How to Get Conference Sponsorship the Right Way
The beauty of conferences is that they offer a very specific purpose for their attendees. Industry driven, they tap into the needs of their audience providing inspiration for the types of sponsorship packages you can offer. In general, they are designed to solve problems for attendees whether they are body-obsessed people trying to improve their wellness, movie fans looking for rare memorabilia, or a group of dentists looking for trends in treatment technology.
Conferences, and event sponsorship in general, are a lot of work but when done right, can also be very lucrative. In order to get conference sponsorship, you need to understand your audience and then come up with opportunities your sponsors can offer to them. This is the key to conference success and continuing to remain profitable for your events.
Before you dive in, if you are interested in conference sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for conferences” series:
How to Plan a Conference: A Step-by-Step Guide
How to Market a Conference: Everything You Need to Fill Your Event
How to Plan a Virtual Conference
Conference Sponsorship Proposal Template
Conference Sponsorship: Expectation vs. Reality
Sponsorship for Virtual Events, Conferences and Meetings
Seven Sponsorship Activation Ideas for Your Next Conference that Audiences will LOVE
Understand Your Audience
Before you do anything with sponsors, you have to understand what your audience wants. This begins with the basics of audience profiling but ends with a list of segments based on very specific needs. While generically you can look at things like age, income and career, you should drill it down so you can address the things that motivate your audience. This information makes it easier for your sponsors to participate at a level that will connect with your audience and meet their expectations.
For example, if you are hosting a career expo, segmenting takes a generic group of 30 something women, and turns it into 30 something women, with kids, dissatisfied with their job and interested in finding a work from home opportunity, or a group of 30 something women without kids who want a career where they can climb the ladder more quickly. This information allows sponsors to think more about what they can offer, such as tips on how to job hunt for online, flexible time part-time jobs, or a presentation offering insight into how to improve skills to make someone more promotable.
These targets make a big difference. Therefore, the more insight you provide to potential sponsors about your audience segments, the more attractive participation will become.
Conferences offer a list of possible sponsorship opportunities, but these opportunities don’t begin and end with title sponsorship or presentation rights. Instead, your goal should be to help your sponsors create experiences for attendees so they can use engagement to meet their marketing goals. Customized packages and sponsorship letters are the way to go.
It shouldn’t be about levels like an Olympic awards ceremony, but instead opportunities based on objectives. Instead of gold, silver and bronze, your packages should tell a sponsor what they will achieve such as “Lead Generation”, “Brand Recognition” or “Experiential Marketing.” These categories define a purpose and meet the needs of marketing strategies instead of simply insinuating the cost. In other words, there is more to the sales process than sending out hundreds of sponsorship letters, hoping to make a sale.
Customized packages provide customized ideas that make sponsorship investment worthwhile. Today’s conference attendees want to be wowed and expect more than the curtained booths
and aisles of tables with loudspeakers blasting pop tunes to attract attention. Instead, you want to create exhibits that shout, “Here’s a new experience!” so attendees see they are getting what they paid for.
Experiential marketing should play large in your offerings, with ideas based on the latest technology such as projection mapping to create new worlds, social media walls for people to see their posts in real-time, and AR experiences to allow people to immerse themselves in new experiences.
Even the venue can be reconsidered, straying away from the standard conference halls and hotels and exploring options in unexpected spaces such as museums or galleries, historical spaces, outdoor natural backdrops or something more relevant to the industry such as renting out an entire movie multiplex with different presentations in each theater and booths and other events in the halls and common areas. Think of ways to offer these improved venues and exhibits using sponsors to foot the bill.
Upgrade Exhibitors to Sponsors
When selling booth space, offer a special package that provides opportunities for exhibitors to become sponsors. Many exhibitors don’t realize this is an option or don’t see the value. Specially prepared packages specific to exhibitors adds an exclusive feel to the offering that can make the idea of sponsorship all the more enticing. Ask your exhibitors about their goals and how you can help them reach those goals through a customized package.
Create Experiences with Activations
Sponsorship activations are where the rubber hits the pavement. Thinking of new ways to engage sponsors and attendees is the best way to attract conference sponsorships. Creative activations could include:
Kick Up Speaking Opportunities
Avoid speeches and instead challenge sponsors to outdo each other. Have them share a stage to capture people’s imaginations, or simply ban the basic speaker gig. Focus on entertainment but ensure the goals of sharing important information are met. As long as speaking ops meet the needs of attendees, the sky is the limit with how sponsors choose to perform.
Include Authentic Props
While this sounds like something for a fan con event, you’d be surprised at how gaga people go over the chance to photograph themselves with some kind of iconic symbol. Encourage sponsors to come up with props that create fun experiences and keep people engaged. Some ideas might include creating an entire movie background from a movie, a throne or chair from a television series, authentic props such as fake weapons or costumes, karaoke singing to Mama Mia! etc.
Look for interesting entertainers you can include with sponsorships such as Cirque du Soleil type acrobats, glee club like singers, impersonators wandering the floor of the exhibits, magicians, comedians, dancers, etc.
Mini Stores & Eateries
This is convenient for attendees and provides a way for your sponsors to sell their wares. For a twist on this, allow sponsors who don’t actually sell products to set up some form of sponsored service to offer food and drink. They can get as extravagant as they want whether it is simply coffee with some chairs to lounge about, or a cocktail party complete with servers and trays of appetizers.
Social media is a key element of conferences today and can be leveraged in many different ways. You can run contests, have scavenger hunt events where people take their pictures at participating sponsor booths and post them to their social pages, have ongoing posts with free gifts for shares, etc. It’s all about the hashtags and exposure for your sponsors. You can also capture leads for sponsors using your feed to encourage attendees to share their contact info to be entered into contests, get a voucher for discounts or to get something free.
Sponsored Charging Station
People are draining their batteries all day and need somewhere to recharge. It can be completely free, or sponsors can ask people to provide contact info to plugin.
Always ask sponsors if there is something you haven’t thought of that they would like to try. If it sounds doable, let them pay to try it.
Avoid these Common Mistakes
Sometimes you might have a prospect that would be happy to sign but then you scare them away by making some common mistakes like:
- Eblasting your sponsorship packages without first making contact to learn more about what they might be interested in
- Offering basic packages that don’t inspire creative activations
- Not inviting prospects to participate in a brainstorming session to find out more about them and come up with customized ways they can participate
- Not being open to other sponsorship opportunities because they aren’t on your list
- Booking completely irrelevant sponsors or exhibits that have nothing to do with your event just because they are willing to pay to get in front of your audience
Remember your goal is to provide the best possible experience for your attendees. Everything you do when selling to exhibitors, booking speakers/talent and finding sponsors should have this objective in mind.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.