Conferences stands and sponsorship (or, how to REALLY waste mega bucks)

Last week, I spoke about wasting money going to conferences if you’re not clear about WHY you’re going. But let’s be clear, to REALLY waste the mega bucks, you need a corporate sponsorship and stand.

A decent sized conference stand/sponsorship can set you back $50k on the space alone, and then you need to fit it out (easily another $20k) and staff it. It’s easy to blow $100,000, so you want to make damn sure that money is working for you. Even if it’s just a trestle table and a white table cloth, you’re still going to be shelling out $10k+ once you add in banners, collateral, staff, uniforms, etc.

A conference stand is like a big advertisement. It needs to catch the attention of your target market and encourage them to visit (nothing too dull please!) Ideally, you’ll have a single message you want to get across and that will be reflected in the fit out – and it must be easy to read from across the room.

Stands need to be planned well in advance, at least a month or two. As well as the stand itself, you need to organise what collateral (flyers etc) you are going to take, what giveaways you will be providing (if any), which staff will be attending (the ones who like people), what everyone on the stand will be wearing (a nice corporate uniform please), etc.

Here’s a story for you regarding give-aways: A few years ago, I attended an SMSF conference and one of the sponsors was giving out these little ‘leather’ boxes with lots of different sized sticky notes.  The thing was, the inside lid had a calendar on it…for the previous year.  My daughter loved playing with all the sticky notes, but every time I saw the calendar for the wrong year, it made me shake my head and laugh. What on earth were the people at that company thinking?! What does that say about how much they value their potential customers? ‘Nuf said really.

Before getting excited going through the catalogues of all the fun ‘giveaways’ you can buy, think about your target audience. What are they going to appreciate? And don’t forget, there’s no rule that says you HAVE to have giveaways. 

A fishbowl full of Lindt balls is seriously inviting!

With regards to uniforms, don’t skimp. Cheap t-shirts only last a few washes before they look old and tired, so it’s better to pay more and get really good quality. Not only do they last longer, but your staff will feel more comfortable and confident in decent quality clothes. And on the logo placement, it needs to be up high for two reasons. Firstly, your logo will appear in more photos if it’s higher up, and secondly, none of your female staff will enjoy having every person that comes past ‘read’ her chest.

Speaking of staff, unless there’s only two of you, you will need a written down roster, covering who’s going to be on the stand and when. There’s nothing worse than an unattended stand at a busy conference. Occasionally employees succumb to the lure of the pool and an afternoon sleep (I know, you’re so shocked!), so it’s better not to run the risk and make sure everyone knows where they have to be and when. The bigger the organisation, the more important this becomes. I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen some pretty disappointing behaviour when there’s no roster and no one holding everyone responsible.

And make sure that everyone on the stand supports the message you want to put across. In order to achieve that, it’s worth briefing everyone before you go, and writing up a ‘cheat sheet’ so everyone is clear on why you’re at the conference and what the organisation is looking to achieve.

Once your stand preparation is underway, there’s one other opportunity that is often afforded to sponsors – the option to email (or sometimes mail) everyone that is going to be at the conference. I know that when you’re in the middle of getting ready for a conference, plus doing your day job, it can be really difficult to get the time and the brain space to think about doing something with this. But it is a GREAT opportunity to talk to your target market and drum up interest in your stand and your business.

You can do the ubiquitous ‘visit our stand and win a fitbit’, which to be honest isn’t a bad idea if you want to increase the number of people on your mailing list. Or, you can refer back to your reasons for being at the conference, and think about how to best use the opportunity. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ here, it really depends on your goals.

So, there is a lot to think about, but stands and sponsorship are a big investment and you want to get the best bang for buck, for your own personal satisfaction as well as for the good of the company.

If you’ve gone ahead and booked a big sponsorship and stand, and are now wondering how to really get the return on your investment, then please give us a call. Nothing is unfixable, even at a late stage. Ask me how I know…

Next week, ‘at the conference’. Until then, happy conferencing!