1176-1384952210_81c119458c_m.jpgI talked a little with Amber Naslund (Director of Community at Radian6) at the end of last week on a new way to look at event sponsorship, after she sent our a rather wistful tweet, saying she was looking for a “better way.”

I agree with her. Let’s put ourselves in Amber’s shoes (and indeed the shoes of many companies) – as the figurehead of Radian6 she has conferences asking her all the time to sponsor their event. This means Radian6 give them cash, and the conference organiser slaps the logo on their website, plus gives them a few mentions on the day.

On one side the sponsor is wondering whether they are really getting the exposure they are paying for, whilst many event organisers are in the tricky situation of being new on the scene and struggling to get the sponsorship they need, even when they have a create line up.

This gives birth to two evils that Amber and I discussed that affect both sponsors and organisers, as well as their delegates:

  1. Pay to play. Sponsors are made to pay for speaking slots.
  2. Fake sponsors. Event organisers are made to lie about ‘sponsors’ they have onboard in order to secure actual sponsors.

Amber’s thought was that there must be a better way to go about this – on both sides – and I think there is.

Stop Sponsoring, Start Partnering

This old, 1950s model of sponsorship is based on the organiser getting money, and the sponsor getting exposure. These are separate benefits.

The new, 21st model is partnership and based on both parties building an ongoing relationship in which they achieve combined benefit.

Amber and I discussed Radian6 as an example. They don’t need their logo on a website – really, they don’t. What they need is space amongst the conference events to hold short demonstrations – to be involved in a people-to-people way, not just as a logo trophy.

Under a sponsorship mindset, the organiser wants to charge more and more for this – but if I look at this as partnership, I realise that I increase the quality of the event and the value for the attendees by having Radian6 hold small demonstrations. It means my attendees get exceptional tutoring on monitoring and measurement, they get expert direction on opportunities for their businesses, they get one-on-one advice for what fits into their price point.

Combined benefit also means we maximise each other’s strengths. Our video partners with Like Minds – 2.0 Production, Wide Eye Commnunications and Ooyala bring strengths to the conference that would be monumental in cost – and in return the ongoing exposure they get as partners with us has already given them more profile they they’ve enjoyed before.

Ways towards Partnership

Here are some ways to move out of sponsorship and into partnership:

  • Event organisers: Have fewer, but deeper relationships in order to give more to each partner. Don’t spread it thin.
  • Companies: Invest into smaller conferences that you can do more innovation with (Like Minds encourages all partners to have their own ‘value add’ angle that we can promote, like this and this.)
  • Event organisers: Quit seeking logo trophies. Instead, build partner profiles.
  • Companies: Get involved in the event, rather than complaining about lack of exposure. Make exposure.
  • Event organisers: Partner with a number of local companies and put the benefits back into the local economy.
  • Companies: Seek long term, multi-event involvement to leverage each event’s momentum onto the next.
  • Event organisers: Invite competitors to both be partners with you. See if their Social Media oratory of collaboration translates into real life.
  • Companies: Partner with your competitors.

As event organisers, what do you think? I bet that you’d actually increase the amount you raise through a partnership mindset than you do through a sponsorship mindset.

As companies coming on board as partners, what do you think? I bet that if you were prepared to work closer, and consider the smaller guys who don’t have the budgets of larger events, you’d get a lot more bang for your buck.

As far as I’m concerned, this is just all part and parcel of people-to-people.

Just some thoughts. Let’s hear yours.

Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks

Archived Comments

  • http://widget.xssl.net/~admin228/graphic-design/ teedp

    Reminds me of DANKA sponsors of Everton 1995 to 1997. It has been said that they never really entered into the partnership mentality with the club (grass roots stuff / community). Hence the break after 2 years on a 4 year deal.

    Not that I am football fan per se rather a brand man!

    Part of the story here : – and a history of sponsors

  • http://jeffhurtblog.com JeffHurt


    You’re on to something here! When I go to a conference that has an irrestible offer (why I went in the first place), compelling content and a great group of people, I seek out the sponsors and thank them for their involvement. I think Liz Strauss has a compelling model of sponsorship for her SOBcon conference where the sponsors attend just like the attendees, and they get involved in some of the discussions and sharing. What I really enjoy is when a sponsor is there to be my trusted partner and acts like a resource whether I choose to use their services or not. Those are the people that I look for ways to get involved with my business.

    Thanks for prompting us to look for a better way!

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks Nate – goes to show that a relationship needs more than a contract…

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for the comment Jeff, and thanks again for the call earlier.

    I like your thought here, that “a sponsor is there to be my trusted partner and acts like a resource whether I choose to use their services or not.”

    What are the key motivators that you see for sponsors to cross over into partnership?

  • http://www.dontpanicprojects.com/ Andrew Wake

    Really interesting stuff and we agree completely that the old model of sponsorship is outdated and rarely achieves the satisfaction of the sponsor, event organisers or the delegates.

    In fact we actually avoid sponsorship and sponsor speaking slots on our own branded conferences as delegates often say they feel like they’re being sold to and this can dilute what would otherwise be a great event. Our own event speakers are chosen on merit alone although it’s a two way thing and there are definite and associated benefits which I blogged about here –


    Partnering is probably the best way forward for all the reasons you’ve suggested and likewise sponsor workshops are a great platform to share expertise if the content is relevant, well delivered and most importantly as un-salesy as possible.



  • / Scott Gould

    We’re the same – no paid speaking slots.

    Thanks for pointing out your blog – I’m reading it now. Very good thoughts.

    My question for you, then, is how have you learnt to make partnership work rather than sponsorship?