The most effective sponsorships are all about the attendee — the fan, the sponsor’s target market. If they don’t win over the attendee, the sponsorship may not be sustainable. The same could be said for the naming of your sponsorship levels. It’s time to reimagine the precious metal sponsorship categories — and unless you’re the International Association of Gems, it’s also time to retire Diamond, Ruby, Emerald and Sapphire levels, too.
As part of the competitive intelligence we gather for conferences, our team analyzes hundreds of sponsorship offerings. With few exceptions, when it comes to creativity and purpose baked into a conference’s sponsorship levels, we find a lot of sameness. As sponsorship expert Kim Skildum-Reid says, sponsors have grown weary of this traditional approach to sponsorship levels.
A Different Approach to Naming Sponsorship Levels
Dare to be different! Create more meaningful levels and name them in ways that make them stand out from the crowd.
Here are some examples of progressive conferences and how they handle the labeling of sponsorship levels:
- Solar Power — Terawatt, Gigawatt, Megawatt, Kilowatt
- Cancer Research — Cure, Progress, Promise (my favorite one)
- Grain World — Driving Partners, Innovators, Leaders, Experts
- BIO — Double Helix, Helix, Premier
- Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) — Summa cum laude, Magna cum laude, Honor Roll, Dean’s List
- Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) — Featured, Collaborating, Contributing
- American Accounting Association (AAA) — Premier, Partner, Supporter
Another approach considers attendee-centric categories that point to the type of sponsorship. For traditional conferences, this might be “Education Champion” or “Experience Enhancers.” If you adopt this methodology, you’ll want to list the sponsors from largest to smallest for each type.
Sponsorship Menu, Packaging and Level Attainment
Another challenge with most sponsorship-level models is that the majority of their activations aren’t true sponsorship at all — they’re promotion or advertising. Conference attendees are not moved by investments in on-site branding like banners, clings, wraps, signs, or collateral. If the majority of your spend is in these areas, I predict it will steadily decline.
Instead, embrace a model where a la carte sponsorship menu items are used in combination to attain various levels. Once those levels are hit, there should be other benefits/activation for the sponsor that can include on-site branding. Don’t offer on-site branding alternatives on an a la carte basis to sponsors who do not qualify for the top two or three levels.
Each year be sure to evaluate your sponsorship inventory. If you’re not selling 75 percent or more of what is offered, change it up. The most effective inventory will be something that aligns with what matters to attendees: something they consume, appreciate, take home, share, apply or that aligns with their passions and values. Additionally, the attendee will be helped personally or professionally, entertained, engaged, surprised, made to feel like a VIP, nourished, or become more connected as a result of the sponsor’s activation.
Attendee-mattering sponsorships add to the event’s value proposition and have an impact on what the attendee does, feels, or what they actually get out of their experience. They have the power to improve attitudes and behaviors toward a brand.
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2017
How has your organization used attendee-mattering sponsorships? Why do organizations continue to sell and sponsors continue to buy pure promotion and advertising sponsorships when they rarely have any affect on attendees?