Is This Sponsor Right for My Event?

Trade shows, conventions, and events offer a bonanza of sponsorship opportunities. But in order to sustain a successful, long-term sponsorship strategy, it's crucial to make sure you get the right sponsors. It's easy to enter into a partnership with the first company that comes along and plaster its name and logo all over the convention center, on the program guide, in the hospitality suite, even on the tote bags everyone carries around all day. Just make sure it's good business for them as well as for you.

Is there a way to determine if underwriting aspects of an event will help a potential sponsor's bottom line? Absolutely. Here's a guide to creating a vetting process that will ensure that both you and your sponsors will walk away from the event happy.

It's imperative to understand exactly what sponsorship is. Sponsorship is the financial or in-kind support of an activity, used primarily to reach specified business goals. The fact that sponsorship is undertaken with business objectives in mind clearly distinguishes it from philanthropy—your sponsors won't be able to write off their trade show participation as a charitable contribution. However, sponsorship is also very different from advertising. Sponsorship is not a solo adventure, the way advertising is. It promotes a company in association with the host organization of the event.

Determine why a sponsor may want to partner with you. Beware of the "CEO trap." This occurs when the CEO is a fan of a particular industry, company, or event, and wants to throw corporate dollars behind his personal passion. Throwing the corporate logo on his favorite trade show might make the big man happy, but will it help the company?

Make sure there are clear, measurable goals for your sponsors to turn to when trying to gauge their ROI. There are six reasons why companies embrace sponsorship: To enhance their image, to drive sales, to increase visibility with positive publicity, to take on a "good corporate citizen" role, to differentiate from one's competitors, and to enhance business, consumer, and VIP relations.

All of these are valid reasons. Assess the proposed sponsorship opportunity against these goals and then ask yourself if sponsoring an aspect of this event will enhance their corporate image. Many companies value the goodwill generated by sponsoring hospitality suites and special meals at trade shows—goodwill that can influence future sales. If sponsoring an aspect of your event will meet one or more of these goals, the sponsor may be a good match.

Are your respective images compatible? Is it perceived as a classy, upscale event? If so, the sponsor has to match that. It does neither organization any good if the sponsor has a modest or low-end reputation. Provide your potential sponsors with the target audience expected to attend, plans for media coverage of the event, and what their obligations as a sponsor will be. Also, let them know what kind of support they can expect from you, and what exactly their sponsorship dollars are buying.

Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Even though you are forming a short-term partnership, approach it the same way you'd assess any other potential business relationship. Has the show been around for a while, and growing every year, or is this a brand-new enterprise? What events have they previously sponsored? How much did they pay to be involved? Are they affiliated with any non-profit or political organizations? You need to know the sponsors' past history just as they need to know your event's operational history.

Sponsorship works best in the context of a relationship. You will often see the same companies supporting the same events year after year. This synergy creates a special, unique "brand" for the duration of the event, a brand that the buying public begins to count on and expect. Make sure you inquire about ongoing sponsorship opportunities, as well as cross- promotional opportunities.

Don't feel limited to the list of sponsorship opportunities you and your staff have come up with. If a potential sponsor has a great idea, welcome that creativity. It makes your job easier and increases the chances of getting the sponsorship.

Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, based Lake Placid, NY, is author of Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies. She works with companies to improve their meetings and events through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of Friedmann's ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.thetradeshowcoach.com.