Just a few very brief notes on how event sponsoring should and shouldn’t work since I encountered a very annoying thing the other day. (Not naming the failed sponsors here because I have a lot of respect for the organizing team.)
To put the following into context: Since I’ve organized a number of small to mid-sized events, always on small to tiny budgets, I know how important sponsors are in running events, and how important it is to treat them with the respect they deserve. I also know that it can be tricky to balance the sponsors’, the organizers’ and – most importantly – the audience’s interests in running an event as smoothly as possible while making it worthwhile for all parties. So I would never, under normal circumstances, disrespect a sponsor of any event, partly out of respect for the organizers, partly out of respect for sponsors, partly out of respect for the whole fragile system that allows us to organize events. (Plus, as a rule of thumb, the less commercial the event, the more forgiving we should be.) Again, I don’t usually dis sponsors.
Yet, I did just that very recently at an otherwise great event. Why?
Instead of going the normal route of sponsoring the event, the “sponsor” didn’t fund the event, but individual participants’ drinks. Sounds good? Maybe at first glance. In reality it’s a subversion of the whole sponsorship mechanism that damages the event and the other sponsors. In this case, a tweet with certain hashtags and keywords would qualify you for a “free” drink. (Of course it’s not really free but comes at a fairly high cost, which is to spam your Twitter followers with ads for a nominal value of a couple of bucks.) If that kind of thing took off, it would potentially be enough to damage the ecosystems of Twitter, of event sponsorships etc. Imagine the amount of tweets clogging your Twitter tubes if every participant of every event would tweet an ad for every cup of coffee, every sandwich, every beer at every conference or sponsored party. Also, imagine how the real sponsors would feel for spending a much larger amount for a symbolic sign of sponsorship like one link or a banner off stage – which they do out of respect for your audience.
As I said, it’s a fragile model, built mostly on a social contract of mutual respect.
To cut a long story short, here’s the meat. The DOs and DON’Ts of event sponsoring.
- let sponsors dominate the event
- do sponsor panels, they mostly suck
- allow for tweet-for-x mechanisms as they devalue your event, the audience and your audience’s reputation
- accept tiny amounts of sponsoring – it’s ok to turn sponsoring down to protect your audience
- always keep your audience’s interests the top priority – it’s all about them!
- talk to potential sponsors on eye level to find common ground in running the event
- provide a sponsors wall
- thank the sponsors with a link in your emails
- thank the sponsors with a link in your tweets at the beginning and end of the event and encourage the audience to do the same
- provide a small area for sponsors to give out little gifts and schwag
- invite the sponsors to participate in one of the regular panels if they have something to add to the conversation (brief them not to advertise on stage)
- thank the sponsors at the beginning and end of the event on stage
- use sponsor products for the organization if it makes sense
There are probably many more rules of thumb. (Please let me know what I forgot, thanks!) If you let your decision be guided by your audience’s interests you should be on the best way. Sponsorship, like everything else, has to serve these interests and nothing else.