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Strategies for Growing Conference Sponsorship Revenue!

Conferences: they are a considerable time and large financial investment for associations and B2B organizations. Last year conferences and trade shows were the largest single marketing expense for B2B organizations, according to Forrester research. Ideally, this huge commitment comes with a profitable return for the organization but unfortunately not always.

Organizations that hold conferences typically earn revenue in three ways:

  • Attendee registrations
  • The sale of exhibits
  • The sale of sponsorships

For this article we’d like to offer up a few tips for growing your conference revenue through sponsorships.

Let’s start with the good news. The latest IEG Sponsorship report found sponsorship spending for associations is continuing to recover from those rough recession years where spending had declined for a few years. In fact, 38% of associations reported a year-over-year increase in sponsorship revenue in 2013. A good strategy will help prevent your association from being among the 62% that didn’t.

Understand Your Industry, Increase Your Sponsorships

You know your industry pretty well; put that expertise to use when assessing your conference revenue strategy. Start by asking yourself these questions when developing your sponsorship strategy to get a better understanding of your target:

  • Is your industry large or a smaller niche one?

Industry size offers quite a few insights into your revenue needs and how to approach pricing sponsorship packages. In a smaller, more niche industry it will likely be more important to focus on generating revenue with a few sponsors that are willing to pay more to reach your members, or if you can charge less and make it up with a larger volume of sponsors. A benefit of the larger industry conference has over a smaller industry conference is that some sponsors will pay more to reach a bigger pool of potential customers. But a larger industry conference also opens the door to another consideration…

  • How many other similar conferences are being offered in my industry this year?

One great thing about niche industries is that there are often less competing conferences and events to reach your audience. If you’re group is one of a very small pool of organizations or the only game in town, you tend to have a lot more leeway with pricing your event and your sponsorship. Advertisers will be more willing to spend more to reach your particular audience. In an industry where there are lots of similar and competing conferences, you either have the issue that your advertising will want to spread a finite amount over multiple conferences or that they may consider not attending yours in favor of a competitor.

Offering Value to Your Sponsors

Signage at the event and on promotional items are one way to draw extra attention to a sponsor’s product, but what else can you do to ensure a sponsorship package at your event is truly valuable? Update your current or create new sponsorship packages to include more innovative and creative ways to get sponsors in front of your members.

Review past sponsorship offerings for effectiveness. Consider adding new opportunities in place of the lower-performing ones. If you find yourself at a loss for what to add, Betsy Blair has an unconventional, but clever suggestion in her article, “Seven Secrets for Growing Conference Sponsorship Revenue:” “Figure out the attendee’s pain points and figure out how you can eliminate them. And have those sponsored!”

Finding Sponsors for your Conference

It goes without question that last year’s sponsors should be at the top of your list when you begin prospecting. The return vendor is very likely a happy one. They may also be more receptive to an upsell on their package if they got a good reception when they attended last year. Instead of trying to sell exhibitors a booth, sell them the opportunity for a sponsorship. Consider offering a discount for repeat exhibitors.

But don’t stop there. To grow conference sponsorship revenue, you must find new sponsors. Here’s one way to do that…

More Cost Effective to Sell Sponsorships Internally, Or To Outsource?

The IEG report found that nearly one-fourth of all associations don’t have a full-time sponsorship sales or support employee. Particularly in organizations with smaller staffs, employees are often left wearing many hats and few are focusing solely on one thing.

The more staff you have prospecting and selling sponsorships for your event, the more will come in. This is where outsourcing sponsorship sales can bring real value to your organization. The cost to employ an ad sales firms like, AdBoom Advertising, is usually offset with the increased revenue that comes with having a person or team devoted strictly to sponsorship and event sales. The outsourced firm can also serve as consultants to your current team. Additionally, many firms will also take care of the additional considerations like billing, trafficking, and developing supplemental marketing collateral.

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