Conference Investors Crave Strategic Sponsorships: Will You Satisfy Them?


There’s a major shift going on.

An increasing number of conference and trade show investors are scaling back on booth space and shifting that spend to sponsorships. It’s a ripe opportunity for organizers to diversify their conference business model.

The Shift To Strategic Sponsorships

There’s another shift that has even greater ramifications for conference and trade show industry.

Today’s sponsorship buyer is far more sophisticated about sponsorship strategy.

They’re less inclined to want to purchase logo noise (placement) and other promotions typically offered by conferences. They want more strategic sponsorships that matter. Sponsorships that will help them move the needle with their target market.

They’re also demanding stronger proof of performance. Just counting the number of eyeballs or minutes on stage is no longer enough.

A Closer Look at Sponsorship Trends

IEG leads the way in analyzing the sponsorship market. Here are a few highlights from their The State of Association Sponsorship survey, exploring how associations market and sell sponsorships:

  • Increased Sponsorship Revenues
    75% of respondents reported an increase in sponsorship revenue.
  • Sponsorship Staffing Challenges
    While sponsors seek more ROI support, there are staffing challenges. Nearly one-fourth of respondents have less than one full-time staff member selling and/or supporting sponsorships.
  • Revenue Performance Is Linked With Sponsorship Staff Size
    There’s a strong correlation between sponsorship sales staff size and revenue performance. The majority of successful sponsorship sellers (41%) had 2-3 full-time staff dedicated to sales & fulfillment.

IEG’s What Sponsors Want From Partners report identifies a few more emerging trends:

  • Exclusivity Is Top Wish
    Category Exclusivity ranks at the top of the sponsor benefits wish list. IEG defines Category Exclusivity as naming rights or the only company within their product or service category associated with the sponsorship.
  • Measuring ROI/ROO Most Valued By Sponsorship Sellers
    Assistance measuring ROI/ROO moved from 4th to 1st most valued service from sponsorship sellers
  • Sponsorship Sellers Fall Short On ROI Measurement
    73% shared that sponsorship sellers are falling short on ROI measurement.
  • Social Media Activates Sponsorships
    Social Media is now the #1 channel for activating sponsorships (90%).

Four Ways to Boost Sponsorship Revenue

Conference and trade show sponsorship will continue to be a significant revenue growth category. Here are four recommendations to consider as you fine-tune your 2015 conference sponsorship strategy:

1. Improve Your Aim With A Concise Target List

Fewer/Bigger sponsors is a key attribute of all successful programs. Focus the majority of your sales efforts on major investors who are a strong fit with your conference audience, especially considering the amount of time and effort it takes to sign on new sponsors.

Consider the following questions: Who’s already investing in your event? How might you fine-tune and grow that investment for the triple win: Attendee, Sponsor and you?

Scan sponsor lists from competitors to identify new targets. Get clear on points of differentiation and seek your sponsor’s ideas for your customized proposal.

2. Leverage Relationships To Launch Conversations With New Investors

Share your sponsorship target list with senior staff, partners and volunteer leaders. Have them identify existing C-Level relationships that can be tapped to open doors for new conversations. Major sponsorship investments rarely, if ever, come from persistent cold calling. Asking leaders to open doors and accompany sales on a first round of discovery conversations can ignite sales and close rates. Remember, you’ll want to meet with the budget makers, not spenders.

3. Organize Around Your Sponsor’s Objectives, Not Your Products

For top tier sponsor targets, skip the prospectus. Instead, learn more about them and their critical objectives for the next 12 months. Create two to three of customized packages that align with their objectives. Then pick one that you recommend and explain why.

4. Discuss Sponsorship Activation And ROI Measurement

You’ll need to have a conversation about ROI measurement early. How will your sponsor measure success? How can you help them prepare proof of performance to share up the ladder?

Once they sign on the dotted line, coach them on how to best activate and leverage their investment. If they sponsor a keynote, find one that aligns with their values, mission or expertise and meets the audiences’ needs. Then you can position the sponsors as thought leaders instead of funders.

Here’s a benchmark to remember: best-in-class sponsors invest at least $1 in activation for every dollar spent on the sponsorship. Ask them to share their activation plans and develop additional strategies to amplify that plan. The better the activation, them more likely the renewal.

Make no mistake, sponsorships are your single best revenue growth play for 2015.

What recommendations would you add to this list to help us all have a more successful year? What legacy sponsorship sales tactics should we scale back or eliminate?    

Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on Cvent Event Planning blog. ©2015.

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