Skip navigation

Tweaking Sponsorships: 3 Expert Perspectives

Association-event veterans discuss their approaches to determining sponsor-package elements and pricing, presenting new attendee touchpoints, and dealing with “parasite” companies operating outside the show.

With so much change in the post-pandemic convention and exhibition environment, associations must reassess and adapt what they offer to sponsors seeking to connect with attendees, which will help maintain a reliable revenue stream over the long term.

That was the jumping-off point for a conversation between three experienced association-event managers in a session titled “Rethinking Sponsorship Sales: Achieving Win-Win for All Parties” during the Professional Convention Management Association’s EduCon conference in June.

First, Karen Daniele, vice president of strategic services and accounts for event-marketing firm Nth Degree, referenced her experiences working with several shows, including the annual RSA Conference for cybersecurity professionals. For that event and others, Daniele says that “we try hard not to break up sponsor packages. As you market your packages, emphasize to prospects that each package was built to provide a sponsor with content, branding, and access” in a streamlined way.

AM0823SponsorsDaniele.pngTo keep sponsors focused on package offerings rather than using a one-off option, “make sure your prospectus shows the retail value of each package element,” says Daniele (in photo). “Then, price your top-level package at a 30-percent discount to the total of its a la carte costs; price mid-level packages at a 20-percent discount; and price entry-level packages at a 10-percent discount.” And if there are enough new or revised elements in the packages year over year, “don’t be afraid to rename all the packages to reset expectations.”

On the other hand, inventory control is critical for an association to maximize sponsor revenue. In other words, “keep some of the biggest opportunities outside of your packages—let a sponsor pay separately to own the theater for the night or to own a walkway to the educational sessions for a day.”

Varied Experiences Are Memorable
Amy Hitchcock, CMM, CMP, senior manager of operations for RSA Conference, has focused over the past two years on making attendee touchpoints with sponsors more impactful. For instance, the most recent RSA Conference featured diversions between the exhibit hall and the breakout rooms; they included a sponsor-branded area where musicians performed and another where dogs from a local shelter craved attention. “Touchpoints create a more holistic event, complementing the education and the show-floor experience” with opportunities for relaxed interaction, she says. “People remember those interesting moments and also post them to their social-media channels,” two results that sponsors value highly.

AM0823SponsorsHitchcock.pngOne recent trend that is helping Hitchcock (in photo) create new sponsor opportunities is the high number of vacant storefronts in many big cities. This year, she enlisted the convention and visitors bureau in her host destination to help her rent out available retail spaces between the convention center and her biggest room-block hotels. She then sold several sponsors on creating pop-up shops in those spaces. “They were offering coffee and snacks and using other activations, and it worked well,” she says. “We have our branding in each retail space too, so that attendees know it is connected to the show. The stores create a wider campus” because there’s no real disconnect between the convention center and the hotels.

Further, at the bigger room-block hotels, Hitchcock sold column wraps in the public spaces but added seating around the columns, keeping attendees in the lobby longer to chat or simply browse their phones—and the sponsor’s QR code was prominently placed on its column wrap.

Kristi Casale, CMP, DCMP, vice president of meetings and continuing education for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, says that “with more attendees bringing family to conventions to combine vacation with business travel, there might be opportunities for both event hosts and sponsors to serve them in unique ways.” This could include partnering with a local restaurant or attraction to run a contest or game and offer special deals or value-added elements to make a local experience, and the sponsor, more memorable.

Defending Against Parasites, Strategically
While on the topic of leveraging spaces outside the convention center for sponsors, Daniele from Nth Degree pointed out that “my people spend roughly 25 percent of their time [ahead of the show] ‘protecting our house,’ or dealing with parasites”—companies that establish a presence near the show without buying an exhibit booth or sponsorship. “They cannot be attendees and we block them from our hotels too,” Daniele says, while Hitchcock adds that “we make sure to control certain areas right outside the convention center so the parasites can’t use them to interact with attendees.”

On the other hand, Daniele notes that “we’re not afraid to be proactive and offer to meet with them to see what they need and want. And a lot of times, they are not even aware that what they are doing is hurting us by taking attendees away from the show a few at a time.” Some of these companies are persuaded to become exhibitors or sponsors of the show, she says.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.