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Reinventing the Sponsorship Model

Q&A with PCMA’s Tonya Almond, CMP

The Professional Convention Management Association’s vice president of knowledge and experience design, Tonya Almond, CMP, brought a boatload of new ideas to fruition at January’s Convening Leaders event. It was her first time orchestrating the convention, which is known for testing new ideas in meeting design. Innovations at the meeting included the strategic use of aromatherapy in public areas, deploying untraditional seating for main stage events (stage in middle and seating on two sides), and brokering dozens of innovative hallway activations for sponsors. Convening Leaders has never had a trade show and doesn’t want one, Almond points out, so the challenge is how to integrate sponsors into the fabric of the meeting.

What was the feedback from this year’s sponsor activations throughout the convention center’s public areas? 

It was a risk but a calculated one, and overall, partners and sponsors were pleased with the results of being able to connect with the participants in a different way and create lasting impressions. The attendee feedback was positive, too. With all the different opportunities to interact throughout the day, they felt like the party never ended. 

Was there any metric used to gauge the effectiveness of each sponsor’s activation?

We did use beacon technology throughout the event, not only for continuing-education tracking but also to gauge how long participants lingered at certain lounges and activities. Some of the partners wanted more data and chose to use lead retrieval as well. Many of the partners had either a drink or food or a giveaway, and they were able to track the usage in that way. We worked with the partners so that each activation wasn’t simply about providing a cup of coffee, and they were all willing to get creative.

 Will this concept be used at the next Convening Leaders?Any tweaks?

Yes, we are always in a design phase and iterating on that product. Participants will see a similar concept, however we have different opportunities with the space at [San Francisco’s] Moscone South. And, of course, there are always lessons learned from each meeting about how we can be more effective for our partners and our participants. 

Any tips to share with other meeting organizers regarding innovative sponsorship programs?

Everyone is searching for ways to provide the best return on investment for sponsors and to truly partner with them. Sponsors want to create meaningful experiences for the participants as a way to activate their brands and to capture the attention of the overwhelmed audience. Meeting participants are always in a hyper state of activity—with work, personal lives, and the constant availability of messaging from their phones—so it takes a bit of creativity to get them to stop and take notice.

I believe the best advice is to listen to your partners and sponsors. Have the conversation and ask the question about what’s important to them. Then create the opportunities to match what will be a better experience for your participants and will enhance your event overall. True partnership is bringing together industry and thought leadership and embracing the innovations that can be sparked from the collaboration.

Activate This! How to Design a Next-Level Event Sponsorship Program
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