Two benchmarks we like to use to identify healthy conference revenue business models are:
- Industry revenue — 30 percent or more of a conference’s total revenue should come from the combination of sponsor, exhibit, and advertising revenue.
- Expo/sponsor revenue ratio — for every $3 in expo revenue, a thriving sponsor program will generate $1 of revenue or more (a 3-to-1 or better ratio).
If your conference revenue business model falls short on one or both of these benchmarks, your sponsorship strategy is in need of an overhaul. Take a page from how a restaurant menu is organized into appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts. For your sponsorship menu, approach the categories in terms of how they align with your sponsor’s marketing objectives. Start with their goals, and include appropriate à la carte items for each:
- Education champion/thought leader — keynote speakers, session recordings, scheduled replays, webinars, session tracks, speaking slots, awards
- Attendee experiences — lounges, F&B events, entertainment, Wi-Fi, mobile app, charging stations, interactive experiences, giveaways, transportation
- VIP experiences — special access passes for top clients, leader event sponsor
- Home base/presence — demo kiosk, meeting space
- Branding — lanyards, attendee bag, pads and pens, floor stickers, banner ads.
Each menu item should include a listing of the benefits or activation that will be provided for the sponsor. A good target is to sell at least 65 percent of your available inventory. Guard against listing items that you don’t plan to make part of your program unless you sell the sponsorship. Go light on the branding inventory. These items don’t elevate attitudes for your sponsor’s brand.
The à la carte menu approach provides the building blocks for creating custom-made, or bespoke, packages for your sponsors. Determine the total investment and level attainment by accumulating spend for all of the sponsored items.
Develop sponsorship levels by creating a minimum of three to four ranges:
- Premier — more than $20,000
- Partner — $10,000–$20,000
- Collaborator — $5,000–$10,000
- Supporter — $2,500–$5,000
These amounts should be customized for your situation. In an ideal world, you will have at least two, but no more than six, sponsors at the highest level. The number of sponsors in the next levels should progressively increase — your model should look like a pyramid.
Award escalating additional benefits to the sponsors who achieve a level. Include logo and acknowledgement on digital and on-site properties. Provide sponsor ribbons, access to VIP functions/ room blocks, enhanced listings, and discounts on branding sponsorship items or tickets.
There are six keys to developing a strategic sponsorship program:
- Fewer, but bigger sponsors
- Custom packages for the bigger sponsors
- It’s not about eyeballs and logos
- Activation plans that last 90 days and longer
- If the attendee doesn’t win, no one wins
- Senior staff and/or volunteer leaders who open doors and nurture relationships
For tips on getting away from Gold, Silver, and Bronze packages, go to pcma.org/precious-metal-sponsorships, and for insights on how to think about pricing à la cart sponsorship inventory, visit convn.org/sponsor-worth.
Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.