Why Event Sponsorships Should Never be about Sponsors

__illustration up close LOVE__By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster

Budgets are top of mind this time of year, so let’s focus on how to make yours go further.

The TED brand and its range of live and virtual events have taken the world by storm. As a TED-head who’s a student and practitioner of TED-branded events, I’ll focus here on what my TED experiences teach us about designing sponsor experiences through a decidedly different lens.

I’m deeply involved with audience experience design, speaker curation and sponsor (AKA partner) acquisition for a large TEDx Event, TEDxSeattle (previously TEDxRainier). And I attended TEDActive (the event that happens concurrently with TED) in British Columbia.

DSC_5434(1)This collective experience has opened my eyes to the power of turning the tables on how sponsors are courted and integrated into an event’s design.

Just as the most successful meetings are much less about speakers on stage and much more about participants in the audience, effectively curated and nurtured sponsorships should be ever-so-much-less about the sponsors and oh-so-much-more about the potential customers they want to engage.

So if your events or tradeshows rely on sponsors, you can drastically improve both how meeting goers engage with sponsors and improve the results the sponsors gain from their partnerships with your organization.

IMG_1895An example: At TED, TEDActive and TEDxRainier, a key goal in attendee-sponsor interactions is to first offer a COOL EXPERIENCE for attendees. In other words, the partnership is based not on the needs of the vendor but on the desires of attendees. And goes well beyond simply slapping sponsor logos on marketing collateral.

At TEDActive in 2014, Adobe was among the event’s partners. Rather than simply have a predictable “old-school” booth via which they distributed, say, literature and free samples related to their software, they created an experience that allowed participants to see for themselves how drawing leads to deeper creativity.

Another example: Last month at TEDxRainier, our presenting sponsor—WSECU—rather than predictably and boringly hand out tchotchkes and fliers, interacted with attendees around content related to financial well being, the TEDx speakers’ takeaways, and ideas that mattered to attendees themselves.

And ya know what? Just a minute or two of this kind of audience-driven interaction is much more powerful way to build brand buy-in for a potential new credit union member than a bunch of branded keychains ever will.

So how can you court prospective sponsors in ways that focus first and foremost on what your audience cares about? Doing so will build buy in, organizational love, and bottom-line results that are greater than the sum of their parts.


Are you attending Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders Conference next week in Vancouver BC? Come enjoy my session on Content Curation + Compelling Speakers = The Inside Track to Unforgettable Conferences, on Monday, Jan. 10 at 1:15pm.