Imagine that your organization is hosting one of the biggest conferences in the technology industry. You have the daunting responsibility to increase event sponsors. Unfortunately, only half of your sponsorship quota has been reached and the event is right around the corner with only one month left. What do you do?
Event planners and hosts often find it challenging to gain corporate sponsors for their various marketing event types. Sponsors not only help to offset costs, but they also help create an interactive and engaging experience for attendees. The right sponsors can really make or break the success of your event.
Kicking off our new interview series, Chat with Certain, we interviewed two industry experts in marketing and events: Sandra Freeman of Marketo and Mondi Valiyee of BizBash, to help us with some tips on enticing and engaging corporate sponsors. Chat with Certain is a new series of expert interviews focused on tips and tricks for events.
Sandra Freeman is a marketing consultant, whose agency, DemandTarget, has helped B2B companies – including Marketo, Apttus and Optimizely – accelerate their demand generation activities through content creation, marketing automation, events, and sponsorships. Sandra has been an integral part of the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit since it first launched in 2008 and has helped the user conference grow from 200 people to this past year’s summit with over 6,000 attendees. This year, she was heavily focused on sponsorship sales and fulfillment.
Mondi Valiyee is the VP of West Coast Sales at BizBash. Her background is in media ad sales, where she worked in radio at Infinity Broadcasting and television at NBC. Mondi then worked as a Senior Account Rep for two years at TBA Global a Destination Management Company. She decided to take her expertise to BizBash, where she has now been for 7 years with a focus on creating customized sponsorships in addition to online, event, and print ad sales.
Here’s how Sandra and Mondi answered six questions about how to increase event sponsors at the corporate level.
Could you talk to me about your approach to structuring event sponsorship?
Sandra Freeman (SF): The goal to increase event sponsors should be a significant part of a successful demand generation event. Sponsorships can deliver a win-win-win: it can be positive for the host company, the sponsor and the event attendee. Here’s a real world example. The Marketo Marketing Nation Summit – Marketo’s annual user conference – offers different levels of sponsorship packages that partners can purchase such as Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, etc, which have different costs and components. Each package varies by the value provided such as the size and location of the booth in the Expo hall, the amount and location of branding, speaking slots, number of passes and more. The host company wins because sponsor participation helps fund the event and partners deliver value to attendees. Sponsors win because they are able to connect with a large audience of engaged attendees. And the win for attendees is they gain the ability to learn about partner solutions that will make them be more successful.
Mondi Valiyee (MV): Our goal, at BizBash, is to put together customized programs that will return the most value back to the sponsor. This means that our sponsorships are rarely cookie cutter. We tailor the sponsorship to the client’s needs. A common question to consider would be, “What are they looking to get out of it?” Because of this customization, the possibilities are endless.
Could you each give me some insight into how are these sponsorships decided? Who ultimately makes the decision on what is included in these sponsorships?
SF: The stakeholders across your organization that support and care about partners should, as a group, decide which sponsorships are offered and what they include. At Marketo, this committee includes team members from Partner Marketing, Sales, Demand Generation, Corporate Communications and Events. We solicit feedback from partners on the specific things that most interest them, and also check our package plans against industry benchmarks to ensure we are line with expectations.
MV: Our events and marketing teams make the final decision. The process works as follows: First, the events team establishes a framework for the sponsorships. Then, the sales team intertwines the customers’ product/services into the event. For example, with a tech company sponsor in our Education Innovation Forum, we offered them a sponsorship that was woven into the content of the presentation. In addition, their sponsorship included a presence on the trade show floor, with pre- and post- marketing inclusion on our website. Overall, there are general guidelines that we follow. However 99% of the time, we take it to the next level and find a way to customize it, so we can ensure we give value back to the sponsor.
Once the sponsorship levels have been decided, you have the task of selling these sponsorships. How would you rate the difficulty or ease of the sales process?
SF: The key is to continually engage and provide value to your partners. Understand what will make your partner successful and deliver what they need. At Marketo, we have had positive lead generation and exposure from our previous events, so we can build on that success.
MV: I wouldn’t say it is necessarily easy, but the process can move quickly. The opportunity for category exclusivity helps facilitate an expedited sale. Sponsors gravitate towards events with captive audiences which leads to a successful event experience for them.
Do you ever have trouble reaching your goal to increase event sponsors? What are some strategies you would use to reach a difficult quota and would you see those strategies differing for smaller or larger events?
SF: The key here is lead time. Look ahead on your calendar and compile the list of sponsorship opportunities. Then communicate these opportunity details to partners as soon as possible to ensure they have time to build your event into their budget plan. At Marketo, we send a monthly partner newsletter to share what sponsorship opportunities are available. We also have planning meetings with partners to discuss their goals and brainstorm on programs we can execute together. This really helps to build the partner relationship.
Another very important best practice is creating a detailed prospectus that explains the opportunity, benefits for sponsors, specific deliverables, and costs. Also, be sure to include event history, attendee profiles (company size, industries, job titles, etc.) and results in your prospectus.
MV: In the event we need to obtain more sponsors, we may adjust the offering by widening the scope, getting creative, and become more inventive. For the most part, we typically focus on what the sponsor’s goal is. That helps us decide the right sponsorship for them. The customizability of our sponsorships is really what sets us apart at BizBash.
Do you have any additional advice you have for those who are struggling to increase event sponsors?
SF: Really think about what is important to your sponsors, put yourself in their shoes! Do they want to be in front of your audiences and attendees? Do they focus their marketing efforts on the same customers and prospects as you? What would they be excited about and what key elements would make them successful? How would they want their brand to be a part of your webinar or event? Then design your packages so they provide value to your sponsor. It is also critical to have executive support in building partner relationships. Make sure your executives are aware of your sponsorship opportunities (provide easy to digest cheat sheets) so they can make suggestions and introductions where they think the sponsorship would be a good fit between both parties.
MV: My advice would be to really, really know your sponsor. Understand where they are in their business cycle. Recognize their immediate, short term and long term goals. What is your potential sponsor trying to get out of any sponsorship efforts? Truly understanding and knowing what their needs are is essential, whether we do a print campaign, online campaign, an event sponsorship. We try to be mindful of what the sponsor is focused on in their business and then develop a sponsorship around that. The three things that matter the most are value, customization, and impressions.
What do you do to ensure success for your sponsors? What tips do you have for conference or event hosts?
SF: If you are running a large expo like the Marketo Summit, there are a number of things you can do. First, it is important to have an online exhibitor resource center that has forms and documents, FAQs and contact information. You also want to make sure you’ve defined your program components early in the process so you can answer sponsor questions up front. Another best practice is to record and deliver a sponsor webinar to answer common questions. For example, all exhibitors want to know the show set up hours, what comes with their package and what they will need to purchase, if WiFi is included, how leads are captured, if there are speaking opportunities, what your mobile app strategy is, etc. Having clear answers up front will save you and the partner time and money!
It is also important to keep track of sponsor contacts and their roles; for example the person with signing authority vs. the person who’s planning the event logistics vs. the main contact on site. Make it easy on yourself with standard email templates and maintain lists, again based on role, so you can easily communicate with sponsors on a regular cadence as well as on the fly when issues arise.
Another tip to engage partners is to allow partners to participate in the planning process and add their own special flare to the event. At evening events, I’ve had partners add ice luges, arcade games and martini and bacon bars (seriously!) – making it more memorable for the partners as well as for our guests. Allowing partners to provide their own creativity and touch in events has really been a successful strategy.
To wrap up, here are what I see as there are two keys to a successful and sustainable sponsorship program. First, remember that when you increase event sponsors, it should be a win, win, win proposition where value is delivered to the host company, the sponsor and the attendee. If what you’re doing doesn’t fit this formula, you may need to make some changes. The second key is communication. Make sure you communicate before the event, during the event and after the event. Make sure you communicate to with your sponsors, your management and your attendees.
MV: On the exhibitor side, we provide plenty of materials beforehand: a checklist they should go through, pointers they should be referencing throughout the day, and items they need to have for a successful booth setup. In order to have a successful event, you should have fresh, timely, and interesting content. Content that pertains to being on trend with the industry. It is important to have an active, fun show floor, which we always have. We also do heavy promotion of the show to attract the right attendees.
There you go, the experts have it! Our biggest takeaway to help increase event sponsors: value and understand them.