With sponsorship dollars down and withering vendor enthusiasm for legacy sponsorships (i.e. the coffee break), a different approach to revenue growth is desperately needed. A trend I’ve seen developing (slowly) is presenting prospects and long-time sponsors with a customized or “boutique” sponsorship opportunity. The problem is no one on the sales side is being proactive in facilitating these discussions.
Yes, there is typically a line or two at the bottom of your prospectus indicating the association is open to customizing a program, but that’s a passive approach, often overlooked and, frankly, a missed opportunity for the sponsor, the association and the attendee to have a great experience.
What we’re driving at here is the next level of customization, and this effort requires you to be proactive. For example, look at your top 20 prospects: some of whom have been stuck at a mid-tier or lower-level sponsorship. Take the all-important initiative to call them and say, “Hey, thanks for supporting us and being a part of the program in the past. We’d like to take your participation to the next level by creating a customized sponsorship opportunity that is valuable to you and meets your business objectives.”
Sponsors don’t necessarily have the “boutique sponsorship” mindset because the idea hasn’t been presented to them and their default is just signing onto the same old program. Many sponsors are in the same situation we are: Tight on time, bandwidth and not enough time to think strategically. Your sales team needs to pick up the phone and bring the strategic conversation to them.
Let me give you an example of “sponsorship customization:” You have a long-time sponsor who has been underwriting the refreshment breaks for a few years and it hasn’t really evolved much for them.
This is where you make your move. First, ask them what they are trying to accomplish. More often than not, they want a networking opportunity with some of the VIPs in the industry. Based on this conversation, perhaps there could be an opportunity to sponsor the board meeting – something that’s not been done before. Hey, the board meeting is comprised of the biggest VIPs in the industry, right? Offer to put a program together for them to sponsor that event, which puts their people and those business leaders in the same room.
Today’s sponsorship opportunities are like ordering off a dinner menu but, just like any restaurant, the best waiters make suggestions, additions and substitutions for whatever you order up, right? We can definitely learn a thing or two from the restaurant business. Or are you just an order taker?
Consider asking these three questions:
- If you could create an opportunity, what would it be?
- What would you like to see?
- How could you get more out of this event?
The bottom line is customized sponsorship programs are a growth opportunity but we are failing in our execution. Don’t put the offer at the bottom of the prospectus and expect the prospects to come to you. Initiate the conversation!