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April 11, 2008
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Karen Tocher: Securing conference sponsorship

Obtaining sponsorship is a fundamental aim for many conferences. The funding from sponsorship can have a huge financial impact on your event. For example sponsorship can be crucial for academic conferences, in particular, in order for the event to take place without making a loss.

Equally choosing to support a conference can be extremely beneficial for the actual sponsors. Having a strong presence at an event which comes under the umbrella of your target sector, can reap rewards in terms of brand awareness for an organisation.

However, securing sponsorship can sometimes prove a testing challenge. Competition can be fierce with many organisations inundated with similar requests to support events. It is, therefore, vital to think outside of the box when it comes to attracting and approaching sponsors and ensure that you are offering a package, which is highly beneficial to both the conference organisers and the potential supporter. In my experience, the following factors can help:

Tempting terminology
Words and phrases can make all the difference when approaching an organiser. Choosing to support a conference can have significant advantages for an organisation. Presenting their logo in the literature and signage throughout the conference raises their profile among their target audience, while the organisation's reputation as experts within the specific field can be enhanced through input into academic sessions during the event. Presenting the associated benefits to a potential sponsor is the first element conference organisers should consider. For example, carefully wording communication to present sponsorship as a "marketing opportunity" can make all the difference between tempting and turning away a prospective supporter.

Make it personal
Communicating on a one-to-one basis with individual potential sponsors will gain far better results. Blanket mailing can often seem like the most time-effective way of getting the sponsorship information across to a multitude of organisations. However, taking a more personal approach is far more likely to deliver the preferred result and secure that all-important sponsor.

Making contact with selected prospective sponsors directly and individually is important. It creates the opportunity to provide these organisations with packages that are tailored towards them specifically. Approaching possible supporters from an angle that will exclusively appeal to their interests and requirements is liable to receive a much more positive reaction.

Sourcing sponsors
It is vital to consider who to target when approaching sponsors. Creating a key list of potential companies to approach should be one of the first tasks undertaken. Identifying businesses with a direct and specific interest within the given sector affiliated with the conference is essential. These companies will be able to immediately recognise the advantages supporting your conference will bring.

But equally it is important not to limit the companies you approach to a list that is too refined or narrow. Think outside the box about companies from outside the immediate and obvious sector, who may equally find the sponsorship opportunity beneficial to their business. For example, local restaurants may be keen to get involved in supporting the catering arrangements for the event. With delegates often attending from across the globe, a conference would provide the unique opportunity for them to present their product to a wide and varied audience who they may not reach otherwise.

When organising a conference, it is about not only promoting the event, but also the destination with the aim of encouraging post event return visits by delegates. Involving local suppliers in your conference will bring a sense of "locality" to your event and help to highlight just some of the qualities which make your given location attractive to visitors.

Try something different

Sponsorship packages often follow a standardised format incorporating elements such as the appearance of sponsor logos on conference literature and a visual presence in terms of banners and stands at the actual event. These are all vital aspects that are important for potential sponsors. But being more innovative with the sponsorship package that you offer can often achieve a positive outcome.

For example, the opportunity for supporters to get involved with the more social aspects of the conference such as an evening occasion can be a unique way of attracting sponsorship. The chance to be associated with the more light hearted and entertaining aspect of the conference can be very appealing to potential supporters as they are reaching their target audience at a more relaxed and informal occasion. Or alternatively creating the chance for book or software publishers, product manufacturers or local retailers to sponsor the event and present and sell their produce during the conference, can be a strong way of encouraging a more diverse range of supporters.

Delivering promises
When introducing sponsors to an event it is paramount conference organisers ensure they deliver exactly what has been agreed. Essentially, keeping your promise to supporters by making certain all elements of your contract are fulfilled, is crucial. This will not only guarantee sponsorship feedback is good, but will also be productive when attempting to gain support for your next event. Strong testimonials and a professional positive reputation are essential for any conference organiser.

Karen Tocher is Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau manager

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