ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
My exhibiting program can't afford show management's sponsorship packages, but I have a few ideas that might be less expensive. How can I get show management to negotiate on costs or agree to custom sponsorships that better fit my needs?
Before you can begin to negotiate prices or suggest custom sponsorships, you need a clear understanding of what you hope to gain from your spend, be that loyalty, awareness, goodwill, etc. Once you understand your objectives, it's time to do a bit of research. That is, to determine your best approach with show management, you need to figure out what types of sponsorships have been offered in the past, how profitable and popular they've been, and who has typically purchased them.
Dig through the show's website for information, press releases, photos, etc. about the previous year's show, and/or call your show-management rep and get a list of what sponsorships were sold the previous year, how much they went for, and perhaps even when those sales were made. Also inquire whether any of these sponsorships are still available and try to determine who purchased each one the previous year.
This information is important for a couple of reasons. Obviously, you need to know what sponsorships are on the table in order to make a purchase. But your research should also tell you whether big-name firms bought particular sponsorships the previous year, and when in the sales process these purchases were made. If, for example, a sponsorship was bought early on by a company with a large pocketbook, your chances of negotiating the price with management are pretty slim. But if a particular sponsorship sold at the last minute for a discounted price, perhaps to a lesser-known firm, your likelihood of scoring a deal increases considerably. In addition, understanding what's been done before will clue you in to whether show management is open to outside-the-box ideas or if reps are stuck pursuing standard-issue concepts. Bottom line: This initial research should give you some insight into what you can expect to pay and what you may or may not be able to suggest to show management.
Once you've done your research and you have a decent idea of what sponsorships might align with your objectives, you have several options regarding how to proceed. One is to offer to split a sponsorship package with another exhibitor. Management reps may know of someone just like you who has inquired about sponsorships but didn't have the budget to pony up for the full price of one. So inquire about partnership options, or perhaps even contact a few similarly sized exhibitors with which you're not in direct competition, and see if they might be open to pooling resources on a larger sponsorship.
Another option is to simply negotiate for a lower price. This works particularly well if the sponsorship was slow to sell the previous year. You could also bargain to maintain the same price but increase the value of the sponsorship. For example, if you sponsor the show bags for the asking price, then negotiate to include a bag insert promoting your booth or to place a sizeable company logo on the bag exterior to further increase awareness of your firm at the show.
With regards to sponsorships related to specific objects, also consider providing a branded version of the product versus paying the full price of the sponsorship. For instance, instead of paying $1,000 to sponsor show lanyards, you might be able to purchase branded versions of your own for half the price and have them shipped directly to the show instead. The same concept applies to bottled water; purchasing and branding it yourself rather than buying the sponsorship might be a cheaper way to go if the show will allow it.
And of course, don't be afraid to fully customize a sponsorship idea of your own. Perhaps you have a unique strategy that will perfectly fit your awareness goals, but you need show management's permission to carry it out. Pitch the idea as a sponsorship option and present it to management along with a price you think is fair. As long as your idea doesn't negatively affect other exhibitors or the show itself, a customized sponsorship puts money in show management's coffers without reps doing a thing except signing on the dotted line. Obviously, some reps will be far more open to negotiation than others. But after having done your homework, you'll likely have a decent idea of just how hard you can push based on what reps have agreed to in the past.
At the end of the day, sponsorships enable show organizers to offset their own costs, and they help exhibitors generate awareness beyond the confines of their individual booths. Despite the sometimes exorbitant costs of sponsorships, you can often negotiate actual fees and propose solutions that help create a win-win scenario for show management and your exhibiting program.
— Dana Tilghman, CTSM, CMP, senior trade show and events planner, Minitab Inc., State College, PA