Conference sponsorship is one of the most widely used strategies to drive engagement and increase membership levels. A 2017 report revealed that global sponsorship spending is growing at average annual rates of 4 percent and is only expected to keep rising.
However, sponsorship in the associations and membership organisations sector is not always used to its fullest potential. In many cases, organisers and sponsors favour a traditional approach that relies almost exclusively on visual strategies, such as logo placement and the distribution of sponsored materials. However, as they move into the 21st-century, organisations are urged to go beyond conventional perspectives and explore alternative ways of thinking about the role of sponsorship. These alternative views primarily involve different ways of thinking about conference or event sponsorship and different ways of going about it.
Rethinking Conference Sponsorship
Maximising sponsorship efforts requires a conceptual shift. By investing in a conference or event, the sponsor is not only backing the event itself, but also the vision, mission, values of the organiser. From an even wider perspective, we could say that sponsorship is an investment in the future of any given sector (e.g., medical, not-for-profit, etc.). In practical terms, this means both organisers and sponsors need to have a shared vision that focuses on forging long-term relationships.
Because conferences are time-bound, sponsorship is often seen as a one-off business transaction. Yet, the sponsor-organiser relationship does not have to be limited to the event’s timeline. This relationship requires a partner-to-partner approach where both parties work towards creating long-term impact and value. Since conferences target niche markets, the easiest way of achieving this is by developing a sponsorship model that favours the dissemination of information above and beyond mere advertising.
ROI vs ROE
The second conceptual change involves moving from a quantitative to a qualitative focus. Sponsorship entails a financial investment, but the outcome may not be directly or immediately quantified in economic terms. The increasing importance of social interaction in the digital sphere affects the events industry too, which means that ROE (return on engagement) is just as important as ROI.
ROE metrics study patterns that emerge from online conversations and evaluate participation, public awareness, influence, positive perception, authority gains, and loyalty via shares, membership sign-ups, enquiries, mentions, and social media comments. The takeaway message is that engagement precedes trust, and trust precedes action, so engagement should be seen as a sponsorship goal that has value in its own right.
Through its innovative use of rich data and personalisation, event technology can unlock the value of sponsorship. Using events technology can differentiate the sponsor’s message and brand image by targeting the right audience at the right time and by providing opportunities for meaningful interaction.
For example, event apps serve as a bridge across communication, networking, and the dissemination of information. Apps can contain videos, attendee profiles, recorded presentations, downloadable material, contact lists, podcasts, etc., so they act as a centralised platform that has functional and reputational value.
Similarly, digital scribing can harness the power of visual imagery by transcribing words into images in real time. Studies show that only 10 percent of written/audio material is remembered, but this figure can increase to 80 percent when images are involved. This points to the potential of digital scribing as a tool that boosts information retention and creates an emotional connection between conference speakers and attendees. Moreover, materials can be shared or re-purposed after the event for storytelling or similar purposes.
Other examples are online communities built around conferences, which serve as spaces for dialogue and validate the need for meaningful interaction. Before the event, communities give exposure to the sponsor and build up expectations and engagement. Once the event is over, they become a strategic tool that emphasises learning and professional growth through webinars, online challenges, live-stream discussions, etc.
Focus On The Experience
Putting an experiential value in the spotlight is (along with the use of technology) an alternative way of going about event sponsorship. Traditionally, sponsorship strategies focus on promoting a service/brand first and foremost. Nowadays, it makes sense to direct efforts towards creating interactive and engaging experiences. These resonate better with attendees, who are then more likely to share first-person accounts and create a completely new narrative around the event.
Generating experiential value means giving the audience an opportunity to be actively involved in the event they are attending, whether it is through virtual or augmented reality elements, user-centred content generation platforms, gamification, or through any other method that lets the audience “live” the event rather than just attend it.
Focusing on building long-term relationships, creating engagement, using innovative technology, and prioritising experiential event design can help amplify the core message of any event and build a positive image of both sponsors and organisers. By reassessing the way we think and act about conferences and sponsorship, associations can get a step closer to unlocking the real value that lays in 21st-century events and sponsorship opportunities.
Congrex Switzerland is an internationally operating agency delivering customised solutions. This encompasses the overall organisation of conferences and meetings including the management of hotel rooms and the strategic consultancy. Annually Congrex Switzerland organises approximately 33 events with over 73’000 delegates. Amongst our clients are international associations, governmental organisations and corporations.
If you wish to receive additional information about Congrex Switzerland, please feel free to contact us.