A few years ago I joined the admission team of a prestigious East Coast law school. Their processes were tight and their event menu was well-thought-out. My role was to execute and manage these events to their expected standards, but I knew these events could serve more than their target audiences by bringing in partners who wanted to extend their relationship with our students, faculty and administration.
“What about creating sponsorship opportunities for a few events?” I asked. I had designed, implemented and managed countless sponsorships previously in my career and knew their win-win potential. With some creativity and clear boundaries, we implemented three sponsorships that first year that helped offset the event costs while showing that our school was interested in a more reciprocal relationship.
The Four Categories of Event Sponsorships
Event sponsorships can be divided into four different categories. Event technology company GEVME, in its blog “Types of Sponsorship,” outlines them as follows:
Cash: As the name suggests, cash or financial sponsors are sponsors who literally give money to an event organizer in exchange for explicitly outlined benefits.
In-Kind: Unlike cash of financial sponsors, in-kind sponsors donate products or services instead of offering cash. For example, a hotel may offer free rooms/ catering discount as a form of sponsorship. This may also be referred to as barter or trade, since you will be providing sponsorship benefits in return.
Media: For large-scale and high-profile events that require plenty of publicity or advertising to drive attendance, a media partnership is largely valuable. By definition, they are partnerships with a company that will provide media exposure for your event. It could be a trade (i.e. tickets for ad space) or it could be financial (i.e. Company X provides cash that you can use to produce recorded ads, design print ads or purchase paid media)
Promotional: Similar to media sponsors, promotional partners are people or organizations who will help promote your event to their customers or fan bases, often in return for exposure to your customers.
The Four Benefits of Sponsorship
Not sure you are ready to undertake sponsorship as part of your event plan? There are four benefits to consider:
Sponsorships are valuable in the perpetuation of an event. If you aren’t sure how you can fund an event, sponsorships are a necessary support source. There are four types of sponsorship event, discussed below, that will assist your event.
Sponsorships can help provide support “add-ons” that aren’t budgeted or would allow upgrades. Can’t afford advertising in that trade magazine, but know that the readers are your target audience? Propose a trade sponsorship where you’ll get advertising in return for event access for the magazine staff. I have a current client who is in the sixth year of their event, but we are creating new underwriting opportunities that will enhance our event attendees’ experience.
Introduction to New Audiences
Similar to underwriting, sponsorships can help you broaden your event reach. Social media trades, traditional trades or promotional trades can all be ways to promote your event to new audiences.
Are you creating a new event that needs to be established? Are you implementing a long-standing program that needs a re-fresh or merely stay top of mind? You can use sponsorships to accomplish either of these goals. By partnering with businesses that support your product space, you can achieve what sociologists call “cultural assimilation”, the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble those of a dominant group Or in customer relations terms, aligning with brands that potential customers admire, you bring instant status and affinity to your program.
Three Concepts to Consider
Now that you understand the why of sponsorship, let’s take a quick view of the how. Throughout this article, I‘ve been interchanging the words sponsorship and partnership. That’s because, in my experience, a good sponsorship is a partnership; the creation of a win-win situation for the event as well the sponsor. There are three concepts you as the event organizer need to consider before shopping for sponsors:
Work with your team or a consultant to determine what is available to be shared with potential partners. Obvious items include event tickets, program ads, social media mentions and marketing material inclusion, but don’t forget opportunities like post-event surveys, specialized, segmented offers and on-stage exposure. Many opportunities can be event and/ or industry-specific, so identify them and determine if they are opportunities you are prepared to share.
Once you understand your inventory, you will need to determine pricing. Are you customizing sponsorships on a case by case basis or will you only have pre-packaged offerings? Do some market research to understand the market value of your offerings. Pricing too high is as detrimental as pricing too low. Will you allow flexibility in your offerings? Are some inventory items only available at certain price points, while others can be used at different levels? This is also when you want to outline your solicitation, processing and fulfilment strategies. My motto: Always under-promise and over-deliver. It’s a surefire way to impress your partners and align them for your next event.
Have an understanding of privacy issues that can affect your sponsorship inventory. Can you share attendee lists with sponsors? Are you in a regulated industry that has specific information sharing rules? Understand these potential issues before you go to market so you don’t have to backtrack or change offerings in mid-sales.
This may seem like a lot to think about before you “take to the streets” with your program, but I guarantee you that well-developed sponsorship strategy will lead to great results.
 (Boyer, P (2001). Cultural Assimilation. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. pp. 3032–3035. doi:10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/00364-8. ISBN 9780080430768.)