Sponsoring industry conferences and exhibiting at trade shows can be great marketing strategies when done right. But every industry has hundreds of events per year and you have a limited marketing budget... and you need to sleep! So how do you choose which events to sponsor? And, once you've narrowed down the field, what are the dealbreakers you need to consider?
There’s no silver bullet for determining ahead of time if a conference sponsorship or trade show exhibit will be "the one" for your company, but there are some very tried-and-true questions to ask before you commit the budget. Read on to learn more.
By the way, if you're actively considering a sponsorship, you should download our Sponsorship Scorecard, designed for industry conferences and trade shows. We'll walk you through all of the important considerations, not just the top 5 below, giving you a proven framework to make the right decision on your potential sponsorship.
Top 5 Questions for Every Potential Sponsor
Here's the top 5 considerations for any marketer who's considering whether or not to sponsor a conference. If any of these important factors raise a red flag, proceed carefully knowing that there may be a better event out there on which to spend your limited budget.
1) "Does this event align with my company's goals?"
Does this sponsorship or exhibitor opportunity align with your company and marketing goals? This is numero uno. To start with, you should be able to set goals for any marketing event in terms of both metrics and qualitative feedback. Then you should be able to track a straightforward path for how this event will get you there.
Whether that’s leads in your CRM or brand recognition through post-event surveys, your event marketing plan should begin and end with demonstrable progress toward well-defined goals.
2) "Does the attendee profile match my company's target customer profile?"
Who will be attending this event? Do they match up with your company’s target customer or influencer profiles? Any event worth your marketing budget should have a sponsor or exhibitor prospectus with detailed breakdowns of job titles, functions and company profiles of attendees from years past. (Pro tip - if it’s the first year of the event, use the lack of attendee profile data as leverage to negotiate a discount.) If possible get this or last year’s attendee list, even if names and contact info have been removed, to assess profile fit and utilize for pre-show outreach.
3) "Are all the costs, taken together, within my budget?"
What’s the total cost, including direct and indirect expenses? Event marketing budgets fall into a bunch of different buckets. Don’t just look at the direct cost of sponsoring or exhibiting and the registration fees. There’s also the production and shipping fees on booths, banners, signage, collateral and swag. Then there’s the travel, per diems and incidentals.
Perhaps the biggest is the intangible opportunity cost. What else could your team be doing, especially the reps? You should at least know how many days will your team will spend in travel, as any good VP of Sales will ask.
4) "Can my company lead conversation on the agenda topics?"
What’s on the agenda? Even if the attendees are a perfect overlap with your target customers and the cost of sponsoring or exhibiting is well within your budget, the event’s topics may not align with your marketing message. Ideally your company can solve many of the challenges to be discussed in the programmed talks and panels. When you’ve found an event with the right topics for your company, getting your team on the speakers list should be no problem.
5) "Does the timing work for my team?"
Does the event and travel conflict with any company plans? Are your event staff and sales reps available to attend? Do your event and sales teams have adequate runway? A large-scale sponsorship can take months to executive, while a nimble marketing operation can execute a good booth in just a few weeks.
Understand the timing and trade-offs before committing to any event marketing opportunity. Get written buy-in from the staff that need to go. Make sure your team has enough runway to promote the sponsorship. Ideally, you've tracked the time it took to plan past sponsorships or trade show booths.
A great sponsorship opportunity for your company will score a perfect 5 / 5 on the questions above.
If you've made it this far and still think you've got the right sponsorship opportunity, that's great! I'd recommend checking out our Sponsorship Scorecard, which covers over 30 additional criteria to consider before committing. It's free and that way you can be completely sure this sponsorship is right for your company.
If your potential sponsorship didn't pass the 5 question test above, you may want to consider another. Sponsoring a conference or trade show takes a lot of planning and logistics, so don't waste your marketing budget when there could be a much better event for you to sponsor.
Also, remember that you don't need to sponsor to send reps to attend or speak. When sponsoring an event is out of budget or conflicts with your company's calendar, you can still try for a speaking slot or send some of your reps as attendees.
They may not have as many branding or networking opportunities as full-fledged sponsors or exhibitors, but at least the cost and potential calendar conflicts will be lower. If it's an annual event, you can gather intelligence for considering the sponsorship again next year too.