All participants in your conference are assets. Take a close look at your attendees, board, and volunteers. What information do you know about them? What are their titles? What are their company’s needs? Why do they attend your conference? What is their overall buying power? If you don’t have this information, it is never too late to learn more about your audience. One way to collect this data is to send out a mid-year survey and ask these questions to the participants themselves. Offer them an incentive for completing your survey such as a complimentary or discounted registration. Gathering and then using this empirical data to your advantage will help you further convey conference value to attendees and in turn increase your sponsorship sales. The more meaningful data you collect, the more value you will be able to ultimately create for your exhibitors.
Take an inventory of your conference’s key components. Does your conference have a general session, luncheon, snack break, VIP area, lounge, learning center, exhibit hall, reception, etc.? Use this information to refine or even redefine your offering.
Where do you start your sponsor research? Take a look at similar associations or conferences and see who is sponsoring their conferences. Explore online and use phrases that match your audience during your research. Examine companies, their divisions, and different brands that may be a better fit for sponsorship at your conference. Keep in mind it can be much easier to find the right person to contact within a division than the company at large.
Search within your membership. If you have supplier members, start with them. Perhaps there is an exhibit component at your conference? Foster these relationships and ask pointedly about their needs. Cultivate them year round and you have secured the first set of prospects from your own database.
Think BIG when you are exploring leads and prospects. Talk to your leadership and board and ask them for ideas. There could be a company that is looking to expand their market or developing a new product.
Find out when their budgeting process happens and be certain you are talking to the decision maker at the right time!
Now that you have a target list, you should develop your sponsorship packaging. Get creative and build unique offerings and allow for customizable packages. This is when understanding your assets can come into play. Clarification of access and benefits is important as you develop your conference sponsorship. Instead of tiers (platinum, gold, silver) look at ways to diversify your options so they serve as a value add for your sponsors. For example, add a “Networking Lounge” to the conference that is named after the sponsoring company. Build this area as a hub for attendees and sponsors to meet and greet during the event and to nurture an atmosphere for building face-to-face relationships. Provide exclusive rights options, and give as much credit as needed.
Begin with a fresh start for each prospective sponsor. Ask them what their company goals are and create meaningful and authentic connections for them – be prepared to be flexible and adaptable during your conversations.
Once sponsorship is secured, make sure to follow through with all of the elements. Create a timeline for each package and share it with your sponsors. Involve your sponsors at every stage and keep the lines of communication open including post event follow up. After your conference, show your appreciation by making a personal phone call and sending a hand written thank you note. Provide them with metrics including attendee survey results. Always ask for feedback. Did their sponsorship meet their company’s goals? What can be improved? Use their input to fine tune next year’s sponsorship offerings
In closing, building a meaningful sponsorship package takes long term strategy planning. Sponsorship does not just occur at your conference; it is an ongoing relationship that needs nurturing before, during and after your conference. When you treat your sponsors like partners you are cultivating an important alliance that will increase your ROI.
Posted by Christina Buck, CMP