Here’s What Event Sponsorship is — and What it’s Not

Author: Dave Lutz, CMP       

Sponsorship is the most powerful form of marketing. (Prostock-studio/Adobe Stock)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received invitations to attend webinars and download industry research reports and read articles all aimed to help conference and show organizers grow sponsorship revenue. Problem is, when you dig into these resources, you find that they are more focused on print and digital advertising than true sponsorship.

Sponsorship is the most powerful form of marketing. When done well, sponsorship can change participants’ attitudes and behaviors about a brand. Banners, ads, signs, and enhanced listings shouldn’t be lumped into the same category — they don’t make that emotional connection. Our industry must get more sophisticated to seize this opportunity.

Sponsorship Is Not Passive

Banners, column wraps, and clings do not lead to action or appreciation of a brand. That’s not to say that they serve no purpose. Instead, they should be bundled as part of a larger package as opposed to being sold à la carte. There are three primary traits of an effective sponsorship activation:

› Choice — Attendees should be able to opt in or opt out. If the sponsorship is forced on them, ROI will not be achieved for the sponsor, organizer, or participant.

› Do or Feel — Attendees should be able to interact with, consume, share, or appreciate the sponsorship activation. Some of the more innovative sponsorships will align with the passion or values of the attendees.

› Mattering — Participants should get something out of this: They may be entertained, educated, surprised, awarded, helped, satisfied, or become more connected. Mattering can include attendee experience enhancers like a charging station, free Wi-Fi, food and beverage offerings, or a giveaway that attendees value.


Most of what our industry is selling is what I like to call booth-plus — or “Would you like fries with that booth?”— opportunities. It’s not sponsorship but a worthwhile marketing micro-investment for driving booth traffic. These opportunities often include enhanced booth listings, participation in a new product showcase, or an ad in print or digital publications. Most organizers can effectively sell these by offering them as a check-the-box, upsell opportunity during booth contracting.

Where possible, these opportunities should be integrated. Don’t sell enhanced listings on the mobile app that aren’t also applied to the website and print.

Don’t Organize Around Your Products

Exhibitors and sponsors dislike being hit up by multiple sources selling opportunities for your conference/show. In some cases, an association’s foundation team is competing against the expo/ sponsor team and publication/ advertising salespeople for the same sponsor’s dollars. While each product has its own P&L, your customers see requests from different staff as an organization whose left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Instead of organizing around your products, coordinate your efforts around your customers — especially for your largest investors.

To read Kim Skildum-Reid’s “The One Critical Skill Most Sponsorship Professionals Lack” for tips on placing primary focus on the attendees — i.e., fans — visit

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting,  

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