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The Science of Sponsorships

Sponsors play a pivotal role in conferences and events, from supporting the venture financially to supplying unique venues and products. Since sponsorships play such a critical role in the success of events, meeting planners should be careful and strategic about how they manage sponsorship opportunities.

For firsthand insight on sponsorship best practices, we spoke to three experts with different backgrounds in the meetings market. Hank Phillips is the president and CEO of the Kentucky Travel Industry Association, the largest travel network in Kentucky. Lori Wilson serves as the director of special events at UK HealthCare in Lexington, Kentucky, and previously worked in hospitality and catering. Tim Schneider is the founder and chairman of the Northstar Travel Group’s new Sports Division, which oversees national events such as the annual Teams Conference and Expo.

Here are some of the tips they shared to help meeting planners succeed in finding and servicing sponsors.

Cater to the Sponsors’ Goals and Needs

Before approaching potential sponsors, planners should determine how the sponsorship package will accommodate each organization’s respective goals or needs. Are the potential sponsors looking for brand marketing or community engagement opportunities? Would they be interested in gaining access to the event?

“The first question always to ask yourself is what’s in it for them,” said Phillips. “Avoid getting into the mindset that sponsors ought to want to do a sponsorship just to do it. There has to be real demonstrated value for the sponsor.”

Likewise, Schneider said, “It’s absolutely critical that you view your pitch through the eyes of your prospective sponsors. Make sure it responds to their needs, not yours.”

And though sponsorships are typically viewed as a marketing opportunities, not every sponsor is interested in gaining exposure. Many larger companies receive a significant number of sponsorship requests and may prefer not to broadcast their selections. In other cases, the sponsorship might arrive in the form of an anonymous charitable donation.

“I think that everyone assumes a sponsorship demands a logo, but there are a lot of people that don’t want folks to know they’re involved,” said Wilson. “Since we’re a nonprofit, some people may want to give philanthropically, and it has nothing to do with access or marketing.”

Develop a Compelling Pitch

When it comes to pitching to prospective sponsors, Wilson recommends having a face-to-face conversation whenever possible, followed by a formalized proposal. If event-organizers have to send out a blind request, then it is vital to present an engaging, thoroughly researched proposal.

“If you don’t look professional out of the gate, then you’re not going to make it out the door,” said Wilson. “We support about 350 organizations a year, but we probably get four times that amount in requests.”

Rather than send a traditional business document, planners should strive to showcase the commercial impact of the sponsorship. Since many people are visually oriented, this could entail a colorful sponsorship template or a sample graphic of the company’s logo digitally overlaid on a tent.

“Most people are going to look at it for 15 seconds if you’re lucky, so you should try to give them something that helps it stand out,” said Wilson.

Planners should also make sure the cost of the sponsorship is proportional to the benefits and incentives provided in the package.

“You can lose credibility if you really overshoot what is a practical consideration, and you can lose funds or services that you might have otherwise had if you undershoot,” said Phillips. “You have to know what is realistic and practical.”