#9 – How to attract sponsors and exhibitors to your event

In Events, Events, News by Anna Bailey

Here at DRIVE, we organise all types of corporate events, and clients often ask us to create and execute sponsorship strategies to generate an additional revenue stream. This can be particularly helpful if the break-even point, or financial margins, are a bit tight, as any extra income earned from sponsors or exhibitors can reduce the extent of any financial risk.

So where do you start in obtaining sponsors and exhibitors for your event? Let’s take a medical conference as an example of how to go about it….

1 – The most important step is to consider what sort of companies might benefit from either brand exposure via sponsorship or exhibiting at your event (or potentially a mixture of both).  To do this, you need to think about the services that might appeal to the event delegates or attendees - what might they need or consider purchasing in their professional capacity? What could influence this decision? For example, if they are medical practitioners - such as physiotherapists - what equipment might they use in their work (think lifting equipment, dumbbells, treadmills, etc.?) You can then create a database of potential exhibitors or sponsors and contact these companies to gauge the level of interest.

2 – Once you have created your target list, you need to consider your offering. Here the WIIFM - What’s In It For Me?  - acronym is helpful. Put yourself in the shoes of the sponsor and consider what they might be looking for. If it’s brand exposure, then think of the different opportunities for displaying sponsor logos during a conference (signage, presentations, delegate bags, pens, lanyards etc.) Alternatively, you could have one company sponsoring a breakfast networking event or an evening drinks reception on the first day. If a company considers your delegates to be a great fit with their products, then they are likely to want to demonstrate these products and so exhibiting at your event will be more appropriate than pure sponsorship.

If you think that you will be able to attract exhibitors to your event, then it is important to consider the space you are likely to need at the very outset of your event, to ensure that there is enough room at the venue to accommodate them. It is also important to consider where in the venue they will be and the ‘footfall’ they will get, i.e. how many delegates they will get access to. There is no point putting exhibitors in an area where they will not get any passing traffic, as the whole experience will be futile; not only will they fail to see the benefit, but you may in danger of losing their support for future events.  Consider the involvement of sponsors as a long-term relationship as it is easier to attract sponsorship from a company that has had a positive experience with you before.

3 – Create an eye-catching and clear sales brochure (PDF version is fine unless you are looking to attract tens of thousands of pounds worth of sponsorship). You could also use social media to encourage interest – LinkedIn is especially good for this. In order to do start the selling process, you will need to have worked out what sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities you are going to offer (type of space, how many free or discounted tickets they will receive, as well as branding on printed and digital materials) and how much you are going to charge.  Also consider how much you are prepared to negotiate on these rates. This process can be tricky, as you need to balance what you need to earn commercially with making sure that your offering represents good value for money to your target companies. A spreadsheet with all the variables is a great help here!

4 – Consider your sales process – ideally you should make an initial call to speak to the potential sponsor’s decision-maker directly.  Ask to speak to the Managing Director if they are a smaller company - the owners will usually be the MDs and make the decisions themselves - or ask for the Marketing Director or Manager (or the person responsible for sponsorship and exhibitions and so on).

Outline the nature of your event succinctly and the number of delegates you are hoping to attract as well as the make-up of that audience. You should then follow up the call with a well-written (again succinct) email that covers your understanding of what the potential sponsor/exhibitor is hoping to achieve and attaching the sales brochure. You should include a clear call to action in the email – perhaps including a special rate for early conformation - and advise that you will follow up in a given amount of time. 

5 – Once you have secured a sponsor/exhibitor, you will need to sort the financial aspect and then ensure that you liaise with them regularly in the build up to event and on the day itself. Make sure you know what it is they are bringing with them, the space they will need, whether there are any further requirements, and so on.  This can be quite time-consuming as you will often need to go back and forth with your venue in order to answer the questions accurately.

6 – Following the event, it is important to contact them in timely fashion to obtain feedback and to establish whether they are interested in reserving a slot at any future events you are holding that might be of relevance.

We hope that this blog has been useful. We would be very happy to help you with your sponsor and exhibitor acquisition and management so please get in touch for a no-obligation initial discussion.

Next time – in our 10th and last blog in the series we will be looking at the importance of feedback!