A practical guide containing 13 of our favourite ways to get sponsors and exhibitors to help promote your events.
- Be flexible
- Offer a referral program
- Entice with discounts and incentives
- Offer VIP tickets and perks
- Use a community marketing platform for one-click promos
- Show them a damn good time
- Run a competition
- Collaborate on content in the lead up to the event
- Equip them with the right info
- Create post-event case studies
- Get them press
- Say ‘thank you’
- Just ask
Contrary to popular belief, event sponsorship is slightly more complicated than the ‘money for exposure’ exchange everyone’s used to. While the standard branded merch and website takeover offers can still play an important role, these days event marketers need to use every (legitimate) trick in the book to leverage the audiences of their exhibitors and sponsors to increase brand and event visibility.
Let’s be real, you’re out here competing with Netflix binges and trying to grab people’s attention in between back to back Zoom calls — you’ve gotta get creative. Basically, if you’re not using the relationship to its fullest, you’re overlooking a powerful marketing tool that should play a part in your event marketing strategy. But why?
It touches on one of the most influential elements of marketing: word of mouth. Sponsorship is a public endorsement of an event’s credibility — and the bigger the sponsor, the more clout it carries. It’s hard to imagine an event sponsored by Microsoft flopping, right? So while your focus is primarily on delivering value to your event sponsors, don’t lose sight of the opportunities your sponsors have to boost your event’s visibility (and therefore ticket sales).
After all, a successful event is a win for you and your sponsors.
1. Be Flexible
The key is value - if it’s within your power, try to be flexible with what you can offer sponsors and exhibitors in exchange for their support. Every sponsor is different and there’s more to be gained from building the relationship with key decision makers than there is from sticking to a rigid program. In a 2019 survey, 52% of exhibitors surveyed said they’d prefer to choose à la carte options, rather than being boxed into a package with no flexibility (Exhibitor, 2019). Being able to give the sponsor something they truly value will make it much easier to negotiate cross-promotion opportunities too. Think community, awareness, and social proof to get the creativity flowing. What would they benefit from the most?
Psst: if you do offer bundled packages, giving tiered options (Bronze, Silver, Gold) can help shift the conversation from “will this be a worthwhile investment?” to “which tier is most worthwhile?”
2. Offer a referral program
Sponsors can make great referral partners as they’re likely to have their own warm, engaged audience in a relevant niche — and being able to offer that audience an exclusive or special deal, makes promoting your event a much more attractive option. For this to work best, the key is trust — their audience is much more likely to convert if they trust the sponsor’s endorsement of your event — so make sure you only offer this to sponsors whose audience fits the profile of your ideal attendee.
Bonus point: if you can, revenue sharing in the form of affiliate commissions can help sweeten the deal.
3. Entice with discounts and incentives
If you really want to up the ante, offer a discount or cashback incentive on their sponsorship package if they bring in a certain number of attendees. With the average sponsorship package coming in at $8456 (Markletic, 2021), this can be an attractive option for companies with a decent following but relatively lower budget. It works to not only help sell out your event, but also gives them a reason to push the promo more than they otherwise might (because hey, everyone loves a free dinner — and being able to report that they came in under budget and still hit targets for the year #blessed).
4. Offer VIP tickets and perks
Your sponsors and exhibitors aren’t just paying for exposure when they sponsor your event, they’re also paying for the standing it gives them in their own communities. Help pave the way by offering VIP tickets and special money-can’t-buy perks they can give away to their own audience. Exclusivity sells, and it puts them in a generous light.
5. Use a community marketing platform for one-click promos
It should go without saying, but if a community marketing platform like Gleanin isn’t top of your list for event promotion, you’re missing a trick. Designed to take the stress out of event marketing, it lowers the (mental and physical) barriers to event promotion — offering sponsors beautifully designed content to promote their involvement in a click. When dealing with tight schedules, meetings all over the place, and a growing to-do list, a one-click promo is the stress-free option that just might save your … uh, hide.
6. Show them a damn good time
Make it your mission to give your exhibitors and sponsors one heck of a valuable event experience, and you’ll be much more likely to a) have them return, and b) talk about their experience in all the right ways, in all the places that matter. Financial contributions aside, offering a stellar experience by being organised, committed to customer satisfaction, and working with reliable, quality suppliers will set your event apart from the rest and give you the holy grail of endorsement: organic word of mouth * wipes drool*.
7. Run a competition
Anything that helps grow their audience is worth a share — use this by running a ‘follow to enter’ style competition on social media. Competitions are really low barrier ways for wannabe attendees to get involved, and they offer an easy way for everyone to get something good out of it. And they’re measurable!
Bonus point: run a competition where prizes for attendees will be drawn during the event, to generate more buzz.
8. Collaborate on content in the lead up to the event
Get your thinking cap on, and plan out some content to create with and for your sponsors. With every social media manager permanently riding the content creation rollercoaster, ‘done for/with them’ content can come as a welcome relief. When they’re involved, it’s almost a guaranteed promo opp — so make sure you stay friendly with the people in charge of the content schedules. Q&A sessions, video interviews, and live streamed sessions are the most engaging content formats of the moment, with relatively low writing requirements.
Pro tip: after filming, videos can be transcribed and repurposed into blog posts and bite-sized quotes/tips for social media. By featuring your sponsors on the event website and in social media posts, you’re providing them with pre-curated content they can push out to their own social channels.
9. Equip them with the right info
You’re going to have a really hard time getting sponsors and exhibitors to promote your event if they don’t have the right tools and info. Put together a toolkit and promo pack with key details (like dates, event hashtags, and website/ticketing info) and pre-designed elements like logos and content cards.
Hot tip: make sure it gets into the right hands early on by asking who to send it to, and working with them to get all the info they need. Make their job easy and they’ll be much more likely to give you what you need in return.
10. Create post-event case studies
Even more effective than reports, case studies provide sponsors and exhibitors with bite-sized insights containing real event data — proof their sponsorship was a worthy investment. Not only is this a great way to get them (and others) returning for the next event, but it gives them useful social proof to aid their own marketing efforts. It even gives both parties marketing material to make a head start on the next event’s promos.
11. Get them press
If your event’s got some high-profile speakers on the agenda, put out a press release announcing their involvement. At the same time, you can highlight noteworthy event sponsors, which will ideally be picked up by relevant media outlets. This is a must if you’re running a charity event or supporting a particular cause, as the association will be even more positive for the sponsor. It’s called publicity, dahling.
12. Say ‘thank you’
Don’t skip this step — it should be standard. When sending your wrap ups, send a thank you to your sponsors and exhibitors for helping make your event a success. For an extra special touch, include some data in your message, such as “Your contribution helped us do X” (this works especially well for charitable events). Send it out on an attractive design (infographic style works well for this), and let them know they’re welcome to share it on their social channels.
13. Just ask
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s pretty universally acknowledged these days that if you’re sponsoring an event, there’ll be some promotion happening on both sides. Get in touch with their marketing team (or reach out to your company contact), and chat logistics about the best way to get on their promo calendar. Yes, it’s that simple.