John Zeltin     Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
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Sponsorship Strategy and Execution

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In this article we will explore sponsorship options, how to define and identify the value and then how to best utilize them to benefit your organization and support its brand in the market place.

Sponsorships can be divided into two large categories, B2C or Business to Consumer and B2B or Business to Business.  We see examples of B2C every day including sponsorship of sporting events and teams,  naming rights on stadiums,  and NASCAR just to name a few.  B2B sponsorships usually are connected with industry conferences, trade shows and originate with conference organizers and major trade and professional associations.  B2B sponsorship is our focus in this module. 

The sponsorship options are numerous and are usually tiered according to the exposure received and the sponsorship benefits.  Before even considering the options it is important to determine whether you want your company to be associated with the conference, trade show and the organization marketing the sponsorship.  There are reputable organizations looking for conference sponsors and ones that are not so reputable.  It is important to take your time in making a decision to research the organization, its track record and beware of high pressure tactics.   With few exceptions it is advisable to not go with a brand new organization or conference.   It is difficult to value a sponsorship if there is no track record to look at so signing up becomes a leap of faith and a risk.

There are two general categories of sponsorships, partnerships versus trade show or conference focused.   A typical partnership is with a professional or trade organization which offers benefits that can stretch throughout the year.   One organization of financial executives offers such a partnership which is category exclusive and offers regular meetings with the organizationís leadership, speaking engagements at the annual conference, the opportunity to host webinars and access to the membership through local chapters and so on.   These types of sponsorships can have great value if they afford access to members who are decision makers on your products and services. They present an opportunity to form a strategic alliance with an industry organization important to your business and are sometimes category specific so your competitors are locked out.  The cost for these sponsorships can be significant and run over six figures depending on the organization.

The second is the trade show and conference focused sponsorship which is what we see most often.  The sponsorship options are numerous and at all price ranges.  We have seen some trade shows or industry conferences where just about every activity or item is available for sponsorship, including breakfasts, coffee breaks, luncheons and dinners.   In addition, segments of the program can be sponsored such as keynote speakers, general sessions and workshops.  Items such as conference bags, name badge lanyards,   pads and pens, water bottles and so on are all available for sponsorship.  Package sponsorships are available under such categories as gold, silver and bronze.   The above options come with a wide range of costs depending on how much exposure is included and the number of benefits such as free exhibit space and conference registrations.   As some specific examples, sponsorship of badge lanyards could run a few thousand dollars while sponsoring a luncheon at a major industry conference and trade show with a few introductory remarks by a company executive could run $100K and up.    You see these types of high ticket sponsorships at major industry conferences with attendance in the thousands.

Sponsorships can deliver significant value to a company by enhancing image and visibility in the market place, relationships with important industry organizations and opportunities for value add benefits. The important thing to remember is that the sponsorship will reflect on your companyís brand and should be consistent with your objectives.  Most organizations offering sponsorship use conference websites, and printed programs and signage or banners onsite to offer exposure for their sponsors.  There is often a link to the sponsoring companyís website on the website and during the conference recognition from the podium.  One organization produces banners each year for its sponsors with the level of sponsorship and the number of years they have sponsored at the conference.   This kind of exposure helps to foster the image of the sponsors as supporters of the organization and major players in the industry. 

If your clients and prospects belong to an industry specific organization which offers them educational conferences,  professional designations,  opportunities for networking and so on they will have a very positive view of companies who support their organization through  sponsorships.  It may also open opportunities to access the membership in additional ways such as partnerships in producing white papers, surveys on industry trends and educational programs that will enhance the image of your company as an industry knowledge leader.

The terms of a sponsorship are often negotiable and as a part of the deal free conference registrations and exhibit space, speaking slots for your company executives and pre-conference registration lists can sometimes be negotiated.  Access to registration lists is generally more widely seen in US based conferences and shows and less in Europe where there are stricter privacy laws.

As an example in a breakfast sponsorship,  the sponsoring organization invited key clients and prospects and got the conference organizers to get the conference keynote speaker and well known economist to show up and take Q&A from the attendees. This made the attendees feel special and enhanced the value of the event. The corporate sponsor got the conference registration list in advance which enabled them to circulate to internal teams and identify important customers and prospects attending. They organized table seating at the breakfast to seat the prospects and clients with their sales and account representatives creating a valuable relationship building opportunity.

   At some major industry conferences and trade shows, sponsors get points depending on the level of their sponsorship which can be used to get preferred location for exhibits on the trade show floor.   This is particularly valuable for major shows with many exhibit booths where location in the main traffic flow is so important.    

If your company is a well recognized brand, your appearance as a conference sponsor has value to the organizer to attract other sponsors.  You can use this in negotiating the terms of the sponsorship and the benefits offered.

Sponsorships can provide significant benefits for your company if viewed as a part of your organizationís marketing and event strategy and planned that way.   It helps to have some specific outcomes in mind in considering a sponsorship.  For example, exhibiting at the trade show provides the opportunity to generate leads for new business and accelerating the sales cycle for leads already in the pipeline.  Adding a sponsorship can generate more visibility, position your company as an industry leader and help drive traffic to the exhibit booth.  A company at a recent international show sponsored the VIP Lounge on the second floor which overlooked the trade show floor and its booth.  They had the opportunity to invite clients and key prospects to access the lounge which included a large banner with the company logo at the entrance as well as company logos inside the lounge itself.   The lounge helped create visibility for the company and drive traffic to its exhibit booth. .

Would your company be conspicuous by its absence?    This might be the case if all your major competitors participate as major conference sponsors and your organization is not represented.  When considering if competitors are sponsoring, beware of high pressure tactics from conference companies who drop the names of your competitors into their sales pitch to try to get you to sign up.  It is advisable to be extra cautious when this happens.  

Well established industry organizations will usually have a sponsorship prospectus which will offer valuable information on the benefits of sponsorship and demographics on the audience, their job titles and where they come from.

There are several options for measuring the benefits of a sponsorship.   One of the most common is impressions or how many of your industry representatives will see that you are a conference sponsor through the conference website, social media, the conference program and other vehicles.   Feedback from your team attending the conference and benefits flowing from the sponsorship such as free conference registrations and speaking opportunities are others.  You can total up the free registrations to create a hard dollar number of the economic benefit.   Finally, you can ask for feedback from clients and prospects via questionnaires.  Measurements with hard data are always a challenge but are increasingly important to justify expenditures.

Another option is to gain feedback at your booth from conference attendees via a questionnaire on how they viewed your sponsorship and the impact it had on their impression of your company.   There are companies you can retain who will assemble the questionnaire with your input, hire the staff to administer them and develop a summary of the results.

What are some of the best practices you should observe when working with sponsorships?

  • Plan early as the best sponsorships at major industry conferences go first and you will have more to select from.

  • Review the sponsorship prospectus carefully to identify the extent of the exposure you will get and the demographics of the audience.

  • Consider the terms negotiable and donít hesitate to ask for more benefits such as free conference registrations.
    Research the organization offering the sponsorship to make sure they are reputable and one you want to be associated with.

  • Be particularly careful if the offer is coming from a private conference organizer and it is the first conference of its kind.

  • Make sure your team is fully briefed on the sponsorship and the rationale for making the investment.

  • Take full advantage of the exposure by getting requested information such as company logo, website links and description of services to the conference organizers within specified deadlines.

  • Use your leverage as a conference sponsor to get benefits such as pre-conference registration lists and speaking slots on the program.

  • Offset the cost of the sponsorship by negotiating free conference registrations for your team attending the conference to offer to clients and prospects.

Sponsorships can be a powerful part of your trade show and branding strategy and raise your visibility in the market place.   They take you beyond exhibiting, as clients and prospects view your organization as a major player in the industry and a supporter of education, networking and professional development and a knowledge leader.  You can also forge partnerships and ongoing relationships with industry organizations important to your business.  Finally, it is important to select wisely, and consider sponsorship within your overall industry engagement strategy.       

© 2015 by John Zeltin