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Six best practices for the art and science of negotiating and maintaining conference sponsorships.

Pulling off a successful conference of any significant size takes time, energy, know-how, and more than a little luck. But it also takes money. Capital is the lifeblood of any high-quality event, and in many cases, that means sponsorship dollars.

Sponsorships often have a greater impact on the bottom line than registrations and exhibit sales, and they can be a financial backstop when traditional revenue sources are off. But securing them is easier said than done. Here are six best practices to consider when creating sponsorship opportunities for your next event:

1. Know Your Audience
Sponsorship sales are more art than science. Because every event is different, it’s important to be both realistic and strategic, adjusting your approach based on the circumstances of your specific event. Understanding your audience is essential. What is unique or interesting about your event? Who would benefit from an association with your brand and visibility with your attendees?

2. Run the numbers
Pricing appropriately is a common struggle for those new to sponsorship negotiations. Carefully consider how these factors may affect how potential partners view your event:
Competition. Sponsors only have so many resources. Recognize when there are competing events that could impact your pricing scale.
Audience. Demographics matter—and so do the raw numbers. How many people will be in attendance? Will the event be streamed online?
Intangibles. Understanding what motivates the decision makers is where the art comes in. What meetings or connections would help them build their brand or business? Intangibles like exposure and engagement with certain parties (and the fear of missing out when your competitors are there) can be potent incentives.

3. Build Relationships
When exploring new sponsorship opportunities, avoid being transactional. Instead, build relationships. Talk to potential sponsors. More importantly, listen to them. Consider their priorities and perspectives and work to meet their needs and address their concerns. This will allow you to build a durable—and possibly lucrative—partnership over time.

One of the most common mistakes is over-pricing. A big number may lose you a sponsor for your current event, and close doors for the future. So, don’t get tunnel vision: The long-term value of a sponsor relationship may be much more important than just that front-end price tag. Also, be sure to track direct expenses as you calculate pricing so the sponsorship fee yields net revenue to the event.

4. Make It Memorable
The sponsorship landscape among events is competitive. Getting top sponsors and top dollar often means proving that you and your event can go above and beyond to make things special. Creative, experiential, and interactive activations can build appeal and help create memorable impressions. At the same time, you need to recognize the competitive challenges of online and digital programming that can generate brand excitement for a fraction of the cost of sponsoring a big event. Events need to fight fire with fire, by leveraging online engagement with social media and other digital integrations.

5. Stay Involved
Once an event sponsor is secured, some event organizers hand the relationship over to a fulfillment team. However, the person who secured the sponsorship should be prepared to remain closely involved. While the nature of that involvement will vary, staying hands-on can be a critical factor in the long-term viability of the sponsorship. Again, it’s vital to demonstrate genuine interest in the sponsor and their success.

6. Show Your Work
Finally, make sure you show the value of your event sponsorships. Hard data and reports are important. But proof of concept and execution are equally essential. Great results and happy sponsors are the building blocks of a strong and enduring sponsorship relationship.

Tavi Fulkerson, founder of The Fulkerson Group, is well recognized as a sponsorship sales expert. Driving value for clients and sponsors, Tavi and her team are dedicated to providing results that make notable, world-class events a success.


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