Is It Time for an Event Sponsorships Makeover?

By • May 22, 2015

Five Tips for Reinventing Your Sponsorship Offerings

Tara Ericson
Tara Ericson, Naylor Association Solutions

Do you have a three-tiered (platinum, gold, silver) event sponsorship offering? Have you offered the same sponsorship opportunities year after year? Is your sponsorship revenue stagnant or declining?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your exhibit and event sponsorship offerings may need a facelift.

Experts say 85 percent of a trade show’s revenue comes from selling exhibit space. The other 15 percent comes from sponsorship and advertising. According to Velvet Chainsaw, however, associations are shifting more effort into capitalizing on trade show sponsorships and advertising in response to vendors’ desire to reach potential customers in more meaningful, creative ways. Furthermore, vendors are relying on associations to come up with those creative ways to reach attendees before making a sponsorship investment.


Still selling gold/silver/bronze event sponsorships?
You’re leaving money on the table. RealLilTweetables

85 percent of a trade show’s revenue comes from selling exhibit space, but this money is quickly shifting over to custom event sponsorships. RealLilTweetables

When SPI: The Plastics Trade Industry Association offered more custom event sponsorships for NPE2015, revenue increased by 40 percent. RealLilTweetables

When it comes to event sponsorships, don’t undersell yourself. Go REALLY big and creative. RealLilTweetables

If you’re already responsible for multiple parts of planning and executing an event, your sponsorships are likely on autodrive, and a total reinvention probably seems daunting. Don’t let the idea of reinventing sponsorships intimidate you. Here are five tips for growing your event sponsorship revenue. Consider starting with one or two ideas or, if you’re feeling bold, incorporate all of them. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it is meant to stir up some creativity among you and your team as you consider how your organization can improve your sponsorship offerings:

  1. Customization is in demand.

Many associations are comfortable with their standard one-size fits-all platinum/gold/silver event sponsorship offerings. In fact, based on the 2014 Association Benchmarking Report, only 42.8 percent (of association executives surveyed) said they were trying to customize their advertising/sponsorship programs to a company’s specific needs, and only 10.1 percent fully customize each sponsorship opportunity. That means the majority of associations are sticking with the status quo. Not good.

We encourage you to take a more sponsor-centric approach when developing your event sponsorship offerings. Building flexibility into your event sponsorship campaign allows the sponsor to tailor their messaging and branding more effectively toward your attendees.

Brad Williams, SPI
Brad Williams , SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association

“Customizing sponsorship offerings is the preferred approach,” said Brad Williams, VP of marketing and business development for SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association.  “I think there can still be a place for platinum, gold and silver sponsorship offerings at smaller events; however, within the platinum offering there needs to be flexibility for customization,” he said.

Williams would know: After offering more customized sponsorships for their 2015 event than before, SPI increased event sponsorship revenue by more than 40 percent over its last show in 2012.

Divide your sponsor prospects into different buckets to segment those prospects who are the most likely to participate in a customized event sponsorship package. Use a consultative sales strategy in which you try to match your association’s event objectives and education track with your sponsor’s objectives and branding.

A good example of a customized sponsorship might look like this: An event sponsor purchases a sponsorship package that includes a full-page ad in the association’s magazine adjacent to an article related to their industry segment, that runs prior to the tradeshow. The ad directs readers to the sponsor’s booth. At the event, the sponsorship package includes signage at a specific education session that reaches the sponsor’s targeted attendees, permission to distribute a leave-behind, such as a key for each attendee, at the education sessions that will unlock a prize at the sponsor’s booth, and an online banner in the event’s daily eNewsletter.

“We know [the professional background of]everyone coming to the event so we ask our sponsors to tell us who they want to reach and what message they want to communicate and we help custom fit a program to their objectives,” Williams said.

  1. Keep it fresh.

Remember when sponsoring hand sanitizer stations and water bottles were new? These types of sponsored swag used to be highly visible because they were innovative for a time. Associations that host events always need to look for and offer the next new thing in sponsorships to keep their event fresh for vendors. Offering creative, innovative sponsorships keeps your sponsors coming back for more! Combine innovative ideas with unique sponsorship opportunities to create new sponsorship revenue streams.

Williams shared a couple examples of creative sponsorships:

  • Main Lobby DJ Sponsorship: Music creates great ambiance, especially if it’s happy and upbeat. This approach allows the sponsor to have signage on the DJ table and to insert their own audio commercial every 10 minutes.
  • Cocktail Ice Luge Sponsorship: Sculpted ice structure with the association logo and sponsor logo. This provides great exposure in a fun and entertaining environment.
  • Product Developers Reception: An invitation-only gathering held during the larger show, at which guests hand-picked by the sponsor for their interest in the sponsor’s products can view a prototype (in the case of NPE, a 3-D printed prosthetic arm) and speak with the sponsor about their offerings.

Williams encourages his team to ask prospective sponsors what unique sponsorship opportunities they have seen at other events to help keep his pipeline of sponsorship offerings fresh.


Have two or three high profile, exclusive sponsorship opportunities for vendors willing to invest a large sum to reach your members. Too often associations shy away from asking for the big dollars for fear of upsetting their membership or a lack of confidence that they will sell. Don’t shy away from offering a $200,000 to $300,000 event sponsorship at a large regional or national event and a $20,000 to $30,000 exclusive event sponsorship at a state or regional event. If you don’t offer it, you will never know if you are leaving money on the table.

The key to successfully selling these event sponsorships is to keep them big, loud and exclusive, which can be fun for you and for the vendor. Williams points out, “You don’t want to be beholden to a certain association sponsor. So keep a fair and balanced approach for association sponsorships. However, with event sponsors you have more flexibility because it’s a special occasion with a defined beginning and end.”

These loud sponsorship opportunities should come with the honor of having the sponsors’ brand in every single part of your event. Make a huge splash with marquee sponsorships so your vendor is portrayed as the king of the event, and no one is left to wonder who the premier sponsor was.

  1. But don’t forget the little guys!

While going big with your top sponsors, don’t forget to create some low-budget options for new companies entering the marketplace or for companies of any size that haven’t been doing business with you. As Skip Cox notes, smaller exhibitors tend to be the ones most “at risk” of not renewing.

“You want your sponsors to grow in your event, so you want them to have the best presence as their [current] budget will allow,” Williams commented. For national or large events this may equal a $1,500 to $2,500 entry point and an $800 to $1,200 price for smaller or statewide events. Of course, the exact amount depends on your event’s size, quality of attendees, industry and history.

Williams encourages associations to work with sponsors to find a price point that is mutually agreeable when introducing new event sponsorship offerings or when working with a first-time sponsor. However, if you offer a discounted rate, Williams encourages marketing and sales teams to always note the original price on the invoice and reflect the savings so your sponsor will anticipate having to pay the full price upon renewal.

  1. Give sponsors what they really want

Your greatest asset is your membership, and your sponsors are willing to pay for time with members. Sponsors appreciate the branding opportunities that signage and swag offer, but being able to talk directly with their target market is the most coveted benefit your custom sponsorships can offer. Furthermore, if the vendor’s product or service is truly relevant to your community, your members will appreciate the chance to learn about the vendor and their offerings in a setting in which they’re primed to make connections. Meeting with vendors at events saves members some legwork and often creates awareness of solutions they didn’t know exist. The opportunity is mutually beneficial: Nearly half (49 percent) of attendees come to shows ready to buy.

Incorporate access to you members into your sponsorship packages through appointment-based sessions, promotional emails, print and digital media, VIP cocktail parties and speaking opportunities.

“Don’t put the onus on the sponsor to activate or leverage the sponsorship,” Williams said. “Show your sponsors how they can communicate their message directly to the targeted attendees.” It’s your event: Take the reins and show your sponsors how to get the most out of the offerings you’ve created.


Creativity is just one (big) part of successfully selling reinvented event sponsorships. The other is timing. Michelle Giles goes into more detail in her article about exhibitor marketing, but the gist is this: Start early at the current show for next year’s event. It sometimes takes time for vendors to become willing to invest in big, loud sponsorships as well as smaller, new sponsorships. Give your vendors the time they may need to discuss the investment in your event and in your audience. Don’t sell it as an afterthought.

If you try any of these ideas, let us know how it goes! We love hearing success stories about how associations earn more non-dues revenue. Drop us a line in the comments below if you have a creative or proven sponsorship opportunity you want to share.

Tara Ericson is a group vice president at Naylor Association Solutions where she oversees Group Publishers and specialized industry market teams, whose primary focus is to ensure Naylor’s association partners are consistently achieving their non-dues revenue goals. She has 16 years of experience crafting and selling event sponsorships.