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Event Sponsorship: The 2021 Guide

Event sponsorship can make or break an event. This article shares best practices for finding and securing the right partnerships in 2021 and beyond.

The numbers don't lie: businesses are increasingly invested in professional events. Over 41% of marketers believe event marketing is the most effective channel for driving business outcomes.

Sponsorship has always been a challenge for event planners, and shifting to virtual events has made it even more difficult. In fact, 37% of event professionals agree that providing value for their sponsors is a challenging aspect of planning virtual events. Organizers are lacking confidence in their ability to drive value for their sponsors, reporting only a 6.5 average confidence value.

As events capture greater and greater shares of marketing budgets across industries, one thing is certain—event sponsors will play a critical role in growth. 

Whether you just starting to build your event sponsorship program or you're looking for fresh strategies for attracting and retaining current event sponsors, this article is for you.

In this guide, you will learn:

What Are Event Sponsorships?

Let's start with the basics: what is event sponsorship? An event sponsor is a company that supports an event, usually by providing funds, in exchange for something valuable. Oftentimes this "something valuable" comes in the form of increased brand exposure, access to attendee data, speaking opportunities at the event, or discounted event tickets.

Companies sponsor events in the hope of moving their own organizations forward. If your event presents an opportunity for them to do that, you'll likely be able to secure partners and improve the outlook of your event.

It should be noted that not all events will be enticing to potential sponsors. For example, internal events rarely provide enough value to other companies for them to invest in an event sponsorship opportunity—though there are exceptions. 

Sponsors may also be wary of virtual events, similar to how event planners worry about providing value for their virtual sponsors. If you’re looking for some ideas to plan an event that will entice sponsors, check out this list of virtual events and conferences in 2020.

Vasil quote card-event sponsorship guide

Why Event Sponsorships Are Valuable

We now know the "what" when it comes to event sponsorship. But what about the "why"? Why should you spend time and resources researching, contacting, and securing event sponsors? Is it really necessary?

The answer to that question depends on your organization and the kind of event you plan on hosting. But in general, yes, securing event sponsors is worth the effort for three main reasons.

1. Budget

Running an event is an expensive endeavor. Rarely are ticket sales alone enough to break even—at least not while keeping ticket prices affordable. What's an event planner to do? Secure event sponsorships. In 2018, sponsorship spending, according to Sponsorship.com, exceeded 24 billion dollars in North America alone.

In 2021, nearly 58% of event marketers believe their event budget will decrease. If their predictions are true, event planners will be even more hard pressed to find sponsors to fund their events, whether in-person or virtual.

Securing event sponsorship dollars will allow you to plan a financially viable event and keep ticket prices down, ensuring more attendees will be able to come. And with the recent shift to virtual, almost 80% of organizers are offering free registration to their attendees, which lowers the barrier of entry and thus, means greater reach for event planners. 

free versus paid events-event sponsorship guide

To dive deeper into budgeting for your events, check out the 2021 Event Budgeting Guide.

2. Credibility

Be honest—all things being equal, would you rather attend an event with no sponsors or one that's sponsored by Amazon? Most of us would rather attend the event sponsored by Amazon, even if both events were being put on by the same company, were on the same topic, and had the same speakers. Why? Because Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world and if they decide to sponsor an event, then it must be good.

While partnering with a company like Amazon may be a stretch, securing known and respected brands in your organization's field to sponsor your event will lend instant credibility and likely increase registration numbers.

3. Other Resources

Lastly, sponsors may be able to provide your event with other resources and perks beyond just money and credibility. For example, perhaps your event partners with a local restaurant. In exchange for promoting their business to all of your attendees, they'll allow you to use their event space and will provide catered lunches.

Another perk that sponsoring companies can provide is increased exposure for your event. Let's say a customer of a sponsoring company is browsing that particular sponsor's social media feed and sees that they've partnered with you. The customer may decide to attend your event because they trust the sponsoring company.

"Sponsorship sales is a huge focus for us because that's repeatable revenue that can be renewed year over year."

- Dayna Rothman, Author of Lead Generation for Dummies

How to Improve Your Event with Event Sponsorships

It's time to get practical. How do you find potential event sponsors, convince them to partner with you, and create valuable sponsorship packages? 

Chardia quote cardevent-sponsorship-guide

Finding Event Sponsors

Finding event sponsors isn’t as challenging as it seems. To secure event sponsorships, you first have to find the right companies to partner with. We have three tips for you in this regard:

1. Know Your Event

First, you have to know and understand the particulars of your event. What type of event are you producing? What is your overall vision for your gathering and what goals are you hoping to achieve? Also, what sets your event apart from other events on similar topics? 

These are the kinds of questions that potential event sponsors will ask you. Think about these as you work on your event strategy. If you know the answers to them before you start reaching out to brands about sponsorships, you'll be able to answer with ease and only spend time contacting companies that align with your event.

2. Identify the Right Partners

Rather than spamming every business you find and presenting them with event sponsorship proposals, we recommend that you first identify the kinds of companies that would be a good fit. Then reach out and interact with only those brands.

For example, if you’re planning a virtual summit for medical and health professionals, a company like McDonalds might not send the right message. But a company like Aetna or another health insurance company could be a great fit.

At our recent virtual summit, (Almost) HYBRID, Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech, shared how she has built her reputation and her company on her values. She makes every decision, including sponsors, on whether it builds trust with her audience and supports her message. Leanne even admits to losing sponsorships because they weren't a good fit for her brand.

Contacting organizations that don't align with your event brand, or don't have a history of sponsoring events isn't productive. Taking the time to find the right partners will also save you time and increase your success rate.

3. Use Online Resources

Knowing your event particulars and the kind of companies you hope to partner with is great. But you still need to actually go out and find organizations that fit your criteria. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use online resources like SponsorMyEvent or SponsorPitch. These tools make it easy to connect with potential event sponsors and even send them an event sponsorship agreement if they seem like a good fit. You can also check out our virtual event sponsorship workbook to guide you in the new virtual event domain.

virtual event sponsorship workbook download - event sponsorship guide

Pitching Event Sponsors

Now that you’ve created a list of potential event sponsors, it's time to pitch them. Whether you’re emailing potential event sponsors or calling them on the phone doesn’t matter. These three tips are still essential to your success:

1. Research Your Target Audience

At this point (hopefully!) you've already done a bit of research on your target audience. You know that the companies on your list align with your event's topic and vision and each has a history of sponsoring events in the past. Now it's time to dig deeper.

Before reaching out to a company, you should attempt to discover:

  • The key decision maker, their personality type, and their contact information.
  • The marketing objectives of each company in question.
  • How sponsoring your event can help them meet their marketing objectives.
  • Whether or not they have the budget to sponsor your event in the way that you desire.

The more information you have on each individual person you plan to contact, the better.

2. Communicate Value

In the last tip, we mentioned that you should know how sponsoring your event will benefit the company you're contacting. Knowing this will help you communicate value, which you must do to secure partnerships.

No organization will support your event out of the goodness in its heart. There needs to be an equal exchange of value and you need to communicate this value in your pitch. To do this, make your pitch about the company you're contacting, not your event and focus on how it benefits them.

When you’re writing a virtual event sponsorship proposal, you want to highlight your value proposition. Sponsors want to know what’s in it for them.

Also include information like how many attendees you expect to have, your audience demographics, brands that have sponsored your event in the past, the ROI previous sponsors received, and any other pertinent information.

The kind of details you share will likely vary depending on your industry, how long your event has been running, and the actual person you're contacting. But in general, do your best to communicate value.

Proving value is difficult enough for live events, but it’s even more challenging virtually. Call out the value sponsors will see if they partner with your event and focus on the benefits of a virtual event. For example, the sponsorship prospectus for Open Data Science Conference’s Virtual AI Expo includes a section dedicated to reasons that a virtual expo is actually an even better investment for sponsors.

virtual ai expo sponsors-event sponsorship guideSource: ODSC

3. Include Social Proof

Social proof in the form of testimonials from previous partners can go a long way towards convincing a brand to sponsor your event. Just like we all read product reviews before making online purchases, potential sponsors will want to know if previous partners had a good experience with your brand and found sponsorship to be a worthwhile investment.

If you have the ability, consider going the extra mile and creating full case studies with your top sponsors. That's what TED did. Their case study with long-time event partner, Rolex, is a great example. It has helped the annual conference secure other sponsors by showcasing the positive ROI that Rolex has received from the partnership.

"We really try to work with sponsors to achieve their goals, while at the same time, maintaining editorial independence. A lot of these sponsors don't just want to have a sponsor sticker slapped onto an event. They want to do something that has a real conversational element to it."

- Mike Butcher, Founder of The Europas

4. Best Practices for Building Partnerships with Sponsors

The key to both pitching and partnering with sponsors boils down to communication. As you begin to work with sponsors, it's important to have a common language. This allows you to align on key business goals and outcomes that make both parties successful.

For example, Vasil Azarov from the Growth Marketing Conference focuses on building mutually beneficial partnerships and co-sponsoring programs. This includes providing them with an outline of opportunities for additional exposure, collaborating on content like webinars, leveraging a partner to co-sponsor direct mail campaigns, and initiatives that take place on the event floor.

Fostering a collaborative environment also helps to maintain good relationships with key sponsors in current and upcoming events. 

"The key element of building a successful relationship is to make sure that you’re leveraging your strength to make it a win for both you and your partner."

- Vasil Azarov, Growth Marketing Conference

You can also find software to help you communicate with your sponsors and create a seamless experience for them to work with you. For example, Bizzabo recently launched our partner and speaker management solution which makes it easier than ever to manage your sponsors.

Tips for Better Event Sponsorship Packages

To really kick your event sponsorship efforts into high gear, you need to offer different sponsorship packages. As more events become virtual and hybrid, these packages will need to be even more impressive because it’s harder for your potential sponsors to visualize your event and the value they’d get out of it. Providing value to sponsors, especially in the virtual domain, is a challenge among event planners. In fact, nearly 37% of organizers believe it’s more difficult to provide valuable opportunities for sponsors when hosting virtual events.

Adele Durham joined us recently on the IN-PERSON Podcast to share some examples of how she’s creating valuable experiences and opportunities for sponsors.

Here are five tips to help you craft a sponsorship package that will stand out to your potential partners.

1. Include Different Event Sponsorship Levels

When building sponsorship packages for your event, consider creating multiple tiers (at least three) of sponsorship, each equipped with different benefits and sold at varying price points. For instance:

  • The Bronze Package: $1,000 - Your company logo on all event marketing materials, a guaranteed digital sponsor page, a virtual sponsorship gift, sponsor placement in lower thirds, 30-second promo video before keynote session.
  • The Silver Package: $2,500 - Everything in the Bronze Package + branded transitions between videos and/or sessions. (Only 25 available.)
  • The Gold Package: $5,000 - Everything in the Bronze and Silver Packages + a branded virtual lounge named after your company. (Only 10 available.)

The more money an organization pays, the more benefits they receive. You can also create different packages for companies as opposed to individuals, give discounts when multiple tickets are purchased at once, and more.

Take a look at how Gainsight offered sponsorship tiers at Pulse for Product 2020. This is a great example of utilizing the aforementioned package levels.

Gainsight sponsors-event sponsorship guide

Source: Gainsight

2. Create Unique Opportunities

There are many different ways to add value to your sponsorship packages. A few sponsorship ideas include guaranteeing a speaking slot for the CEO of a sponsoring company, allowing partners to put their company names on breakout rooms, and including a sponsor's logo on the swag bags given to each attendee.

vela agency live event-event sponsorship guideSource: Vela Agency

But to really supercharge your packages and entice organizations to spring for more expensive sponsorship options, you need to create unique opportunities.

Here’s a great example of how Adele Durham took her in-person ideas and reimagined how she could provide those valuable experiences to her sponsors virtually.

“We have had food trucks at our award events so that when you're exiting Cipriani, you can get a grilled cheese and some tater tots on your way out. A huge hit. Okay, you're not going to be able to do that when it's a virtual event. So we looked at giving away Grubhub vouchers. So when the event wraps, all attendees get a $15 Grubhub voucher to get their late night snack.”

The key is to be creative and think about ways you can differentiate from other offerings sponsors might be seeing.

3. Make It Clear

dreamforce 18 sponsors-event sponsorship guideSource: Dreamforce Sponsorship Prospectus

Your event sponsorship packages will only sell if potential sponsors understand exactly what they will receive once they make a purchase. They'll also need to know how to become eligible for each package. Clarity is absolutely your friend here.

Spell out every package benefit, perk, and requirement in crystal clear language. Potential sponsors should never have to guess at what they'll receive in exchange for a portion of their company's budget. This is especially true when selling sponsorships for large sums of money.

This example from SaaStr tells sponsors exactly what they can expect and how much it will cost. It even uses visual examples so Sponsors don’t have to guess or imagine what it will look like.

SaaStr sponsors-event sponsorship guideSource: SaaStr

4. Exclusivity Sells

Want to sell high-end packages like SaaStr? Make use of exclusivity. On the surface, this may sound counterintuitive. If 10 people want to pay SaaStr over a million dollars to sponsor the event, why would they only accept 6 of them?

There are a couple of different reasons.

First, it's a simple mathematics equation. There's only so much time in the day and resources on hand. SaaStr (and other companies that offer high-end sponsorship packages) can only provide adequate value to so many sponsors. If they were to let more companies participate, the value of the package would go down.

Second, exclusivity breeds desire. As humans, we always want what we can't have. And we tend to feel better about ourselves when we have what others want but can't get. Making your top sponsorship packages exclusive will increase the chances of people wanting to buy them.

Another way to use the exclusivity principle is to make certain packages "invite-only". Meaning, companies can't apply for the limited slots, they have to be invited to purchase them.

Especially if you’re planning a larger virtual conference, creating exclusivity will be key. The bigger the event, the more sponsorship dollars you might need, so don’t be too eager to accept every offer, prioritize the best partnership for you and your event.

5. Make Your Sponsorship Page Enticing and Vibrant

Pulse 2020 sponsors-event sponsorship guideSource: Pulse

Finally, to increase the likelihood that companies will want to sponsor your event, we recommend that you make the event sponsor web pages on your event website enticing and vibrant. Sponsors care about how their brand is represented. Use rich media elements to make the page, and how sponsors are represented in it, visually pleasing.

Pulse does a great job highlighting sponsorship opportunities. The annual conference for customer success professions has a section showcasing their top sponsors. Each partnering company gets a featured logo, a bio section explaining what the company does (when you hover over the logo), and links to its website and social channels.

Knowing that their company will be featured on your event website — especially if your website receives a lot of quality traffic — may be the perk that convinces a brand to partner with you.

Virtual and hybrid events rely more on technology than in-person events did previously. Over 50% of organizers believe event technology tools will play a key role in connecting sponsors and attendees both virtually and in-person. So it’s important to find a platform that allows you to create a great website to attract sponsors.

compare event platforms guide bizzabo-event sponsorship guide

Great Event Sponsorship Package Examples

We've given you tips on how to create better event sponsorship packages. Now let's look at a few examples of event sponsor promotion from brands who have taken these tips and used them well. Get ready to be inspired.

1. re:Invent by Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Amazon reinvent-event sponsorship guideSource: Data Center Knowledge

re:Invent is a massive cloud computing conference put on by Amazon every year in Las Vegas, NV. It features workshops, keynote speakers, and hackathons. As far as sponsorship opportunities, Amazon does a great job of outlining the exact benefits partners will receive for each of their seven packages and highlighting past sponsor success. They make it clear that last year's conference produced an average of 1,800 leads per sponsor.

Amazon also does a fantastic job of promoting unique experiences including access to fun, non-work related activities like the re:Play after party and a pub crawl.

2. GitHub Universe

github universe-event sponsorship guideSource: GitHub

GitHub Universe is THE conference to attend if you work in software development. On the event's sponsorship page, GitHub Universe offers detailed demographics information which includes attendee job types, company types, and location details. This makes it easy for potential sponsors to gauge how aligned a partnership might be. They also include multiple testimonials throughout the sponsorship page for this same reason.

3.Hubspot INBOUND

Inbound-event sponsorship guideSource: HubSpot

Hubspot INBOUND is one of the most anticipated marketing conferences. Founded around the idea of inbound marketing, business professionals from every industry come from all over the world for multiple days of educational sessions, networking, and entertainment. 

This year they went virtual, and they planned a successful online event filled with inspiring content and exciting entertainment.

In their sponsorship prospectus, they include digital mockups that show potential sponsors exactly what their virtual booth will look like. This is a great example of how to help sponsors be able to really visualize what their virtual partnership will look like.

Proving ROI to Sponsors

We've covered a lot so far in this guide. But there's one topic we still need to discuss: proving ROI to sponsors. More than half (54%) of marketers express difficulty in proving ROI. How can you show sponsors that partnering with your event is a worthwhile investment? We have a few ideas:

1. Show Event Data

When proving value, the first thing you can do is look to data collected throughout your event. If you're using event success software, you should have a swath of data to help entice potential partners. Of marketers that are currently using event software, most (80%) do not have trouble proving ROI.

A few metrics to include are:

  • How many attendees were at the event?
  • How many leads or meetings did each sponsor receive?
  • How many attendees registered or attended sponsored workshops/sessions?
  • If you're using a mobile event app, how many in-app impressions did sponsors receive?

The answers to these questions will go a long way in proving ROI.

2. Present Event Attendee Demographics

Attendee demographic information can add depth to other data points and assure your sponsor that their investment is worthwhile. If a sponsor sees that your event caters to their target audience, they'll be much more willing to invest in one of your sponsorship packages. And as the industry shifts to virtual and hybrid events, event planners are seeing even larger audiences. In fact, over 80% agree that greater audience reach is the most positive effect they’ve experienced from virtual events.

3. Display Attendee Testimonials

Just like sharing positive testimonials from past event partners can help you attract new sponsors, sharing testimonials from event attendees can also provide a qualitative aspect to sponsorship ROI. Give attendees the opportunity to leave feedback with the mobile event app (if your event is using one) or in a post-event survey.

This example from Salesforce-Dreamforce 17 sponsorship prospectus shows a detailed breakdown of the attendees sponsors can expect to see. This level of detail will allow potential partners to see if their target audience aligns with yours.

Dreamforce 17 Sponsors-event sponsorship guideSource: Salesforce Dreamforce 17

Sponsorship Ideas for Virtual and Hybrid Events

With the recent industry shift to virtual and hybrid events, there are new opportunities for sponsorship ideas, so get creative. For example, you can add lower thirds and other visuals like sponsor logos on transition slides or even promo videos that play between sessions. If you’re looking to create a unique virtual experience that’s more exciting than a simple webinar, here are 20 virtual event ideas that are sure to inspire you.

Think about what experiences sponsors typically have on-site and strategize how you can give them that same opportunity online. Exhibitor booths can be done virtually with sponsor landing pages and websites or breakout sessions. You can even offer virtual giveaways and swag, ranging from a digital gift card to sending out tactile marketing like a snack box. If you’re planning a hybrid event, giving your virtual audience a gift will make them feel more included with the on-site attendees.

Key Takeaways: How to Improve Your Event with Event Sponsorships

There you have it, a complete event sponsorship guide for 2021. We shared a lot of information. Feel free to re-read this guide if you need to. Looking for a quick recap of the most important tips, tricks, and strategies? Here are our key takeaways:

  • Event sponsorships are valuable because they make your event financially viable, lend credibility, and potentially provide your event with other valuable perks
  • To find event sponsors, first know the vision for your event and what benefits you can offer potential partners before sending any of them an event sponsorship letter
  • When pitching event sponsors, research each company you plan to contact, communicate the value they'll receive, and include social proof
  • Event sponsorship packages are essential. Remember to include different tiers at varying price points so that more companies have a chance to participate. Also, create packages with unique opportunities, make it abundantly clear what each partner will receive, use exclusivity to your advantage, and make your sponsorship page enticing
  • Prove event ROI to sponsors by showing data from your events, presenting audience demographic information, and including attendee testimonials
  • Finally, make sure to include swag in your virtual, in-person, or hybrid event strategy to engage and delight your audience while providing opportunities for sponsorship

You now have everything you need to start contacting potential partners and securing sponsorships for your event.

Virtual Event Sponsorship Workbook

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on February 22, 2019 and has since been updated to be current with best practices in 2020 and 2021.