Gone are the days of bronze, gold and platinum sponsorships. If you are still using these--stop! We will discuss new and creative ways to raise more money and better align sponsor and organizational goals.
The goal of sponsorship is to help offset costs of your event, but don’t forget about the sponsor--they want to showcase their company too. If you don’t take care of them, they won’t come back!
1. Get creative.
When coming up with sponsorship opportunities, allow some room for customizing. Don’t try and fit a square peg into a round hole; for example, don’t squeeze someone into a bronze category when maybe they only value recognition at the networking reception.
Categorize your sponsorship opportunities based on the event. For example, allow for sponsors to own the social media feed, or a session or break. This will allow them to get excited about your program and not feel lumped into a category with other companies.
Be aware: When creating these opportunities, try to limit the speaking opportunities from sponsors so as not take away from the educational aspect of the conference. And, quite simply, no one is listening.
2. Don’t devalue pre-conference benefits.
Maybe you want to get the sponsors in on the action before the event? You should work together to craft joint messages promoting the event to both respective contact lists.
The sponsor could also provide testimonials or video clips in anticipation of the event. But as noted above, just be careful that you don’t offer speaking spots to sponsors; sponsorship is not pay-to-play. This will devalue your conference, and you will lose credibility with your participants.
3. In-kind sponsorship can be your best friend.
Sometimes in-kind sponsorship can be more valuable than cash. Think about areas where a supplier can provide you a product of service in lieu of cash.
For example, hotels or conference centers can offer discounts to be recognized as a sponsor of the event. Other examples are name tags, audiovisual, gift bags, furniture rentals, and food and beverage, among others.
Whenever you are thinking of something you need to pay for, you should ask yourself, “Is this a company that wants to be affiliated with my event?” If they think showcasing their brand at your event will lead to more sales, they may offer discounted or free items to be recognized as a sponsor.
4. Leverage technology.
If you don’t use an event app, you should start! This is a great place to showcase your sponsors as well as push out sponsor specific messaging, where appropriate.
Work with your AV provider to come up with creative ways to recognize your partners. For example, consider electronic reader boards around the showroom floor or gobos at your reception.
This probably deserves its own category, but you want to think about how to integrate your sponsors into your social media strategy. Are you “retweeting” their posts or pushing dedicated sponsor posts to be displayed on your social media wall?
5. Balance corporate sponsorship vs. event sponsorship.
Balancing both corporate sponsorship and event sponsorship can be tricky, as some of your sponsors might want year-round benefits as well as conference benefits. Your corporate program should highlight your sponsors year-round through engagement activities such as affinity programs, webinars or other thought-leadership opportunities.
Whatever benefits you provide, position all sponsors as thought leaders. Forget about them delivering self promotional webinars or videos about how great they are--people don’t care! People want information that is useful to their work and that provides learning opportunities! If webinars or blog posts are part of your sponsorship package, they must be informational.
By the way: Don’t take money from everyone who wants to give it to you. Be sure that they hold similar values and what they offer is actually beneficial to your stakeholders. It is hard to turn down money, but you will thank me later for saving you the headache!
Also, your corporate sponsorship program should include some conference or event benefits, but should not overtake your conference sponsorship package. Make both equally attractive to your respective audiences.
Sponsorship can be tricky at times, but it can also allow you to host fantastic events or afford more resources for your organization. Don’t think of sponsorship as free money; think of it as added value to your participants. And whatever you do, don’t lose sight of your core business or event objectives.
Edward Byers operates the website Meeting Protocol. He has more than 15 years' experience working in corporate and special events, including two Olympic Games, the Special Olympics, incentives and not-for-profits. He has raised more than $2 million through sponsorship and creating new revenue-generating programs. He offers examination preparation for students studying for their CMP designation.