I've been sitting on this one for a while, having been both a sponsor supporter for tech events, as well as an organizer looking for funds. I wrote sponsorship prospectuses (prospecti?), and I reviewed benefits and collected POE (Proof of Execution) for my employers and customers.
In a retrospective with the folks that provided the platform for a recent event, I was made aware that our "SponsorOps" could improve by sharing success stories of how to make best use of the benefits of the tiers available. And maybe even how to consider your options in the first place.
As with many things in life, for sponsoring goes "you get out of it what you put into it". Conference-goers are not naturally inclined to spend their time at your booth. If a booth is part of your tier you'll need to do more than just rock up to the venue with your roll-up banner. With in-person events you might be able to lure participants into a conversation with gated swag (provided your swag is good), or a raffle.
Virtual or in-person. You're competing with a lot of things going on at the same time. On a lot of platforms you'll have a separate room for your virtual booth. You might have a slot where you can address the main track. If you're planning something in your booth, announce it during your sponsor pitch, and in your messaging leading up to the event. Do an Ask The Experts sesh with some of your engineers. Run a mini-workshop. Run a scavenger hunt where participants need to come back to your booth several times to unlock a swag pack. Folks from your company speaking at the event? Ask them to take questions at your booth.
- Host a panel session with other sponsors on a higher level topic you all care about.
- Stream a petting zoo or puppies or kittens so participants come to your booth to get a palate cleanser.
- Do a LEGO sorting / building stream.
- Record your podcast on stream with guest-appearances from the audience.
- Host a pubquiz / Kahoot!
... You've been given real estate, so use it.
If you have multiple colleagues on booth duty rotation, send them calendar invites and plan a know-before-you-go meeting / briefing session, in case the organizing team for the event doesn't. Research the target audience of the event, ask if the organizers have demographics, tailor your message and consider carefully what roles you want to have in your booth.
Swag is a hot topic. I personally am all for sustainable swag. Nobody needs another powerbank or pen, notebook, waterbottle, USB stick, shitty sunglasses... And for the love of god don't do apparel because you never have the right sizes. If you do, make it exclusive and high quality.
A sticker pack seems like a no-brainer, but beyond that, think about sustainable options like planting a tree for every person subscribing to your newsletter. Give out vouchers for e-books written by your people. Raffle out an e-reader / tablet pre-configured with industry reading material, and make the cover have your logo on it.
Is the conference doing a speaker or attendee care package ahead of event? Consider helping out with:
- a colouring / activity book for their kids,
- a LEGO set,
- flower seed bombs,
- or something locally produced or sourced* - ask the conference organizers for advice if you're not from the area.
As part of your package you might get a sponsored speaking slot or a sponsor pitch. For Devopdays oNLine (the COVID-driven, cyberspace edition of Devopsdays Amsterdam and Devopsdays Eindhoven combined) this year we offered both a 1-minute sponsor pitch as part of the main programming, and an Open Spaces slot. Open Spaces is a great concept, where you as facilitator introduce the topic before the participants take the discussion where they want to take it. Open Spaces are not the place for a vendor pitch. If the topic of your session so much as suggests "vendor pitch", no-one will come join you.
Your best bet is to instead talk about a challenge you encountered, an utter fuckup, how you solved for it, how you patched-something-fingers-crossed and how you're looking for feedback. How change management is hard and people are messy. Or make it more human-interesty. One of the sponsors for Devopsdays this year (Helecloud if you must now) hosted a conversation about being a (new) parent and working from home during the pandemic, and the table was full.
What if one of your people got a speaking slot "organically" (through the Call for Speakers / invited by the organizers)? Make sure to coordinate your booth activity with them. And make sure they have all they need to deliver a high quality talk. Think:
- external microphone,
- external camera,
- seperate monitor,
- ring light or studio lamp,
- soundproofing material,
- recording and editing software,
- or access to a studio.
A sponsor pitch is timeboxed. You don't want to "just wing it". Rehearse!
For newbie sponsors and in-person events, covering your speaker's accomodation and travel might sometimes land you a sponsorship level. Certainly when you're just starting a sponsorship budget, having someone on stage is a good selling point!
A conference is a public event, so you be on your best behavior. If the conference does not have a Code of Conduct, make sure you adopt one for you booth staff. If the event is virtual, disclaim as part of your screenname that you work for one of the sponsors. Interact in the chat, and remind people about the activities you're running, but keep those pings to a minimum. Ask good questions, not not-a-question-more-of-a-comment. Definitely don't well-actually people. Educate yourself about the use of pronouns, and inclusive language.
One popular benefit is usually an emcee (host) or social media announcement. If the host is supposed to say something about your product or service, make sure it rolls of the tongue (bonus points: record it so they get the pronounciation right).
Share social media copy and images with the organizers, optimized for the different platforms. Most org teams struggle to come up with something fun for their sponsor announcements. Pick one thing you want to promote (besides the activity you might be running at the event - ideally have those 2 things be related), like a discounted pricing plan, open positions, your newsletter or podcast, ... whatever. Just don't muddy the water with too many CTAs.
Prep a press kit with different versions of your logo (and several file formats), and different blurbs for people to use. Use a campaign link in case you want to promote something specific to the audience. Make sure you shorten the URL, and provide a QR code to go with it (not instead of). Check with the organizer to see the placement of your collateral in advance.
It's not the event organizers' job to make you look good. That's entirely your responsibility. That said, organizers do want you to be successful. Help them help you. Be responsive to deadlines, better yet: be pro-active. When you choose a tier that includes logo placement and emcee shoutout, you can anticipate you'll be asked for those.
Again, you only get out of an sponsorship opportunity what you put into it. I hope the above is helpful once you consider your options and when you prep your activities. I'd love to hear from you if you have other 🌶️ hot tips, or if you have any questions. Find me in the comments below 👇🏻 or on Twitter: @floordrees.