emolished the Funfetti with Vanilla Buttercream and the Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting cupcakes from Scrumptious. Some people said it was the best cupcake they had ever had. I personally couldn’t stop eating the frosting made from scratch.
In the end, seven forward-thinking businesses gained incredible exposure via the actual party, through my social media posts, in a story the Midland Daily News ran about the party, and through this blog post. I applaud them for taking the chance and trusting me to deliver. Please go out and support them, you won’t be disappointed.
Equally important, I learned you never know what can happen if you simply ask people to partner with you. Prove to people you can provide value no else can. Dare to be rejected.
I saved $300 on a party. What can you do?