Sponsorship and exhibition sales are an increasingly important source of revenue for the majority of associations, yet the commercial revenue climate becomes tougher each year.  In this article Rob Eveleigh, Managing Director of Brightelm, examines what membership organisations can do to provide some certainty to this important revenue stream.


Why do companies sponsor association events?  Partnership with a professional or trade membership organisation provides an incredible amount of endorsement.  Primarily they are interested in reaching your audience.  In effect, you are selling a service where, by working with a sponsor, you are endorsing them and helping them to increase the trust of your membership in their products and services.  

But working with your commercial partners provides an incredible benefit to your members.  I know that in the past some organisations have kept industry at arms length from the membership.  However in a world where associations have to work hard to maintain their relevance, providing a platform where your members can learn about the products and services they need in order to be able to be successful in their own businesses is incredible valuable.

So, an association can create value for both members and industry, but how do you go about building opportunities?

Where to start

Your events programme is like a micro (or macro depending on the size of the event) business within your organisation, and as such, it needs it’s own strategy, starting with your existing relationships.

A good place to start is with your existing sponsors and exhibitors.  They are in effect customers of yours and need to be treated as such.  There’s no value to them in you emailing them once a year asking for a chunk of money.  You need to maintain a relationship with them throughout the year, bring them close to the organisation and ensure that they are given plenty of opportunity to really become a partner.  

My usual suggestion is to identify someone within your organisation who has this responsibility.  The term “sales” has a tendency to fill people with dread.  “I’m not a sales person” is the usual cry from members of teams who are used to being reactive, or responsive.  So I suggest using the term “relationship” in the job description, to make it easier.  

By the way, a good sales person is one who listens and engages and enjoys building relationships, it is not about the gift of the gab.

Product Development

The products you are offering your sponsors have to be relevant, and they need to provide what the sponsors need, engagement opportunities.  The days of precious metal packages, gold, silver and bronze etc, are long gone.  Many customers want individual products, or at least packages that wrap up opportunities which are relevant to their business needs.  

Try to avoid offering advertising opportunities which are barely visible, e.g flowers or table numbers, as these tend not to give great exposure.  Instead focus on those which will give good exposure or a good return.  Some ideas to consider are:

• Content opportunities – considered as sponsorship gold, education is by far the most powerful marketing tool and if you can provide these opportunities it’s a good way to raise funds.  If you are concerned about “pitching” there are ways around this and I’m happy to answer any questions (details at the bottom).

• Lanyard – do not underestimate the value of the logo on a lanyard.  A lanyard, quite bizarrely, is often one of the most kept items from a conference or event and client’s love to have their brand on it.

• Visible branding – flags outside, banners, pillars all provide great opportunities for exposure and endorsement.

Make sure that you have a prospectus or brochure which lists all of these opportunities that you can send to interested parties.

How can we grow?

If you’ve already built a good relationship with your existing clients, then here are some tips on where else you can grow:

• Look at previous clients, identify why they stopped participating and start to build a relationship with them.

• Use your engaged volunteers, your board and your committees and ask them for introductions to their suppliers.

• Visit competitor events and see who is actively engaged in the marketplace.  Not all companies sponsor, but those that do tend to do so often.

Good luck.  Growth in commercial revenue can be hard work but if you get it right it can give you a stable financial bedrock that will help to futureproof your organisation.

Brightelm delivers specialist event services to associations including project management, sponsorship, marketing, content, delegate services, logistics and exhibitions.  Please contact us via www.brightelm.co.uk

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