Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 2012

Forward Thinking: Getting Your Sponsors to Activate

By Dave Lutz, CMP

As digital technology emerges, your industry partners are going to require less square footage to show off their products and services.  You need to think about how to convert their marketing dollars into sponsorship opportunities that benefit your audience.

This shift away from suppliers leasing exhibit space to other forms of support for your organization and events is going to require a much more strategic and consultative approach.  Many conference organizers confuse sponsorship with advertising or promotion.  While a custom sponsorship bundle may include some of those elements, the most worthwhile opportunities are those that are highly valued (or needed) by conference attendees.  Sponsors are going to look more favorably on investments that give them visibility and access to your audience across a longer stretch of time — from the launch of registration to beyond the close of your conference.

In order to capitalize on increasing your sponsorship revenue and your partners’ return on their sponsorship dollars, consider implementing these three strategies.

1. Clean up your menu.  Ask yourself one question: Does this sponsorship item add to the attendee experience? If the answer is not so clear or is a definite no, eliminate it — no matter how much revenue it may generate.  That includes such things as registration bag inserts or hotel key cards.  Help them shift that spend to more meaningful investments that benefit attendees — such as sponsoring keynote or breakout speakers coupled with book signings, e-book downloads, and live-streamed content to a wider audience.  These all add to the attendee experience.

2. Develop customized packages.  It’s a good idea to create a prospectus as a sales tool for generating interest, initiating conversation, and leveraging the list of partners that have come on board.  But don’t be limited by that menu.  Savvy organizers will ask prospects to discuss their marketing objectives in order to develop a custom, bundled proposal that addresses those priorities.  They’ll also tap their best sponsors for new, creative ideas.

3. Help your partners activate or leverage their investment.  With no activation or leverage plan, sponsors’ results will be minimal.  Some experts recommend that for every dollar a partner spends on sponsorship, another dollar should be set aside to leverage that investment.  Your sponsorship packages should include elements that help provide thought-leadership messaging before and after your conference — such as content in your e-zine, a pre-conference webinar, or a video that can be shared with their customers and prospects.  Customers like partnering with companies that support and help their industry.  A growing trend is for sponsors and exhibitors to build a microsite or conduct a Facebook campaign around their event participation.  Savvy marketers will change up their ads to draw attention to and leverage their industry support. 

Breakout: Sponsorship Leverage Is Complex

The concept of leveraging or activating sponsorship is not always easy to understand, but is critical to protecting and growing this revenue source.  At its core, an activation plan mirrors the shift to content marketing, whose principles are all about helping, gaining thought leadership, and creating an emotional connection within a community.  In-your-face sales and marketing tactics, including plastering logos all over the place, have lost favor.  If you help your sponsors and exhibitors to leverage and activate their sponsorship, the money will surely follow.

More Resources
I’m a huge fan of Kim Skildum-Reid, who shares her wealth of sponsorship experience on her blog.  Here, she provides 29-plus sponsorship-leverage resources: convn.org/reid-sponsorship.

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, velvetchainsaw.com.

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