Selling sponsorship slots at your conference should no longer be taboo

I remember a quizzical look from one client when I suggested they sell sponsorship slots on their conference programme to companies that would pay for them. “Never”, they said. Well, I never take “never” as an answer. Later that year we ran two events completely funded by sponsored sessions. 200 of their members had a great programme driven event that they attended for free. “Never”, actually wasn’t that long.

It is understandable that this is resistance to the idea of selling the family silver to companies; and we should be slightly skeptical because we’ve all sat through one of those sessions, the one that starts “OK, I’d just like to tell you about us………” and then 15mins later they move onto some content.

But I would like to encourage conference programmers / producers to consider this as a very viable option for your programme. And you’ll probably be surprised (I have to be honest, I was) to see that I’ve easily come up with 15 good reasons to consider it:

Selling sponsorship slots at your conference

1. Sometimes the highest rated session can be from a session paid for by a sponsor (I’ve got scores of examples)

2. If this is what your sponsor wants as part of the package you have to consider it

3. Ensuring a mix of income is the foundation of a successful events business; never say never

4. You can exercise more control over this session than other sessions, and this allows you to ensure the content is perfect

5. You tend to get a very senior / good presenter

6. Most savvy organisations have realized that the worst way to sell is to stand up and ‘sell’ their wares; they now tend to – or certainly they can be encouraged to – demonstrate their knowledge

7. It is easier to deal with a proactive speaker than to search for less willing participants

8. Speaking on the programme allows your sponsor to have a focus for their conversations with your delegates; a conversation you should be encouraging

9. Offering a slot is an excellent ‘up-sale’ on sponsorship packages

10. You can run entire events funded by sponsoring, speaking slots and delegates can attend for free

11. Allowing a sponsor to demonstrate their support to the industry and to inform on the programme offers real value to your sponsor (does placing a logo everywhere really offer the same?)

12. If they have paid for a slot they are more likely to spend time putting it together

13. Their sessions have a clear objective and they will be much more willing to listen to your advice

14. Sometimes people are quite happy to be ‘sold’ to; it’s true. What is a product demonstration if it’s not part of the sales process? You might have much less resistance than you think

15. Suggest to the sponsor that they conduct some research before the event and then deliver that on the programme. Use this opportunity to create something unique for your event and add more value for your sponsor and great content in the programme.

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  • Jeff Hurt November 27, 2011   Reply →

    Wow, this is a slippery slope in my opinion. You’ve outlined some ways it could definitely work and that the conference organizer needs to exert more control over the situation.

    I have seen too many organizations try to make extra money by selling the education slots to the highest bidder at the expense of the learning of the attendee. It’s a major problem in the states. And I call it double dipping.

    We’ve actually had clients that sell the majority of their speaking slots to people who will pay for it and never monitor the content. It’s actually a major problem as far as poor content.

    If it’s in the best interest of the paying registrant and the speaker is not promoting or selling product while speaking, I’m ok with it. I find some organizations want to sponsor existing speakers that are already aligned with the progam.

    In the medical, scientific and research fields in the States, all speakers have to disclose any relationships with sponsors or funders. There is a fine line between medical and pharma speakers and sponsors that the US government regulates.

    I believe that the same US guidelines and rules that apply to advertising and social media apply to presentations and speakers. Disclosure is the best way to go always!

    • williamthomson November 28, 2011   Reply →

      It is always about the content we can, and always do agree on that Jeff. As I say, sometimes just because someone is willing to pay for a session doesn’t mean it won’t be any good. And in times of need don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; but check it’s teeth and make sure it doesn’t have smelly breath. If you follow the analogy.

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