I am often surprised at just how rarely I am asked “When should we sponsor an event? Why? and How?” These all seem like pretty pertinent questions to me, especially when you’re considering investing anywhere from $1,000 – $50,000 at an event. With advertising, social media, and even customer engagement getting their ROI measured under a microscope, shouldn’t these issues at least be addressed?
And I’ll be blunt. By not asking them, you are setting yourself up to lose money with almost any sponsorship or event support you do. Hell, you should be asking them even as an attendee: “When should I attend an event? Why? How?” (I do address this somewhat in my post “4 Reasons to Pay to Network“) You need to know how to best prepare, what to invest, and what type of response to expect from attendees (scrutiny, curiosity, a level 1 understanding of your company, or a level 10? etc.)
So despite not being asked these questions enough by sponsors, I’ve decided to answer them nevertheless:
When Should We Sponsor an Event?
Well, you need spare capital to make the initial investment. We’re talking at least $5k to do this right (see the How Section to see why $5k+). You also need someone on staff who can be paid to research events for a good month or so (this means read about them, attend them, and ask the community about them). Especially if you want to see measurable ROI, you need to do this right. (Specifically, you are researching attendees #s and breakdown, conference topics, other sponsors, speaking possibilities, and package levels.)
You also need to have a highly polished product, a quick and well developed pitch for it, and a clear understanding of the specific audience you want to reach (and no, this is not everyone on the internet. This is STILL a terrible answer.)
Finally, you need to know your goals for the event: specifically, why is physical outreach the next best step?
Why Should I Sponsor an Event?
Done right, sponsoring events leads to great brand awareness, and loyal customer acquisition. Done wrong, it is a waste of money. I aim to do a series of posts teaching you how to do it right.
Events take your company offline and put a face to the organization. They let potential clients and employees speak directly to the team, get questions answered, and learn first hand about the product. Continued event sponsorships in one targeted community (founders, musicians, animators, developers, etc.) gets you branded as an expert to the leaders in that community, who will then pass the word on about you to others. This is a form of outreach you can never accomplish with any print or CPM ad. A well targeted event (and well connected organizer/producer) can also give you immediate introductions to the decision makers at potential clients, skipping the entire chain of communication that may otherwise have taken weeks.
Sponsorships, esp. those focusing around major product launches, can also bring in significantly more press than a Press Release or blog post ever will. Journalists are generally more inclined to print a story about a release if they get an interview with the founder, great action photos, and a personal introduction to the product: all things that are most efficiently found at a conference. Launching a product at a conference also gives you an amazing audience to test it on, before the wide world gets to attack it. These people are generally experienced and well-informed in the community, and can give constructive feedback.
First off, you need to have done the research mentioned above, and know this is an audience you want to reach. You want to know the attendees are people you want to talk with, or who you want to reach, either as potential employees, clients, or evangelists and community leaders. You want to know if it will be a large crowd (usually less targeted and less engagement, but more people to talk with) or small crowd (better targeted and higher engagement, but fewer potential contacts). You want to know if the package includes the type of engagement you want:
BRANDING: If you are looking to get brand awareness within a community, you want to find a series of events that targets that community and have a small sponsorship of ALL of them. This means $1k – $2k for logo coverage and a table at the event. You need to be in people’s heads; they need to see you at every event they go to. The first event, people won’t know who you are and won’t care. But by the 3rd or 4th, they’ll be so curious they HAVE to ask. GoGrid, yourVersion, and Sun StartupEssentials are all great at doing this. For brand awareness, it is more important that you spread a bit of wealth widely, than power house one event. You may acquire fewer customers at each event, but you’ll get into people’s brains for the long haul, and they’ll think of you when they need something. This is also a great thing to do when you are rebranding yourself (when ServePat became more heavily GoGrid, I think their continued community outreach really helped cement the change to their audience.)
CUSTOMERS ACQUISITION: If you are looking to get customers or clients, you’ll want to spend more time researching events and finding the best 1 – 3 for you to appear at, and then asking if they have a demo room or on stage slots available for sponsors. Logo coverage is minimally important here – you want a place to meet people and show off your stuff. You want to become a clear expert in the area.
If they have a demo spot available in a room, then make sure you come prepared for it. Your area should be flashy – come with tshirts, stickers water bottles, and general cool schwag to give away. Have something out along with your computer: I’ve seen things like real dogs, refrigerator doors, giant server boxes, velvet curtains, and so much more. This makes me immediately more inclined to engage with you than just the dude with a computer screen and some fliers. It helps if atleast one person at the table also appears young, attractive, and approachable (so no booth babes, please, just someone polite and presentable). It is not, in a room, your pitch that brings people to you – it is your table and signage and schwag.
If it is a slot on stage, it is the message that rings out to the crowd. Your pitch needs to be short and sweet, it needs to tell people what you do in under 20 seconds, or at least make some amazing claim that they just have to hear more. It needs to be energized, immediately identify audience, problem, and solution. And the examples you give MUST be relevant to the crowd.
Another great thing for customer acquisition is to host a workshop. This gets you in front of a smaller but more interested and engaged group. Now, if you just stand up and rave about your product, I promise you will get no clients. None. Zero. You need to design, ideally with the event organizer, a workshop targeted to their audience. This warrants an entire blog post, but generally keep in mind that you want a few presenters, you want to talk about a problem and solution, not just pitch, and you want to have a lot of Q&A with the audience – they know best what they want to hear.
NOTE ON SPEAKING: If, as a sponsor, you are invited to participate on a panel or give a presentation on stage, do NOT stand up and talk about your product, demo your website, or give a sales pitch. As I noted in the workshop section, this will not generate any sales or goodwill in the community. This will generate yawns, walkouts, discontent, and being blacklisted from the next event. Chat about the problem your company addresses, why it is a problem, tips for the audience on how to avoid it or solve it themselves, free tools at their disposal, and then mention that if they want a faster, more efficient solution, they can reach out to you guys. For example, I write this blog, send people event advice regularly, and still get asked to produce the event – most frequently from the very people to whom I sent free advice and tools.