Sponsorships have become a financial cornerstone for most events. This is largely due to a discrepancy between the high costs of event production and the need to charge attendees a realistic ticket price or event registration fee. But the business of event sponsorship is changing to help event organizers add a valuable revenue stream to their events and conferences.
The Event Manager Blog’s annual Industry Trends Report suggests that planners must reevaluate the way event sponsorship is handled, because traditional methods are no longer working. Providing great exposure to sponsors “means working together with sponsors that are relevant, personal and add value,” the report says.
Gone are the days when sponsors and event hosts were content to plaster logos on advertising and banners and call it a day. Although signage is still important – the second largest sponsor “want” item according one survey – experiential marketing and expanding digital platforms are increasingly giving rise to a more innovative approach. Brands and event planners alike are getting creative to elevate sponsors’ return on investment (ROI) and build truly symbiotic, and long-lasting partnerships.
According to Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, today’s event sponsors are looking for customization, connection, integration and ROI.
So, research thoroughly before approaching a new sponsor. Take a hard look at the data and make sure you can demonstrate that you have shared values. And if you’re confident that similar objectives are part of the equation, don’t be afraid to brainstorm new ways to connect sponsors more directly with event attendees and vice versa.
And - since it’s 2016 - don’t be afraid to go digital. Tech remains hot and everyone wants to check out the newest digital gizmos and tools. Cater to that interest with interactive displays, data collection and visualization tools, dedicated apps for checking in, organizing accommodations, travel and navigation, event networking and accessing content.
The following case studies describe what went into making successful partnerships at several high profile events. Notice that these partnerships were successful in part because organizers were comfortable providing sponsors with exposure through traditional methods and through digital ones as well.
TED and Rolex
TED and its long-time conference sponsor Rolex have worked together since 2007 to underwrite the development of innovative TED media platforms. Rolex was one of the first TED partners to create original branded content specific to the TED.com platform – a three-minute video that highlighted its history of design and innovation; it ran as advertising targeted against the popular online feature, TED Talks on the same topics.
With a launch that coincided with the 2012 annual conference and think tank, TED and Rolex came up with an IOS app called Surprise Me! (calling it “a serendipity engine”), in addition to the usual logo placement. The app uses an algorithm to identify the online Ted Talks best suited for an individual viewer based on how much time they have and what kind of experience they are looking for.
Tip: If your values are aligned, don’t be afraid to propose collaborations that extend beyond an annual event. Event apps are great, but investigate whether they could also serve a purpose beyond the conference or party experience.
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TIFF and L’Oreal
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has worked with the international cosmetics firm L’Oréal for several years with a synergy around glamour. Recently, their sponsorship has been focused on the red carpet, the traditional festival access point for Hollywood’s biggest stars, the media and the public. From that nexus, an entire panoply of promotions – social media, live streaming of stars supporting premieres, virtual makeup testing apps, along with more conventional elements such as media buys on transit and billboards and special limited edition TIFF nail polish collections – were launched.
Tip: Sponsors love category exclusivity. Can you “give” them an entire (preferably high profile) event, sidebar or other forum? From there the sky's the limit for further promotion and profile opportunities. Work with sponsors to create experiences or provide services for attendees, rather than just handing out products or relying on logos. Promote memorable good will and offer exclusivity around things people need – such as charging stations and WIFI, water stations, meditation and yoga classes, or consulting services.
BlogHer and Sara Lee
BlogHer is an online network of female bloggers with a fast-growing annual two-day conference that attracts more than 3000 attendees and 100 event sponsors.
In 2010, the conference offered then new sponsor Sara Lee-owned food companies Hillshire Farm and Jimmy Dean the largest booth on the expo floor, an 80-foot by 20-foot kitchen for chef demonstrations, tastings, and a sandwich-making competition hosted by Padma Lakshmi. “They realized the value of having this in-person connection with bloggers,” Erin Groh, who headed up sponsor services at BlogHer, told PRWeek.
The main goal for most sponsors is to build relationships with attendees, and thus Groh has encouraged companies to create experiences that resonate with the audience rather than just hand out product samples. “We counseled them to offer a service to attendees.” As a result Sara Lee was able to also give bloggers a sneak peak of its new products, a valuable opportunity for feedback and connection. Sara Matheu, director of communications for Sara Lee North America, said, “We came out of it with so many insights, so much amazing content and a great group of new brand ambassadors.”
Tip: Allow sponsors some kind of direct access to attendees. Whether it’s a product launch, data collection or a face-to-face encounter, this kind of interactive connection is of huge value to all concerned.
TechCrunch Disrupt and New Relic
New Relic, a cloud-based software platform for analyzing and tracking data, is proud to be a nerdy company. Their recurring sponsorship at North America’s most exciting tech gathering, TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, London and San Francisco, was focused several years running on the Hackathon, a pre-event to one of the most and important annual events for the tech community. New Relic provided food and drinks at the after party and announced the winner of the best B2B application with a prize that included a MacBook Pro package, a year’s subscription to New Relic Pro, and a feature on their blog. New Relic also tweeted and shared videos of the competing hackers on social media and on their blog.
Tip: Show potential sponsors that they’ll be backing a winner. Awards and competitions can be the highest profile features of an annual event, generating the most excitement, and with the biggest ripple effect and long-term returns through media coverage.
SXSW Interactive and Ten-X
Each year, South X SouthWest music and film festival brings together the world’s creative leaders and brightest minds in innovative thinking to Austin for SXSW Interactive.
The online real estate marketplace Ten-X is a first time major sponsor at the upcoming 2016 gathering in March. They are announcing their arrival with the Ten-X Flyaway Contest featuring a prize package for two that includes hotel, airfare and registrations for two to attend SXSW Interactive 2016.
Tip: Work with sponsors to optimize interaction with attendees even before the event begins and right through event registration. This can take the form of a contest like Ten-X Flyaway, or a link, description or logo on registration and welcome materials. And the delegate kit with donated swag remains an efficient way to reach attendees. Especially if it contains some kind of creative tie-in, for example a coupon to swap for a product or service while at the event; or, some kind of challenge or contest (a la Mazda’s Selfie Scavenger hunt, a big hit at SXSW 2015).
In the increasingly competitive drive for sponsorship dollars, event planners must start to think outside the box of logo placement and gold/silver/bronze levels of sponsorship. As with everything else in business culture these days, those who analyze the data correctly and are creative in their approach, may be the lucky ones who create collaborations and relationships that last.