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Rethinking conference sponsorships

Jeffrey Cufaude got me thinking with a post about how the current form of conference sponsorship may not be giving sponsors the bang for their buck that it once did. While there is evidence that sponsorships are still growing, they're not growing as fast as they used to. Is it time for a sponsorship reboot?

I think Jeffrey's right, we have been trained to ignore 90 percent of the signs and banners, room drops and lanyards that have become so ubiquitous as to become background noise at most conferences. I've heard a lot in recent years about organizations moving from standalone conference sponsorships to more year-round, multiple touch point programs that include visibility in the organization's magazine, e-newsletters, Web sites, special interest groups, etc. But just because there are more touch points in this type of program, is it really more effective than one-offs at the conference?

What I think might work are sponsorships that integrate what the sponsors do with what the attendees want to learn, like a tech company putting together and staffing a lab where people can learn about their genre of technology (not just their products). Something that gets hands-on and allows the sponsor to show, not tell, about their expertise, not just tout their financial support (as appreciated as I'm sure that is). Maybe more product theaters could help? For some industries, maybe they can emulate the entertainment business and incorporate product placement into various aspects of a conference, though the thought makes me want to weep.

Or maybe it makes sense to go back to the old style of sponsorship, where for a price one (or a select few) sponsor gets to brand everything. While that would make more of an impact, I'm not sure that's the way we want to go.

OK sponsorship gurus, what can we do to revamp the sponsorship model to make sponsorships more meaningful? Or should we instead be looking to find other ways to fund our meetings?

Update: I had forgotten about Dave Lutz's excellent recent post on just this topic, with ideas on how you can leverage and activate exhibitor and sponsor dollars.

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