It’s time to reimagine the metal-named sponsorship categories — and unless you’re the International Association of Gems, it’s time to retire Diamond, Ruby, Emerald, and Sapphire names, too. As part of the competitive intelligence we gather for conferences, our team analyzes hundreds of sponsorship offerings. With few exceptions, when it comes to creativity and purpose baked into a conference’s sponsorship levels, we find a lot of sameness. As sponsorship expert Kim Skildum-Reid has said, sponsors have grown weary of this traditional approach to sponsorship levels.
Dare to be different! Create more meaningful levels and name them in ways that make them stand out from the crowd. Here are some examples of progressive conferences and how they handle the labeling of sponsorship levels:
› Solar Power—Terawatt, Gigawatt, Megawatt, Kilowatt
› Cancer Research—Cure, Progress, Promise (my favorite)
› Grain World—Driving Partners, Innovators, Leaders, Experts
› BIO—Double Helix, Helix, Premier
› Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) — Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Honor Roll, Dean’s List
› Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) — Featured, Collaborating, Contributing
› American Accounting Association (AAA) — Premier, Partner, Supporter
Another approach considers attendee-centric categories that point to the type of sponsorship. For traditional conferences, this might be “Education Champion” or “Experience Enhancers.” If you adopt this methodology, you’ll want to list the sponsors from largest to smallest for each type.
Another challenge with most sponsor-level models is that the majority of their activations aren’t true sponsorship at all — they’re promotion or advertising. Conference attendees are not moved by investments in on-site branding like banners, clings, wraps, signs, or collateral. If the majority of your spend is in these areas, I predict it will steadily decline.
Instead, embrace a model where à la carte sponsorship menu items are used in combination to attain various levels. Once those levels are hit, there should be other benefits/activation for the sponsor that can include on-site branding. Don’t offer on-site branding alternatives on an à la carte basis to sponsors who don’t qualify for the top two or three levels.
As much as possible, develop sponsorship inventory that aligns with what matters to attendees. These will usually include offerings that improve the attendee experience and/or add to the event’s value proposition. Attendee-mattering sponsorships have an impact on what attendees do, feel, or actually get out of their experience. They have the power to improve attitudes and behaviors toward a brand.