Marketing has historically been seen as a cost center with marketers constantly working to prove ROI and fighting to be perceived as a profit generator. A marketing tactic that’s traditionally seen as one of the most pricy investments? Third-party events. I’m talking about tradeshows, hosted-buyer programs, conferences―anything where you’re giving funds to a third-party in hopes of connecting with your target audience in a live-event venue.

So, how do you ensure you’re putting your coveted marketing dollars to good use with third-party events as a part of your marketing mix? The answer is to do your due diligence and research all of the available vendor-organized events in your wheelhouse that could supply you with ideal leads. Evaluate each event/sponsorship opportunity to see if it is capable of drawing the people you want to reach. You should also decide if your involvement will help you achieve your goals, whether that’s measured by new names, new opportunities, and new pipeline.

With that being said, simply follow the four guidelines outlined below, and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect sponsorship match for your money that will bring you the best ROI:

Tip #1: Be Inquisitive

Some vendors will resist answering your detailed questions, while others will appreciate your attention to detail and desire to find a good fit. Regardless, be tenacious! Stick to your guns, know what’s important for achieving your goals, and get the answers that you desire. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • When is the event taking place and where?
    • This may seem obvious, but some vendors may approach you with undefined or flexible details such as date and location. You need these specifics in order to compare against your overall program plan and budget, so get those locked down.
    • HOT TIP: Plot out your prospective event sponsorships on a calendar. This will help give you a more visual view of your secured commitments and how your potential ones could fit in the mix.
  • What is the conference theme? What topics will be covered?
    • Check that your message is in sync with the event’s theme. For example, you may be marketing an app specializing in payroll fulfillment. You start looking at a human resources conference and realize that the theme revolves around conflict resolution. This likely won’t align with your company’s message, so it’s back to the drawing board for you!
    • HOT TIP: Check out the agenda on the event website and review both the titles of the presenters and the descriptions of their sessions. This is simple research you can complete before engaging with the vendor.
  • How many attendees are you expecting? What are your current registration numbers? How large is the database you’re marketing to?
    • These numbers will help you create realistic goals for visitors to your booth, appointments set at the event, your giveaways budget, and more. It will also help you evaluate what kind of monetary investment you are willing to spend on the event. For example, do you want to spend $50,000 to have signage at a luncheon that only has 100 attendees? It will likely depend on how much the audience matches your ideal customer, which we’ll discuss below…
    • HOT TIP: If you’re starting to think this event is a good fit, create preliminary goals to present to your manager for budget approval. They’ll appreciate your foresight and be more likely to give you the “thumbs up!”
  • How many sponsors do you expect at the event? Are any of your competitors sponsoring? Have they sponsored in the past? Has your company sponsored in the past?
    • It’s important to know how many other sponsors will be with you at the event to consider if you think you’ll be lost in the crowd. You also want to know if your competitors are showing interest―this may indicate that you should be there, too.
    • HOT TIP: The last question (“Has your company sponsored in the past?”) may seem silly, but many marketers have only been in their roles for a few months, so don’t be ashamed to ask! Good to know if someone preceding you selected this event.

Tip #2: Identify Your Perfect Persona

Once you’ve got the event basics down, it’s time to check that you’d be reaching the people you actually want to reach. Start by asking some of the following questions:

  • What are your audience demographics? Do you have a breakdown of titles and departments? What is the percentage of B2B vs. consumer-driven companies? Are there more enterprise-level companies or smaller start-ups?
    • Regardless of the type of company you are, B2B or consumer, these may be the most important questions you ask. The answers will help you build out the audience profile they expect at their event―and see if it’s a match! For example, your ideal persona may be a CIO at an e-commerce company with more than $400 billion in revenue. But, while the event you’re currently reviewing draws CIOs, they work at smaller B2B businesses. If that’s the case, you may want to re-think your participation in this event.
    • HOT TIP: I like to ask for past attendee lists and do some research on my own as vendors may inflate their numbers. They’ll be unlikely to give you a full list of name/title/company due to privacy concerns, but you can usually get titles and/or at least company names. Then you can go into your database or use a data vendor like Hoovers to evaluate if these attendees truly fit your criteria.
  • Are attendees qualified in any fashion?
    • This is especially important for executive events, like hosted-buyer programs with pre-set 1:1 meetings or executive educational events like Argyle Executive Forum. These are usually on the pricier side, so you want to make sure that the company is doing its due diligence to bring high-quality attendees to the table.
    • HOT TIP: Ask about cancellation policies for these more upscale events―are replacements from the same company/level required to fill that newly open appointment? Make sure you’re going to get the value you expect.

Tip #3: Define Your Courtship

Now it’s time to define your courtship. Most importantly, this is where you determine how much value you will get from the opportunity. Ask yourself:

  • What do sponsors receive? Are there speaking opportunities? What will bring me the most value?
    • Get a sponsorship prospectus and scour the details. Most packages will include the basics like “branding”―aka company name/logo on the website, in the conference brochure, etc. Look beyond these for ideas that will give you more impact and get your message across to this audience. Don’t forget to check on your options for receiving contact information so that you can follow up with these leads. Review the document for the following common sponsorship packages:
      • Speaking Opportunities: Decide what works best for your needs. Where do you find the most engagement? Some common options include:
        • Roundtables
        • Panels
        • Thought Leadership Presentations
        • Case Studies
      • Engagement Opportunities: How will you be able to connect with this audience? Some options available may be:
        • Tradeshow Booth
        • Contests
        • 1:1 Appointments
        • Exclusive VIP Luncheon
      • Extra Branding Opportunities: If you have some extra clams to spend at the event to meet sponsorship dollar requirements or you want to make a stronger branding impact with this particular audience, try some of the following strategic logo placements:
        • Lanyards
        • Hotel Room Key Cards
        • Charging Stations
        • Meal Breaks
        • Gala Entertainment
        • Literature Distribution
    • Do your best to evaluate the cost vs. impact. Work on predicting your ROI. It may be nuanced, and it may be qualitative based on your past experience. For example, since I’ve been at Marketo, we moved to a customized sponsorship option with a vendor because we want to get high impact with our content through a thought leadership presentation versus a moderated panel where our message could be muted by other participants. We also decided that we no longer want to participate in a VIP dinner because we weren’t seeing much value (our sales reps shared feedback that they ended up being stuck next to just two people at the table all night, so there wasn’t much opportunity). So, we got the best of both worlds in one sponsorship package!
    • HOT TIP: As evidenced by my anecdote above, you have the power to negotiate! Is there a sponsorship package that tickles your fancy but is missing a piece that would make it more enticing? Ask to combine it! Or remove something you don’t find valuable. The vendor will want to make you happy (and get your $$$), so they should be willing to work with you for the best fit.

Tip #4: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

You’ve asked the vendor a lot of questions and you have a detailed document describing the event, who will be attending, as well as sponsorship options and your notes on whether your company should participate. Now’s the time to present your research and recommendations to the people that hold the purse strings.

Be sure to include:

  • Audience profile
  • Sponsorship packages
  • Predicted ROI
  • Where the event(s) fit into your overall marketing plan/budget
  • Your recommendation of whether you should sponsor this particular event and why

I recommend sharing everything you’ve evaluated, both positive and negative, to show your manager your critical-thinking skills and your desire to make the right investment for the company. Once you’ve agreed upon your next steps, reach out to the vendor(s) and give them the good (or not-so-good) news. Then you’ll be well on your way to gathering new leads and reaching a new audience! (Who knows―maybe these steps will lead you to sponsoring Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit 2016…)

What kinds of questions do you ask when evaluating third-party events? I’d love to learn more from you to help me find the perfect match!