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Whether you’re hosting a trade conference, wedding show or even charity event there’s a good chance that, in order to be profitable, you will have to get sponsors involved in proceedings. However, in many cases, that’s significantly easier said than done.
If your background is in event planning and organization perhaps the skills required to sell sponsorship don’t come naturally to you, but that’s no reason to resign yourself to failure, shaping the process slightly differently can deliver great results.
My background is in b2b digital marketing conferences, typically these events are paid for, in my sector ticket prices north of $1000 are very common, however, our events are nearly always free-to-attend, which means we’ve been incredibly reliant on sponsor funding. I hope you can learn a little from our successes and avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made over the years.
Your Sponsors are Your Customers
Typically when organizing events it’s easier to think about your end customer being the attendee, delegate or whatever the nomenclature of choice is in your sector, but whether sponsors are your main source of revenue, or secondary to other streams, you need to see them as your customers.
This can manifest itself in many different ways; often before you even decide to host an event. For me, the first question before launching an event is not, have I got a great venue lined up? Or will I be able to get people to come? It is can I sell sponsorship to companies who want to speak to this audience? There are dozens of ideas for great events that have never positively answered that question that I’ve had to cast aside for exactly that reason.
Sometimes thinking of your sponsors as customers first will have an impact on how you programme events or make you make decisions that might impact the attendee experience. This conflict is inevitable, but you mustn’t avoid thinking about it, embrace it.
Frame every decision has having to achieve two things. One - it must make for a better experience for our sponsors. Two - it must make for a better experience for our attendees. If it can’t do both of those things it’s not something we should be doing.
Know Where You Add Value
One mistake I’ve seen a lot of companies make when starting out with sponsors is bundling everything they possibly can into a sponsor package, just to get the sign-off and the invoice out the door. But sometimes you need to take a longer-term view. Sometimes you’ve got to walk away from the deal, and the revenue, if it jeopardizes the future of your event.
A great example of this is around data. A standard question from the sponsor would be “can I have the details of all those attending?” This is the value in my business, if I share that with a sponsor what purpose do I fulfill next time around?
What is of value in your event business will vary based upon your sector, but once you’ve worked it out don’t sell it no matter what the price. I don’t blame sponsors for asking for these types of things to be included in packages, that’s their prerogative, but never sell yourself short.
Get Pro-active Looking for Sponsors
You cannot sit back, put a link to a sponsor pack PDF on your site and expect the money to come rolling in. You need to knock on a few doors, make a few calls and send a lot of emails. Often those requests will be cold to people who’ve never heard of your event, but there’s loads you can do to improve your odds.
Make use of LinkedIn, you’ve effectively got the Rolodex of every single person you need to speak to right there in front of you. If you know the company you want to approach, search for that company name on LinkedIn and trawl through their employees to find the person with the right job title. If you’re calling, it’ll help you get past the gate-keeper on reception and if you’re clever about it, you might even be able to work out their email address.
Another top tip for speaking to potential sponsors, the person you’ll want to speak to will often be the boss or at least someone very senior, they often tend to start work early or leave the office late. It can work wonders sending your email or making your call outside of conventional office hours for exactly this reason.
LinkedIn can also help you out even if you don’t know which companies to approach, find just one company who fits your sponsor profile perfectly and browse to their company profile page on LinkedIn hidden down the bottom of the page in the right-hand column will be a section labeled 'People Also Viewed'.
This gives you a collection of half a dozen similar companies; that’s a nice starting point but if I then view the profile of the suggested companies I get even more suggestions. Before you know it you’ll have more sponsorship leads than you’ll know what to do with.
A lot of the great event managers don't think they can sell sponsorship, I think they're wrong. Every event manager I know is great problem-solver, if you think of selling sponsorship as a project with clear steps to go through you'll deliver great results like you deliver great events.
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