Annie Lowney

How to Secure Event Sponsorship

Holger Blank of JSConf EU shares his sponsorship tips

Holger Blank, pictured below, is the sponsorship maestro for JSConf EU, a not for profit JavaScript conference in Berlin. JSConf EU started back in 2009. Their top sponsorship slots bring in €14K. Since the inception of the event they have been in the enviable position of having sponsors approach them… something that most event organisers can only dream about.

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JSConf EU is a desirable event for sponsors because it brings together a group of people that have a skillset that is in demand. But don’t let their niche appeal discourage you from figuring out how to secure event sponsorship. In this article, Holger provides an interesting take on the role of sponsors.

COMPARE YOUR EVENT TO OTHERS

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When you compare your life to your Facebook friends' you’ll probably cry yourself to sleep. That’s unless you have a Facebook friend that prattles on about how healthy they are… You see their photo of kale and raise it a photo of vanilla ice-cream with a kale garnish, but I digress.

If you’re in the first year of launching your event, research established events that are similar to yours. This is a strategy that Holger employed:

“The JSConf conference in the United States was quite successful, so as a result sponsors were keen to get behind the first European JavaScript conference due to the connections that JSConf made. As a result we try to reciprocate the help we got when we first started out by sharing our connections with similar first time events.”

This approach allows you to do two things:

  1. Mirror the type of sponsors your peers in the industry have.
  2. Present the potential growth of your event, therefore you make it an appealing prospect.

A SPONSOR SHOULD INTEGRATE SEAMLESSLY INTO THE EVENT

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Every event organiser has different sponsorship marketing thresholds. Some tolerate a pull-up banner with a low growl, and others go apocalyptic at the mere suggestion that they should hand over their attendees details to a sponsor. You need to know how far you’re willing to go to secure sponsorship. As with any event, the attendee experience should be foremost in your mind.

For Holger, sponsors know their exact boundaries for JSConf EU:

We aim not to sell any speaking slots at our conference, at least not for products. We aren’t big fans of product companies pitching their product. Of course, we have some exceptions to that rule. From time to time a huge international tech company will ask us to let them on stage to promote their latest technology that has been made open source, but usually it's a good thing if a huge international tech company wants to talk because they have to say something that will matter to our attendees.”

You can’t blame a sponsor for suggesting ideas if you don’t set out clearly your expectations from the start, as Holger explains, “we try to play everything really open with our sponsors. We share our point of view of what is really meaningful for our attendees and what is not. And JSConf is a community driven conference, so it's quite expensive, but it's expensive because we want to deliver great quality for our attendees like the best food you can have at a conference, the best atmosphere and setting."

This great article by Jonathan Grupp details his attendee experience of JSConf EU 2017.

"We believe it's better to stay independent in how we curate our program, that includes how we invite speakers and how we sell tickets. We want to do it our way. We don't want to be disturbed by big companies who will try to force us to do things they want to do and we don't want to do.”

On the flip side sponsors need to feel like they are getting an ROI. Sponsorship of events is notoriously hard to track. Sponsor managers need to justify giving away a chunk of their budget to their bosses, it’s simply Giving Money Away: Expectations 101. Holger’s approach is interesting,

“We sell them the fact that sponsoring makes the conference awesome. So be part of the awesomeness. Ticket costs will cover the basics, and every penny they spend on our conference will make it even more awesome. We’re selling visibility to them. We prefer a non-invasive visibility. We try to sell them ideas like, build a networking area. Don’t have big booths, don’t have too much signage, just integrate yourself and get in touch with the community. Don’t be aggressive!”

It’s an interesting take on sponsorship. Most sponsors are sidelined to the fringes of an event like penned in animals, some get a pet and others just yearn for some attention like this guy.

Key takeaways:

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  • Before you even reach out to a sponsor, establish what you are willing to trade in exchange for sponsorship… don’t be rash; really think it through. What is best for your attendees? They're your long-term investment.

  • Encourage your sponsors to think of new ways to engage with attendees that don’t involve standing passively at a booth. For example, they could create a networking space. Help them brainstorm something that will add value to the event.

  • A sponsorship manager, most of the time, will need some type of return on investment. Sponsorship is very difficult to measure in definites. It shouldn’t be seen as a marketing activity that will yield that. It is an awareness piece. The measurement that could be employed is for the sponsor to allow for a 1-2 month lag time from the date of the event to see if there was a spike in traffic to their site and/or sales growth.

CREATING YOUR PITCH

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Crafting a sponsorship pitch is a skill in and of itself. A trap a lot of people fall into is mimicking the tone of pitches that they see online. As our teacher used to say, “there is only one of you in the world because you’re very special, Tito.” Figure out what your event's voice is. Is it serious but approachable? Knowledgeable? Humourous? Only then can you start to craft your email pitch.

If you can meet the sponsorship manager in person or if you can call them, do. If you’re calling them cold don’t launch into your pitch, figure out whether they're hesitant or warn, and forewarn them that you plan to send them a sponsorship pitch email/deck and ask if it’s okay to do so. Don’t underestimate the art of conversation; it adds some humanity to the relationship.

Maybe get creative and surprise them with a basket of apples if your conference is inspired by Apple like our co-founder's conference. It will leave them intrigued and curious. It’s a great way to start a conversation.

Key takeaways:

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  • Keep the email succinct or get in touch via Twitter.

  • Highlight the important stuff:
    • Your event’s mission.
    • The type of audience you plan on having. 
    • Attendance numbers, noteworthy speakers, and past sponsors.
    • Examples of social media reach.
    • Images of the event into the email to help them visualise.
  • Money money money money, money! It’s always tricky to broach the topic of money. Do you say it in the pitch email or do you wait till your pitch email get’s a bite and then send them the pitch deck? There're pros and cons to both and it goes back to your style. Just be flexible with sponsorship amounts, especially if you are a new event. It’s great to have a price list but you don’t want it to be a barrier to involvement either. Emphasize that you’re open to discussing what they can afford.

  • Try to speak in person or on the phone to the sponsorship manager before you email or tweet them.

  • Maybe send them something creative that is tied to your event as a means to starting a conversation.

IN CLOSING

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Don’t be intimidated by securing sponsorship. If your event is a good fit for that company, it will happen. Don’t do a scatter gun approach. Focus in on the companies that you know are a good fit for your event. Don’t sacrifice the integrity of your event for cash. Be very clear from the outset about what type of relationship you want the sponsor to have with your event. Brainstorm with the sponsor and come up with some unique but valuable activities for both stakeholders.

Try to establish a personable relationship with the sponsor before you pitch them. Don’t underestimate the power of a conversation. You both have goals, it’s just up to you to show the sponsorship manager that you can and want to help them achieve their goals.paymentgatewaysoftware.png