Managing your research conference sponsors in good times, and in bad.
We’ve already covered putting together sponsorship packages for your conference. But once you have them, how do you deal with your sponsors? Whether you’re organizing a one-shot event or an annual conference, keeping your research conference sponsors onside will make your life a whole lot easier. And this means carefully managing your relationship with them.
Professional conference organizers Corin Nanton in the UK, Nicole Giacomini in Switzerland and Robin Baldwin in Canada and gave us some tips on managing your research conference sponsors in good times, and in bad.
On keeping your conference sponsors informed
Once you’ve got them, keeping your conference sponsors happy is incredibly important. So speak to them throughout the organizing process, advises Corin Nanton, professional conference organizer at MEETinLEEDS, the conference team at the University of Leeds. “Keeping sponsors as informed as possible improves their experience of your event. Annual conferences usually have the same sponsor every year. And if you’re organizing one, you want to keep it that way.”
Nicole Giacomini, a professional conference organizer with Meeting.com in Lausanne advises setting up a sponsors meeting where you can explain exactly how your sponsorship packages will work, and can address any issues head-on. “Then you have the basis to build a successful relationship.”
On managing your conference sponsors when something goes wrong
Sometimes, your relationship with your conference sponsors can be bruised by events outside your control. Like if your conference doesn’t get the delegate numbers you were aiming for.
“It’s tough sometimes,” says professional conference manager Robin Baldwin, who works with The Willow Group in Ontario. “Some sponsors may get upset. But as much as we plan and try to control all of the working parts of an event, there are always outside curveballs thrown at us.”
Robin advises clueing them in to what’s going on as soon as possible and giving them added extras – like free registrations or tickets to your conference banquet – as a goodwill gesture. “It depends on the person, but in general as long as you’re in communication with them it’s usually ok. They’re a person reporting to another person, so have a conversation with them and work with them to resolve the situation. ”
On holding up your end of the sponsorship deal
Once you’ve agreed the terms of sponsorship, it’s important you pay attention to the little things, says Corin. “You have to hold up your end of the deal. Things like, making sure you have the right logos from them. Making sure any information they give you is reflected accurately on your conference website or in your program.
“Sticking to what you agreed is incredibly important.”
On showing grace
Sometimes when it comes to managing your research conference sponsors, things get lost in translation. “When you deal with someone on the phone it’s not always the same person who comes to the site,” says Nicole. “And between them maybe they had a problem collaborating.”
You may have delivered your end of the deal, but the person who’s representing the sponsor on the day expected something else and isn’t happy. In tricky situations like this, it’s about being accommodating, not about pointing fingers. “You try to find a way to make them happy,” says Nicole.
On treating your conference sponsors equally
“Your responsibility is to treat all your sponsors equally,” says Nicole. For example, if your conference has exhibition space, leaving some sponsors’ booths out in the cold while others are located at the center of attention won’t go down too well.
“The sponsor will not be happy if their booth is in a corner and there’s no light and the catering is on the other side of the room. Their responsibility it to make their booth nice so that people want to come and talk to them. Your part is to be careful that all your sponsors are treated equally.”
On using conference sponsors to spread the word
Robin advises using your sponsors to help market your conference. “They want people there as much as you do, so ask them to encourage their business partners to come, and promote on social media that they’ll be there. Some of these companies have huge social media following.”
And while anti-spam legislation means you can’t contact people on your sponsors’ distribution lists, you can ask them to do this for you. “If you’ve sent a mailer and their sponsor logo is on it, ask them to promote something similar to their mailing list. Or do a profile piece on their speaker, then send it to them and get them to promote it too. They’ll see the benefit and appreciate the engagement.”
Do it right, says Robin, and they’ll help you sell your event.
Maintaining a good relationship with your conference sponsors will see you through thick and thin. “As organizers we need them and they need us,” says Nicole, “so you play together.”