I have spent the past four years collecting sponsorship ideas from every event I have attended, and some I haven’t.  The results, at this point, are collected in the attached pdf.

Sponsorship Ideas for Events

There are some tried and true sponsorships that I need to fill in–things like lanyards and conference bags.  I have focused my attention more on new trends.

A few observations.

  1. Customization: It pays to know what your exhibitor needs to do, even if you need to help them figure it out.  Awareness? Affirmation?  Engagement?  New prospects, upselling existing customers, or moving existing prospects along the sales cycle?  High price point or low price point.
  2. Exclusive Engagement: Major exhibitors have a wish list of 50 buyers, either by name or by demographics, that they would pay for quality time with.  Organize this for them, at your event.  Private lunch, presentation, whiskey tasting…it will depend on your buyers’ interests.
  3. Novelty: Games, music, oxygen bars are all ways to stand out by doing something the attendee hasn’t seen before, and will relate to the sponsor’s product.
  4. Gamification: Creating a good game goes so much further than awareness…the player learns about the product or sponsor naturally while playing, moving the buying process forward.  Be sure to use a leader board…competition is its own reward.
  5. Graphics: Are always improving and changing.  Your graphics provider can cling to anything.  Put up vinyl that acts like a chalk board.  Create a 3D-appearing floor graphic.  Check out what’s new.
  6. Technology: Ads look amazing on digital signage.  Wayfinders, smart phone apps, cyber cafes, and connection centers, all add value to the attendee experience and awareness and/or leads for sponsors.
  7. Social: Facebook and Twitter, and now Pinterest is on the cusp of importance in events.  They all build community while providing sponsorship opportunities.
  8. Content: The biggest benefit a sponsor can receive is to deliver his information to the attendees.  Hands-on demonstration areas, product theaters, immersive education areas are all on the rise.

Do you have a great sponsorship idea that is missing from this deck?  Send it to me in the comments field!


When I saw this infographic on Facebook the graphic had lost its attribution, but it wasn’t hard to source it back to InfiniGraph’s Facebook page, linked here.

All event producers are Content Marketers.  We attract buyers by our content, exhibitors by our buyers.  It all starts with our content.

Content takes lots of forms.  Conference sessions, certainly, but also contests, exhibitors, conversations, demonstrations, parties, keynotes, discussion rooms…  It is our content that makes our events must-attend.

This graphic gives us a probably unscientific but excellent checklist of ways to delight with your event’s content:

  1. Content that reveals secrets.
  2. Content that reminds us that dreams can come true.
  3. Content where David defeats Goliath.
  4. Content that reminds us that we matter.
  5. Content that confirms our assumptions
  6. Content that has unexpected twists.
  7. Content that tells us a story.
  8. Content that challenges our assumptions.
  9. Content that inspires us to action.
  10. Content that makes us laugh or smile.

Let’s use this list to critique our events and inspire our new initiatives!

I particularly like numbers 4 and 9 because the most powerful thing events do is help us be part of something larger than ourselves.  This gives our lives meaning, and inspires us in our careers.  And it is very hard to get this emotional high outside of the national industry event.  It can be your key unique selling proposition against local events, the internet, publications, and, worst of all, inertia.

Who are the hidden stars in your industry?  The ones who do whatever your industry does really well?

There was a great article in the Boston Globe last week, front page no less, about one of the best maintenance supervisors at an apartment complex, JP Davis.

Davis, who works at the Brockton Commons Apartments, made it to the finals of the sixth annual Maintenance Mania competition, which recently pitted 3,000 of the nation’s top tinkerers in a battle to find out who’s best at installing fixtures, fixing appliances, and finding leaks.  Think of it as the Handyman Olympics.

The organizer of this terrific competition was the National Apartment Association, and the finals were held during the NAA’s annual National Education Conference & Exposition in Boston.

Similarly, the International Boston Seafood Show holds an annual oyster shucking contest on the show floor.  Oysters are provided by two major seafood distributors, as sponsors, who receive significant awareness during the competition.  The  competition is fierce, with each shucker demonstrating their own unique style.  The winner used a shucking knife he has custom made.

What role can these competitions play in your association/at your event?

  • Inspire: Every industry requires certain skills, often unheralded, that individuals can be proud of.  A huge role of an industry event is to build on and encourage industry pride.
  • Build Community: There’s nothing like a roaring crowd cheering their favorite contestants on, and it’s a great conversation starter at networking events.
  • Sponsorship: I don’t know whether the seven timed trials at NAA were sponsored, but oftentimes the equipment used in the contest can be sponsored, or other ways industry vendors can appropriate fund and participate.
  • Entertainment: Looking for a wow event to add to your conference? A well-designed competition is fun and attracts crowds.
  • PR: I read about the NAA event in the Boston Globe.  Enough said.

Is your event in the retail field?  Why can’t your buyers show off their buying skills estimating value, or negotiating terms?  IT?  I’ve seen contests in which attendees had to put the hard drives into a storage unit, or configure a network.  Financial services?  Is there a problem set that can be turned into a time trial?  If your industry is a pure knowledge field, then try trivia.

While you want the finals to be held at the national conference, this can be a year-round, national event.  NAA held regional events all over the country leading up to the annual conference. Some contests could start online months before the event.

Inject a little fun at your event, but especially, call out industry pride!


Sometimes a company member of your community wants to have a presence at your event, but a booth isn’t the right option.  Maybe they need meeting space, or a demonstration, or awareness.  If they are a discrete category that you can put rules around and control, why not grow the overall event by allowing for some creative non-booth options?

First, be sure to offer private meeting rooms on the show floor to all exhibitors. You only build them on request, and you price them as a mark-up on the cost to build, so there is no risk, only upside, and more productive exhibitors.

Then consider whether there are categories of legitimate sellers in your community who want to talk with buyers, but do not have product that lends itself to a booth format.

At The Cable Show, the programming companies need a place to hold meetings, but not a promotion-oriented “public” store front. They do not have product to display. So these companies are allowed their own area to the side of the show floor, with extended hours, for structure meeting rooms that ARE their “booths”.

In most cases, these are highly branded presences, and while a template turn-key version is offered, many upgrade these as fully branded, unique spaces.

Some industries are so competitive that potential exhibitors want complete privacy, by-invitation-only.  Perhaps a meeting room off the show floor makes a better display area for them, without hurting your event.

At NAMM, several exhibitors want to display such an extensive line of merchandise that it makes sense to allow them to exhibit in the ballrooms of the hotel next door.

For some industries, the world revolves around a small number of super-buyers, who need to be wooed to come to the industry event, and aren’t going to walk around from booth to booth.  United Fresh builds these buyers their own meeting suites, right in the middle of the show floor, letting them experience the event in the way that is most efficient and profitable for them.  Salespeople from the exhibitors call on them, while others man their booths for the 99%.

Then there are the just slightly tangential product categories that you can add to your event with a little imagination and some creativity.  The non-endemic sponsors, like cars, if correctly matched to the consumer demographic of the attendees can work…but not in a booth.  Even better, stretch to accommodate the semi-endemic potential sponsors who may want a demonstration or simply awareness rather than a booth.  If you added Coca Cola to a show for gas station owners, they don’t need a booth.  The goal is simply to make attendees aware that they can add revenue by adding a Coke machine. A big, expensive sponsorship will do that well, without compromising the integrity of the core base of exhibitors.

There are good reasons shows adopted “you must exhibit to buy a sponsorship” rules, and require all exhibits to be exhibits and all exhibits to be on the show floor.  But many events have realized that being flexible for specific categories of potential exhibitors (not one-off exceptions) can maintain order while growing the show, by serving more components of the industry more effectively.

Strangely, this is the first one I have attended, so I cannot compare it to the first eight, though the overall sense I had is that I missed the best years.  The early discussions of social media or mobile event apps; the launch of some of these technologies, like PresdoMatch (still my favorite new event technology in the past few years).

While I heard some good new takes on old themes, and was glad to see the updates to products I knew, I did not see a new break-out idea, product, or company.

I downloaded all three mobile event apps.  All were native apps (score 10 points); only one was available on my iPad, and that was only iPhone size (plus 10 points, minus 5).  So they quickly burned out the battery on my Android phone.  I broke one trying to tweet from the app (crashed and could not reopen).  Another had an old hashtag programmed into the tweets (MTENY instead of MTEDC).  Sloppy, guys!

Loved the presentation by Lance Fensterman, Group Vice President of ReedPOP, the group that concentrates on fan-based events (like ComicCon NY).  So much of what he said about Community, Quirk, Passion, and Connection definitely apply to b-to-b events–it’s just a bit harder to see than when the attendees come in costume .  Quirk is the key:  what are the unique or irreplaceable elements that prevent the event from being a commodity.  The things that cause you to attend even though you can get product information and receive education in your field online.

The big trend in mobile apps is for games and for social media…not just showing tweets, or able to tweets, but “liking” “sharing”, and even automatic sharing of notes and what was attended in a timeline format.

Gamification hasn’t finished its five minutes of fame, and while the term may fade, the concept is important. Russell Brumfield did a nice job breaking it down, so that it is clear that it relates to ALL audiences.  We all participate in rewards/loyalty programs. The lottery. Comparing our skills to others. Applying gamification to your event starts with knowing what behavior you are trying to incent  (learning, participating, attending something), and what motivates this particular audience (status, competition, gifts, early access…).

Christian Saucedo did a good overview of Audience Engagement.  I particularly liked his examples of good uses of ARS (audience response systems). It is not just about an ice-breaking poll:

  • Consensus checking
  • Prioritizing material
  • Confirm learning
  • Reinforce learning
  • And real polling, like determining the current practices of the attendees

I had an epiphany at Virtual Edge Summit (co-located with PCMA in January) this year:  Conference organizers do not actually care whether attendees learn.  It isn’t something most of us think about.  We measure success by the number of registrants, revenue, and satisfaction.  A good conference meets revenue goals, probably with some growth over last year, earns an average of 4 out of a scale of 5 for speaker quality in session surveys, and gets an overall good to excellent score in the event survey.

We don’t measure whether anyone learned anything.  Which, I realized at Virtual Edge Summit, is a very different thing.

The cool thing about Virtual Edge Summit is that the audience and speakers tend to be a fairly balanced mix of event professionals and education and training professionals.  And their approach to virtual conferences, and by extension, physical conferences, couldn’t be more different.

Training professionals exist to cause a group of people to actually learn.  To move from ignorance to mastery of a subject. Imagine being responsible for educating firefighters on how an electrical fire is handled differently from a gas fire.  Lives depend on assimilating the knowledge.  If you are responsible to ensure an employee learns a new piece of software you are measured by improvements in productivity.  If you are responsible for certification training, you are accountable to how many pass the certification exam.

So training professionals approach teaching in an entirely different way.  They look at the science of how people learn:  hands-on, note-taking, frequent testing, discussions, short-topics, repetition.  Training is interactive:  students engage with the problems, mentally, in discussion, and hands-on, so that they “own” the results.

There is a real distinction in most cases between the type of exposure to new ideas we want to achieve in a conference and actual training.  But not in all cases, and not, perhaps, quite as often as we think.

It could be very eye-opening to stop and think periodically how we might change our conferences if we actually cared whether the attendees learn anything.


Creating themed areas by educational content (trend, technology set, new regulations, and demonstrations) or by product category can open up many new opportunities for both current and new exhibitors, while creating a more cohesive and engaging show floor.  Just like the diamond or fashion districts inNew York, sometimes everyone in a category benefits by being together.  This is especially true when introducing a new product category to your event; every exhibitor involved is more comfortable that they are making the right decision when you prove your seriousness about supporting them with an area and promotion.

Typically exhibitors in themed pavilions are offered a specific booth package put together in conjunction with the general services contractor.  This ensures that the area looks consistent, but also makes it much easier and more cost-effective for smaller or new exhibitors who may not exhibit otherwise.  A typical package might include:

  • Wall Structure – Traditional booths: Hard wall panels
  • Wall Structure – Elite booths: Vinyl covered hard wall panels
  • Graphic Header – Company name
  • Carpet
  • Power for Showcases – 1000 Watts per 100 square feet
  • Drayage and labor for installation and removal of structure
  • Overhead banner
  • Lead retrieval devices

Creative show organizers think beyond the operational aspects listed above and include specific marketing benefits, such as:

  • A shared theater space for scheduled presentations within the area
  • Special promotional section of show guide
  • Themed area promotion piece describing technology and including blurbs for each exhibitor
  • Related content track in conference
  • Call-out of area in attendee marketing materials
  • Directional signage promoting the Pavilion throughout the show

Themed areas are generally in-line 10×10 booths, either pipe-and-drape or hardwall packages.  But many exhibitors, depending on the type of product, do very well in pre-fabricated “pod” structures.  More of them fit into the area provided, and it provides a new look to this section of the floor.

Themed Exhibitor Areas and Pavilions

Some examples of themed areas and pavilions:

New Exhibitors (Start-Up City, Innovation Alley):  Set your own rules for this space; such as in order to participate it must be the exhibitor’s first time at the event; exhibitors can only stay in the pavilion for two years; or must have a new product released in the past year.

Areas themed by product category:  While a small number of show producers organize their entire show floor by product category, others only select certain product categories for special attention.  This works for:

  1. a product category you are introducing to the show floor
  2. a new technology with multiple vendors, where the pavilion helps the show organizer explain the new technology which makes it easier for each exhibitor to discuss their version
  3. a product category in which most exhibitors tend to be small, and get lost mixed in with larger exhibits
  4. a set of products that tend to be purchased only by a certain subset of attendees

Display areas:  A featured area in a non-booth format to showcase a certain type of product.  The Sweets & Snacks Show is primarily food products, so the Merchandising options are showcased in their own space that encourages more participation.  These areas can be sold to existing exhibitors as a supplemental display area or to a new set of vendors.  Generally these would be sold by the product included rather than by company (some would include multiple products) or by square foot.  Greenbuild is primarily about sustainable building materials, but it makes great sense to allow some green furniture products to set up branded lounges, priced as a flat sponsorship fee.

Semi- or non-endemic product categories:  The homeopathic remedies at a primary care event or the luxury items at a high-end medical specialty event are non-endemic additions to a show.   While these unique products can be mixed in with the rest of the exhibitors,  they are often more successful in their own areas.  And a dedicated space demonstrates to these exhibitors that show management is focused on their success.