Sponsorship Needs to Be More Than Banners and Clings


Sponsorship is the most powerful form of marketing. When done well, it can change participants’ attitudes and behaviors about a brand. Banners, ads, signs and enhanced listings shouldn’t be lumped into the same category — they don’t make that emotional connection.

Recently I’ve received invitations to attend webinars and download industry research reports and articles all aimed to help conference and show organizers grow sponsorship revenue. Problem is, when you dig into these resources, you find that they are more focused on print and digital advertising than true sponsorship. Our industry must get more sophisticated to seize this opportunity.

Three Attributes of Effective Activation

Banners, column wraps and clings do not lead to action or appreciation of a brand. That’s not to say that they serve no purpose. Instead, they should be bundled as part of a larger package as opposed to being sold a la carte. There are three primary traits of an effective sponsorship activation:

  • Choice — attendees should be able to opt-in or opt-out. If the sponsorship is forced on them, ROI will not be achieved for the sponsor, organizer or participant.
  • Do or Feel — attendees should be able to interact with, consume, share or appreciate the sponsorship activation. Some of the more innovative sponsorships will align with the passion or values of the attendees.
  • Mattering — participants should get something out of this: They may be entertained, educated, surprised, awarded, helped, satisfied or become more connected. Mattering can include attendee experience enhancers like a charging station, free Wi-Fi, food and beverage offerings or a give-away that attendees value.

“Would You Like Fries with that Booth?”

Most of what our industry is selling is what I like to call booth-plus — or “Would you like fries with that booth?”— opportunities. It’s not sponsorship but a worthwhile marketing micro-investment for driving booth traffic. These opportunities often include enhanced booth listings, participation in a new product showcase, or an ad in print or digital publications. Most organizers can effectively sell these by offering them as a check-the-box, upsell opportunity during booth contracting.

Where possible, these opportunities should be integrated. Don’t sell enhanced listings on the mobile app that aren’t also applied to the website and print.

How to Organize Your Sales Team

Exhibitors and sponsors despise being hit up by multiple sources selling opportunities for your conference/show. In some cases, an association’s foundation team is competing against the expo/sponsor team and publication/advertising salespeople for the same sponsor’s dollars. While each product has its own P&L, your customers see it as an organization whose left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Instead of organizing around your products, coordinate your efforts around your customers — especially for your largest investors.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2019.

How have you made an emotional connection between your sponsor and attendee? Can you describe a surprise element that has delighted both the attendee and the sponsor?


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