Event sponsorship must be reimagined as a personalized “brand partnership” to inspire creative, experiential event design that better engages attendees.
Keep your sponsors close, and your partners even closer.
This mantra is not as ominous as it might sound. But it is personal, and has become our go-to for navigating corporate event sponsorship during a transitional period in the events management industry. Fluctuating pandemic restrictions and a pending recession may actually be the game-changing industry disruptors that breathe fresh innovation back into event promotions. By reimagining sponsorship as personalized brand partnerships, event organizers have the power to bring people closer to brand experiences in ways that are more creative, effective, and memorable than ever before.
Leaner sponsor budgeting: depth, not breadth
Sponsorship budgeting trends have drastically changed in the wake of COVID-19, and many companies are bracing for the possibility of an economic recession by restricting their tradeshow spend. Companies that used to broadly diversify their annual event attendance across several shows in their fields are now more discerning with their resources, narrowing their focus to an intentional attendance strategy that favours quality over quantity. Where companies once attended 10 shows annually, they’re now opting to concentrate only on three—and are instead investing in refining how their image and messaging are communicated to audiences across these events.
Rules of engagement: audience experience is king
This shift towards emphasizing and maximizing sponsorship ROI introduces a new experiential attendee-centric model that drives decision-making from the ground-up—as opposed to the former top-down structure, where event organizers largely determined how to allocate a sponsor’s budget. Traditional tiered packages of Bronze, Silver, and Gold that emphasize quantified visibility (5 signs, 2 advertisements, etc.) are slowly being phased out and replaced by “customized packages,” which are developed with a sponsor’s own needs and goals in mind. You may have already noticed a slow transition away from purchasing logo placement on signage or swag, to an increase in engaging activations that actually augment—and add value to—the attendee’s experience.
Creative brand sponsorships provide endless opportunities to engage and delight attendees at the ground-level. They range the gamut from electronic charging stations for your personal tech and cool-down zones, to interactive installations and beyond! And the key to their success is their alignment with a higher vision: they can demonstrate a product’s unique market differentiator, or communicate the company’s narrative in a novel way—by educating, entertaining, and sparking joy, which generates a deeper-rooted emotional response.
However, these experiential activations obviously require a lot more planning. And logistical coordination. And time. So where do you even start?
Make your sponsorship process an equal partnership
If the activation is going to engage with attendees on a more personal level, the design process must naturally reflect a more personal and targeted relationship with your sponsor.
By holding one-on-one meetings with prospective brand partners, event planners can better align the event’s objectives to the sponsor’s goals, for a more tailored experience that sponsors feel personally invested in. This is the time to compare attendee and buyer personas, discuss brand look and feel, imagine how an installation will run and what its engagement piece could look like. Alternatively, hosting a focus group of three to five of your larger sponsors can generate invaluable feedback on the event’s perceived value to the industry at large, and narrow in on what sponsors collectively like or need from your event.
The way you court prospective brand partners will evolve, as well. Ask how you can help them with personalized outreach emails instead of circulating pre-set tiered packages, and attach forms or schedulers to book private meetings. Equally, this is an opportunity to brainstorm and pitch to new sponsors who are cross-sector or deeper in your business verticals who you might not have considered before, but can share in the value of your mission based on a unique storytelling angle. Think of it this way: a tractor company for an agriculture tradeshow might be an obvious brand partner, but a drone provider for crop monitoring could be a really different and attractive fit!
Lastly, you should strive to embrace multi-year or multi-event agreements with your brand partners. Aside from the obvious pricing benefits of locking in a longer contract, this structure implies an ongoing, committed relationship with your sponsor so that you can both learn and grow from the activations you design together, as opposed to a one-off transactional buy-in. Build in time to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and find ways to optimize and refine your efforts for the next installment.
It’s worth noting that with brand partnerships, there is a greater expectation for tracking and reporting the sponsor’s return on investment and engagement (ROI and ROE). You’ll need to sit down with them post-show and highlight meaningful metrics, while simultaneously painting a story of how the activation made a qualitative impact. For instance, if you encourage attendees to capture their experience with your booth using a unique hashtag, be sure to highlight snapshots of the user generated content in your report.
The takeaway: upgrading sponsors to brand partners
Viewing sponsorship merely as an annual, transactional exchange just doesn’t cut it anymore. If companies are reassessing their tradeshow and event budgets to maximize impact, they want to know exactly how and why your event will make a difference to their company’s marketing efforts.
The more you build a personalized brand partnership with your sponsors, the more they identify with the vision of your event and invest in its creative process, which helps engage and delight your attendees. And by adding this unique value to the audience experience, you’ll keep them coming back for more. It’s not magic, and it’s definitely not ominous. It’s just personal!
Carly Silberstein, DES, CED, VEMM, is chief executive officer at Redstone Agency. She has years of experience leading marketing and event teams that service corporate clients, not-for-profit organizations, and professional associations in a variety of industries. She is also an active member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE), Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP).