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By Lisa Goell Sinicki

Selling sponsorships into your b-to-b events is no longer an option—it’s a necessity. “Without sponsorships we’d drive up our cost our attendees’ cost or both ” says Lynn Connelly director of sponsorships at Office Depot.

Put the obvious financial repercussions aside. Recruiting sponsors for your company’s own proprietary events road shows and press events makes good brand sense. With the right sponsors you can enhance your overall event the sponsors (read: your partners) get access to their target audience and attendees receive content and solutions from a variety of sources.Aall of it makes the event more valuable. Eight tips for adding sponsorships to your event:

1. Start Early. As a brand marketer who sponsors things yourself recognize the need to start early and recruit sponsors for your event before their spend is shot. Office Depot shops its annual February Success Strategies for Business Women conference as early as April or May each year.

2. Select the Right Partners. The best sponsors may be companies whose products are complimentary to yours or solve business challenges for your attendees. Office Depot’s Success Strategies event (Agency: Live Marketing Chicago) attracts female business owners so sponsors are partners that see business women as a valuable audience. “If their product can make business women more successful they are a potential sponsor ” says Connelly.

Partners that compliment your product are worthy sponsors as well. Dolby Laboratories for instance recruits sponsors that manufacture components useful in its own product demonstrations. It’s an ingredient approach that enhances the relevance of the company’s entire event. “[These sponsorships] help us show off our products not make a profit ” says trade show manager Erin Dare.

3. Create Levels and Customize. Some companies still rely on static sponsorship “levels ” but most are customizing packages. “We create packages around what [sponsors] are now trying to accomplish and what they want to spend ” says Mitch Ahiers senior manager of global events at Check Point Software.

Limit the number of sponsors based on the size and length of the event. Ahiers prefers the limit be around seven sponsors but will go as high as 30 sponsors at larger multiday events.

4. Price for Value. Price sponsorships by assessing the production costs of the item or event being sponsored then adjusting the cost based on the value that will be delivered. The final price should be fair to both sides—remember this is less a profit-generator and more an expense-alleviator.

Some marketers compare the cost of sponsorship packages to those of similar events then expand the value of the sponsorships with add-ons that represent a high perceived value at a low achieved cost. Mailing lists mentions in press releases logo opportunities etc. “Over-deliver so they feel they are getting a tremendous value ” says Connelly.

5. Balance and Dominance. One primary concern among event marketers is that by allowing others to piggyback you may dilute your own branding.

Suggestion #1: Balance. Rebecca Swanick senior worldwide event strategist at IBM says that with good planning sharing the spotlight isn’t an issue.  “Our customers are there for IBM so there’s no confusion ” she says adding that her team is always careful not to over-commercialize private events.

Suggestion #2: Control. Check Point creates all banners and signage for its own events itself as a way to monitor all happenings. The company’s logo always appears alongside sponsor logos in all instances. “Ultimately it’s about showing how the sponsors support the Check Point brand not about promoting their own brands ” says Ahiers.

6. Integrate Them. Look for creative ways to integrate sponsors into the event beyond exhibit areas or solution centers. At a western-themed networking event during one of its conferences IBM integrated a flaming version of a sponsor’s logo in an evening fireworks display (oh that’s hot). “We knew they wanted contact with the attendees so we provided it ” says Swanick.

7. Provide Contact and Visibility. It may be your event but you need to give your sponsors access to attendees. “We can’t get the bat to the ball but we can get them up to bat ” says Ahiers.

Give sponsors the usual exhibit space but go beyond the traditional with content opportunities custom dialogs or roundtables and unique face time. Dolby lets sponsors present to attendees. Check Point gives even the smallest partners some dedicated real estate.

8. Outsource with Care. Be careful handing off sponsor development sales and management to third parties. It’s a viable option provided you select a supplier who can speak on your behalf. Remember they become your face in the marketplace. Office Depot outsources portions of its sponsor program but prefers maintaining one-to-one relationships with its top sponsors itself. “That way we stay in close touch know their goals and can make sure we deliver ” says Connelly.

Make It Happen

Today’s b-to-b events may depend on sponsors more than many marketers will admit both from a financial aspect and a content perspective. Just remember that this is your show your brand and your experience.

Things change from year to year and it’s on you to adapt your own events to meet those changes. Same goes for the sponsorship side of your portfolio. Sponsor needs will change from year to year and so should your program. Listen to your partners—they’ll let you know where your program should go.  em — Lisa Goell Sinicki

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