Event Marketing Part II
Securing Event Sponsorship

sponsored conference
Photo by Official GDC

This is the second in a multi-part series on using events as an avenue for marketing your brand, product, or industry. For part one in the series, start here.

World-class events are expensive affairs. In many cases, admission prices alone aren’t sufficient to cover the costs of renting a venue, employing a support staff, printing collateral, and paying keynote speakers. Enter: the event sponsor. Event sponsors aren’t mere philanthropists; they’re savvy brands who understand the value of reaching their target market in highly concentrated settings. Identify the synergies between your event and a brand’s own marketing goals, and you’ve identified the key to an enthusiastic sponsorship.

Step 1: Characterize Your Demographic

Before you approach a potential sponsor, it’s imperative that you come prepared with the answer their number one question: Who will be there? The more information you can provide, the better. Consider gathering the following demographics:

  • Occupations/Positions
  • Companies Represented
  • Places of Residence
  • Levels of Education
  • Ages
  • Income Levels
    We realized you’re unlikely to have access to actual numbers. Instead, cite an industry standard range for the occupations in attendance.

In persuading potential sponsors, keep in mind that you’re competing not just with other events, but with other types of advertising as well. Marketing managers want assurance that sponsorship will help them reach the demographics they’re targeting. The more you can tell them, the better. Gather the information above into a one-pager that they can quickly ingest. If you have a specific attendee list already gathered, include that as well, with confirmed and prospective attendees identified separately.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget about your future audience.

Modern events can’t be put in a box, or confined to a conference room. The potential reach of a single keynote address in the digital age could exceed the entire population of a single country. Consider the views that a single TED talk receives. Ken Robinson’s discussion of creativity within schools earned 45 million views. The typical TED attendee is a wealthy innovator or market leader. But consider the likely demographic of many of those views. Teachers. In defining your demographics for potential sponsors, don’t forget about the future reach and audience that online videos, podcasts and the like will have.

Step 2: Define The Relationship

There are essentially two kinds of event rainmakers: sponsors and partners. A sponsor is primarily purchasing name association. In exchange for an investment in your event, a sponsor receives name and logo placement in event collateral, such as full-page spreads within programs, on-screen mentions, and social mentions. Sponsors may wish to put specific messages in front of your attendees, such as relevant product offerings or promotional announcements.

Partners, on the other hand, act as collaborators in the planning or execution of the event. Think of a partnership as sharing the stage with a brand. An example of a synergistic partnership might be a university that offers a venue and tenured professors for keynotes in exchange for brand equity or esteem from attendees. As such, partnerships should require higher investment than traditional sponsorship, and have clear expectations of both requirements from the partner and offerings for the partner. Examples include:

  • Cross-Promotion: Use your event channels to promote the brand and message of your partner on your social channels, website, etc. and require the partner to do the same for the event. Write and design content for them to use for easy promotion.
  • Attendee Recruitment: Partners should be given a select number of complimentary passes, while also using their personal networks to identify paid attendees.
  • Event Content: From keynote speakers to industry panels and classroom workshops, tap into your partner’s talent and knowledge bases to craft content for your event.

Step 3: Give Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse

For would-be sponsors and partners, this is where the rubber meets the road. Picture a meeting between a marketing manager and a company CFO. The marketing manager sees a great alignment of values between their company and the event you’re planning. Now, they just need to convince the CFO that it’s worth the investment. What can you offer that will make a skeptical, numbers-driven colleague believe that their investment will earn a return? Your task has two elements: design a sponsorship package that offers recognition and reach, while pricing it at a level that is both affordable for the brand and lucrative for you.

Exhibit Space

As brands have shifted in recent years to almost universally virtual interaction with customers, human touch has become more valuable than ever. Brands recognize their need for customers to put faces with their name, and many will jump at the chance to do so effectively. Exhibitor space should come at a premium, or be reserved for your top tier of sponsors. Brands’ favorite event planners are those who provide them with the following in preparation for their live exhibit:

  • Accurate dimensions of space
  • Options for tables, chairs, and table coverings
  • Event access for a sufficient number of representatives
  • Access to power
  • Fast and accessible wifi
  • Advanced disclosure of height limitations
  • Advanced establishment of any food & drink limitations
  • Permission to distribute swag in gift bags
  • Opportunity to give away raffle prizes or participate in a sponsor scavenger hunt
  • A/V equipment for showing video or audio content

Step 4: Show Them the Money

Now, it’s time to show your potential sponsors and partners the value of the opportunity at hand. As superficial as it sounds, that means characterizing value of your attendees in a dollar figure. No, we’re not talking about their inherent value. We’re talking about their true value to the brand. To find this number, first determine the amount of money an average attendee spends with the partner in a given year. At a conference of radiologists, for example, the value of a single new sale could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the manufacturer of an ultrasound machine.

Next, gather the size of the businesses that will be represented. Sure, the average attendee may not be spending millions of dollars personally, but if they’re tasked with identifying new vendors for a Fortune 500 corporation, getting their attention could be invaluable. What are their annual revenue and total headcount figures?

Finally, get personal. What motivates your attendees? Why are they coming? As mentioned before, there’s a big difference between a social networking party and a vendor research trip to the bottom lines of would-be sponsors. The more interested they are in what a brand has to offer, the more one will be willing to pay for the opportunity.

Outline all of your stats in a document that you can email easily to an interested party. Break the document down by event description, attendee snapshot, and sponsorship opportunities. Then identify marketing contacts at relevant brands, and give them your pitch. If you’re truly successful, you’ll be delivering an opportunity they’ll been searching for desperately.

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