March 29, 2010

Should You Get A Sponsor For Your Event?

empty billboard 250x300
You gotta serve somebody
--- Bob Dylan

A promise made is a debt unpaid
--- Robert Service

Sponsors have money and you've got expenses. Is combining them a win/win, a win/lose, a lose/win or a lose/lose?

When you're holding an event, the hotel or restaurant won't give you a room or refreshments for free. You may also have costs for equipment rental, mailing, advertising and prizes. A sponsor might cover some or all of these costs but nothing's free. Sponsorship isn’t a gift: you’re getting a loan that you repay with future sales.

Let’s look at the advantages and drawbacks of getting a sponsor.


Yes, there are advantages to having a sponsor
  1. equipment
  2. expertise
  3. credibility


Your sponsor might provide a projector (though these are quite affordable these days). If you have a projector, the sponsor could bring a spare.


Since your sponsor has seen your competitors’ events, you get valuable tips on how to improve yours. Remember that what you do well will turn into tips for your competitors.
Your sponsor may provide a speaker. That's helpful if the topic is outside your expertise or if you position yourself as a concierge or host.


Sponsors refuse more requests than they approve. So sponsorship brings an endorsement with it. You inherit some of your sponsor's credibility. This may nudge an undecided prospect into attending.


Sponsorship also brings drawbacks.
  1. Loss of privacy
  2. Loss of control
  3. Loss of identity

Loss of Privacy

Your sponsor's goals differ from yours. Yes, your sponsor wants (and expects) your business. That's a win/win. But sponsors want much more.

Sponsors want to see what you're doing so they can tell your competitors what works. Why? You're usually a small fish. They’d make much more by getting a bit more business from their other fish than from all of yours.

A sponsor probably won't disclose where they pick up tips. They may even give you credit. Regardless, you've unwittingly given away your intellectual property. That may matter to you since small tweaking (in the invitation, say) can have big impact on results.

Loss of Control

By dictating the budget, your sponsor has a say in your venue and topics. Your sponsor may even want or expect time on the agenda. Before you book the venue, you may need to get pre-approval. In some ways, you're working for them. That's the power of holding the purse or wallet.

Loss of Identity

Your sponsor is probably better known than you and your company. Your branding loses impact. Will potential attendees think that you're reluctant to pay your own marketing bills? Will they expect biases in your content? If you're sponsored by an insurance company, you can expect more emphasis on segregated funds than other investments they’re prohibited from selling.

Since we are inundated with advertising everywhere we turn, a commercial-free oasis has charms. You are selling something yourself, after all. With the sponsor, your perceived impartiality decreases: your audience expects you to sell or promote that company. During the question period, you have a tougher time answering questions because every product has drawbacks and you don't want to offend your sponsor.

Other Options

If you don't want to advertise for the sponsor, you can split the costs of your event among the presenters if they're also selling something. You’ll all have a stronger incentive to get results.

Maybe you can find an unrelated sponsor. Suppose you're selling financial services to wealthy farmers. Maybe a tractor, truck or seed company would like access to your audience. Here, it helps to have contacts in place --- ideally people you've helped in the past.

Rather than owe a sponsor, you can foot the bill yourself. You believe in your event, don't you?


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