Let me start by saying that I hate the term “sponsor summit.” When people hear it they think of a hugely expensive, over the top, highly formal, high-pressure sales event. Sponsor summits are NEVER high-pressure sales events and they are only as formal as you want them to be. You can hold any type of summit that fits your brand and your partners…as long as you hold it at least once a year, every year. No exceptions.
Some common reactions and excuses I hear from clients about the summit are:
- No budget: This has a simple solution. Divide the cost of a summit across all of your sponsorship opportunities and bill your sponsors!
- No time: Then do less of something else. The summit will actually save you time because it helps you sell your sponsorship packages a full year in advance.
- My sponsors will see it as useless/wasteful/extravagant: First, make sure you make is useful, don’t go over the top and don’t make it extravagant. Second, have one and at the end of the event ask your sponsors if they think it was a waste of time.
- Not sure how: This is the easiest solution of them all! Read this blog post or hire someone to run it for you.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of summits: Small, medium and large. Highly technical stuff, I know.Let’s dive in and look at all three styles in detail:
Let’s dive in and look at all three styles in detail:
The Full-On Summit: The Beast
This is the type of event everyone thinks of when they hear the words “sponsor summit.” These events are exclusive, invite only, typically involve a keynote speaker (or two), are almost always off-site in a swanky location and can last more than one day. The entire cost of the event is on you, the organizer, including travel expenses.
These are a blend of professional development, recognition, high-level networking and research/market testing your sponsorship assets. Throughout the event, there is a combination of structured programming and one-on-one meetings with your leadership and your sponsors.
To be honest, if you should be running one of these events…you already are! Or you are running a mid-sized event and want to upgrade. These types of summits are challenging and complicated to run and require significant skill to balance between valuable programming, thought leadership and market testing.
Choose this type of summit if:
- You are a sports team, major national charity, major building or facility
- You sell six and seven-figure sponsorship packages
- You want to be seen as cutting edge and keeping up with (or bypassing) your competition
The Mid-Sized Summit: Formal Enough, Simple Enough…Good Enough
Don’t let the title fool you, this is not a consolation prize. This summit is right for all sorts of organizations. If you are running millions in sponsorship, have a widely recognized brand and have CEOs in your Rolodex (does anyone use a Rolodex anymore?) don’t run this type of summit. If you are everybody else, this is the one for you (unless the third option makes more sense, that is).
This type of summit is somewhere between two to four hours, typically has one speaker of note, who is likely well known in your industry of focus only (and totally unrecognizable outside of the industry). These events are a combination of food, networking, group work, Q&A and thought leadership.
This is your chance to show your most important prospects and sponsors that you value them as insiders. Give them information that nobody else gets until it’s released to the public and give them access to your leadership in a group format. This is a great option if you run a major conference or event that attracts all of your sponsors (or at least, your most important sponsors) and attracts your leadership. The event costs are on you but travel is not, since you are tacking onto an event that they plan to attend anyway.
Choose this type of summit if:
- You sell sponsorship at the five and six-figure level
- You have a major event bringing sponsors and leadership together
- You’ve never done a summit before and you want to try out the concept in a fairly low-risk environment
The Summit Over Easy: Small, Simple and Effective Breakfast Summit
It should be clear at this point that I am making up the names of each type of sponsor summit! This one is so named because it lends itself perfectly to a low-key breakfast event. You can run several of these in key geographies across the country, or world, depending on where your sponsors are located.
They can be small focus groups of five or they can max out at 30 people. You can invite local people of note or run these events yourself. Share some insider knowledge and invite feedback and brainstorming from the group about your sponsorship offerings and ideas they have seen work for others.
These events are a breeze to run, cost a few hundred dollars and are a goldmine of information. I worked with a client and rewrote their entire sponsorship strategy based on one event just like this. The result was an increase of $150,000 in revenue. In exchange for a $1,200 breakfast? I would call that a result!
Choose this type of summit if:
- You sell sponsorship. That’s right, everybody should be doing these events. Even if you offer the giant sponsor summit, your sponsors will love a few of these sprinkled through the year.
- You don’t have a signature event or conference that attracts all of your sponsors and leadership.
Sponsor Summit Best Practices
Sponsors love these events and you should make sure that you are open and clear about who gets invited and use it as a bargaining tool. Maybe you will choose to invite only the top 20% of your sponsors, maybe you will only invite the top 5%. The choice is yours but make sure you use it! I have personally upgraded sponsors by $10,000 just so that they could come to the sponsor summit. Access to your leadership and to other high-level sponsors is priceless and you should treat it as such.
When you run events like this, you are not trying to sell anything. This is all about recognition, access and information gathering. If your sponsors make the time to attend, open up about their marketing goals and take the time to tell you want they like and don’t like, you have to deliver. Make sure you’re ready to make the changes they request.
For the highest level sponsors, offer them a private meeting, behind closed doors with your most senior leadership and thought leaders in your community. A chance to talk about trends and best practices without any competitors in the room. When you offer this kind of access, going way beyond simple logo placement, your sponsors will think long and hard about walking away from a partnership with your organization.
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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