At PCMA EduCon in June, Karen Daniele and Amy Hitchcock shared secrets for how event organizers can maximize revenue from sponsorship sales. Karen is vice president of strategic services at Nth Degree, and Amy is senior manager of operations at RSA Conference. Both have played key roles in making RSA Conference the most successful event in cybersecurity.

Below is a condensed version of their panel discussion, titled “Achieving Win-Win Scenarios for All Interested Parties: Rethinking Sponsorship Sales.” The panel was moderated by Kristi Casale, immediate past president of the Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA. Watch the full session here.

Kristi: How does the title of this session relate to events and sponsorships?

Karen: In the past, we looked at sponsorships as a transaction between the organizer and the sponsor. You pay us money, we put up your sign — that kind of thing. But events are made up of three distinct audiences — the organizer, the attendee, and the sponsor. It’s a symbiotic relationship. When we create sponsorships, it’s about building that community as you go forward.

Kristi: Can you give examples of how changing your approach has impacted the success of the event?

Amy: In San Francisco, where RSA Conference is held, there are a bunch of open storefronts on Fourth Street, which connects the Moscone Center and the Marriott. For the past two years, we’ve added different sponsorship activations such as coffee shops in those storefronts. Not only are these new experiences exciting to sponsors, they’re also meeting an attendee need, and they’re making me happy because the vendors are all approved by RSA Conference, so our branding is on it as well.

“The hardest thing about most conferences today is getting attendees to come back. But if you can improve that experience by giving them a moment, you’re guaranteed to have them come back.”

Kristi: What are the benefits of using this approach beyond increased sponsorship revenue?

Karen: The hardest thing about most conferences today is getting attendees to come back. But if you can improve that experience by giving them a moment, you’re guaranteed to have them come back. And if it’s a cool enough moment, they’ll become an advocate for your event. It could be creating a concert or workshop, or having a puppy park in the middle of your expo where they can adopt a dog, which all of a sudden makes a memorable moment.

Amy: We have different activations on the show floor — built-out areas where the sponsors can do different things. We also added in musicians this year that attendees could hear going to and from keynotes. One thing that was hugely successful — it wasn’t sponsored — was our “golden ticket” where we picked five attendees in our keynote to meet actor Christopher Lloyd.

Kristi: Do you do the traditional metal packages (gold, silver, etc.) for sponsors?

Karen: There’s a need for packages. I am very against breaking things up and doing à la carte. When you have a package and someone is a diamond, there’s prestige in them staying at that level. You lose that when you break things up. However, I do think we build too much into packages. You should look at your metal packages as covering their basic needs — such as content, speaking, access, and some branding.

Kristi: Do you have any suggestions for more inexpensive options?

Karen: First, you should look at what you’ve already budgeted for and just offset that cost. Don’t add things to it, because now you’ve got additional costs. Then you can do things like pub crawls, which are simple. Or if there’s a party going on with a theater, you can get the sponsors up and give them five minutes to do quick pitches. It costs you nothing, and they’re willing to pay a few thousand dollars for it.

Kristi: How important is it to capitalize on rebooking on site and how do you do it?

Karen: It saves me a lot of time with my sales reps later, and we also love to capture the excitement of a show. We make the rebook look like an NFL draft. We have all the levels up on these monitors and it’s like the sponsors are in the waiting room to re-sign. Everyone wants what they can’t have, so we throw out big names and tell them who has already signed up for next year. It creates this sense of urgency when they see the number of available spaces in a level vanishing. To walk away and lose that momentum is such a waste. You want that surge of energy! You can still do a rebook even if you don’t know where your show is going to be next year, or if you can’t get a floorplan. If you’ve got a date, you can do one.

Kristi: What other recommendations do you have to drive sales growth year after year?

Karen: If you don’t have that balance between the three interested parties, you’re never going to have growth. You need all interested parties to be happy. It’s an ecosystem that is somewhat fragile. We’re very big on Exhibitor Advisory Boards or Sponsor Advisory Boards. We don’t do any of this on a whim. We really engage and hear their feedback. We meet with them twice a year. There are about 60 members on the RSA one, but we do it for smaller companies where there are only 10.

Kristi: What happens when somebody tries to disrupt this healthy environment that you’ve worked so hard to create or they’re trying to go rogue and do their own thing?

Karen: If a sponsor leaves and they put on their own private event in the next hotel, that’s a danger. We want to try to close that down as much as possible. We have very strict rules. It’s written in my hotel contracts that they can’t have competing events. Everything that’s booked in the hotel needs to get approved by us. The other thing is permitting. I can permit certain corners in San Francisco so that I have control of the space. We call it “protecting our house.” We spend a good 25% of our time just protecting our house.

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