As a vendor with a product built around the ability to create sponsorship opportunities, we did a tremendous amount of research to determine what drives this boat...
From our research, there were two schools of thought:
1. The traditional sense of sponsorships was to find ways to offset the costs of event line items in exchange for giving brand or name recognition through association. Prior to 9/11 and the volume of accounting scandals, this was a common practice. Companies were willing to associate themselves with coffee breaks, and shuttle bus banners just for the exposure. Room keys, random giveaways and other loosely associated items have also been associated with this category. In an interesting sidebar, the squeeze ball with the logo that is supposed to relieve you of stress, actually has a reverse effect for an attendee. When drilling down, they actually associate the word stress with the company providing the giveaway.
With the larger items, sponsors proposed conditions such as the ability to give a short speech in exchange for being the big gala grand patron. Many have found this short word quickly turned into a full-blown infomercial and turned the audience off. So the lesson learned here was to offer greater
flexibility to gain the sponsorship dollars but still retain control over the microphone.
There is also the traditional sponsorship package where based on various levels, you were able to gain exposure through a number of avenues that included publications, website banners, session breaks and lobby signage. Again, all that is offered provides a one-sided exposure vehicle with no accountability.
2. The non-traditional sponsorship programs are being built around the new paradigm that exhibitors, companies and vendors are looking for measurable ROI. If I exhibit in your show, can you tell me how many actual attendees will fit my demographic requirements? If you sell me a bus banner, what can
you provide in terms of exposure numbers that can be audited? If I buy a banner ad on your website, will you be able to tell me how many attendees visited the site and how many clicked on that banner? If I sponsor your education sessions, what are the topics being presented and how many of them fall within my specific business channel?
If you can demonstrate these values through registration and polling, what will a sponsor be willing to pay for such a targeted opportunity? Our research indicated that they are willing to pay a great deal for this.
The first model is the current model built and promoted by most event organizers. They incorporate internal incentives to the sales and marketing force and push on the association membership base to fulfill these items. In some years, the event draws good support and in other years the size and scope of the program is scaled back.
The second model is a growing trend, especially as purchasing departments become more involved in the spending process. They want accountability. They want independent audits to backup the sales pitch. Purchasing agents work less on relationships and more on price and terms.
Here are some other interesting things we found out:
1. Many organizations will only allow sponsorships from participating exhibitors and active members. This means that (example) even through everyone in your organization uses a cell phone, the organization would not allow Nextel to sponsor something because they are not exhibiting.
2. Many organizations did do extensive data mining of their registered attendees that would clearly define their needs and buying capabilities, but considered this data to be an asset of the organization and would be reluctant to pass this along to the exhibitors and/or sponsors.
3. Most event producers do not look at sponsorship sales as an equal to print advertising sales where sales are built around an editorial calendar. They often fail to coordinate with the conference education planner to find companies who would be interested in associating themselves with relevant content.
4. Most organizations can't find a qualified, dedicated sponsorship sales person. More importantly, commissioned space sales people are not willing to give up this potential revenue source even through they find it hard to mix the two products together. In other cases where non-profits are involved, there are no commissions available at all and they rely on volunteers to handle the sales effort.
5. Like the reduction in exhibit presence going on throughout the country, companies are understanding that larger is not always better. Creating a blanket effect over an event with scattered sponsorships, directory ads, web links, giveaways and other non-accountable expenses are giving way to highly targeted marketing opportunities and they are willing to pay a much higher price for something guaranteed.
6. This is not a position that can be easily filled by a space sales person. It requires an understanding of the event, the content, the attendee's needs and the company's who are willing to pay for the right to demonstrate products and services that fill those needs. Sponsor sales is more of a customized effort that needs to first determine what is needed before attempting to fill that need.
7. Unless it has been determined by the accounting department as a key tax incentive, the philanthropic sponsorship is dying a slow death.
Selling sponsorships just for the sake of paying off various expense line items of an event is loosing its appeal. First determine your value proposition, then determine who would best gain from this type of
association and finally, determine how you are going to prove this to a prospective sponsor. Armed with this material and sales will become much easier regardless of who is selling.
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