Tough economic times stretch business and personal dollars, forcing meeting planners to make financial decisions that they wouldn’t otherwise have to, or want to, make. Organizations are becoming more aware of how they invest their funds, and event-marketing budgets are often the first to be slashed.
The global cash crunch caused a 6 percent decline in sponsorship spending from 2008 to 2009, the first time less money was spent on sponsorships than in the previous year, according to IEG, a global provider of sponsorship measurement and valuation. “Those unprecedented numbers reflect a marketplace that never recovered from the economy’s free fall towards the end of ’08,” says William Chipps, IEG Sponsorship Report senior editor.
The financial crisis forced organizations to realign how they recruit new sponsors and maintain existing ones. The now industry-wide cliché “out-of-the-box thinking” isn’t enough; strategy and creative thinking need to be topped off with a dose of financial frugality.
1. Bundle assets to offer a more comprehensive sponsorship package. Rather than slapping a sponsor’s logo on a tote bag or listing names on a throwaway show guide, organizations must prove value to sponsors more than ever. Return on investment (ROI) must be shown immediately at the event’s end, and an expanded analysis of how the sponsorship might bring prospective business to the organization. Philip Arbuckle, MT, MBA, CMP, of MeetingTrack Inc., links a sponsor’s support with a program element that can demonstrate a result rather than just linking their name/brand with the program.
Nearly all recruiters of sponsorship revenue agree that bundling benefits into a yearlong value package and a multiple-year discount are two top trends. Arbuckle has moved to multi-year packages where a sponsor is offered a program for three years instead of just sponsoring one event. “This allows us to work with the sponsors in an ongoing mode where we can develop an alliance throughout the three years,” Arbuckle says.
2. Provide ROE and Return on Engagement. Sponsors are your event attendees, too, and they must be engaged. They are in the market and want to know about it and be a part of the discussion. Many groups analyze their sponsoring partners’ needs factors by interviewing them to understand what they want to get out of their investment. With the decline in sponsorship revenue, organizations must change this history and customize programs according to the sponsors’ needs.
3. Customize sponsorships. Karl Kirsch, CAE, vice president of Meeting Expectations, agrees that sponsorships should be tailored to each company’s needs and, like any nurturing relationship, should be given attention year-round. “The sponsorship is not about the meeting or trade show,” he says. “The planner should call the sponsor throughout the year and alert them on how to leverage their sponsorship both pre- and post-event better.”
4. Create advisory boards. Have a commission for each of your conferences and events, and invite a member of the sponsoring company to join. William Drohan, CAE, president of Drohan Management Group, limits this benefit to his top-level sponsors and adds the value of access to decision-makers into his sponsorship package. “There’s a value in providing exposure to these executives,” Drohan says. “And if you’re a top supplier in the industry and you don’t show up, the decision makers will think you’re no longer interested in their industry.” He also suggests inviting top-level sponsors to your conference’s board of directors’ dinner. The admission that generally would be paid to attend the dinner is then added to the sponsorship package.
5. Look outside your niche. Research industries outside your immediate membership and expand your offerings to alternative markets. “We have looked at our membership/conference participants and analyzed their buying needs to find new sponsoring companies that may not have been part of our sponsorship mix in the past,” Arbuckle says.