by Lisa A. Grimaldi | August 01, 2015
(Pictured) Getting mileage: The city of Rio de Janiero, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, sponsored a 5K run during the 2015 IMEX Frankfurt show.
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Sponsorship dollars can be critical to the success and growth of trade shows and events. Yet, the same old offers are getting harder to sell, as sponsors seek unique ways to invest their dollars and connect with buyers.

The value should go beyond the opportunity to display a logo, says Wendy Holliday, vice president, attendee acquisition and experience, for Aurora, Ohio-based Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. For premium high-end sponsorships in particular, it's best for organizers to approach those in charge of the budget -- C-suite executives -- not sales reps. "Match power with power. Have your own C-suite team or board members open the doors for you," Holliday advises.

Following are seven ideas designed to engage attendees and put sponsors in the spotlight.

1. Leaderboard contests.
 At the 2014 annual meeting of the Risk Management Society, one savvy sponsor took a common trade show complaint -- the thousands of steps attendees walk during the course of the event -- and turned it into an upbeat contest. Attendees were outfitted with pedometers (featuring the sponsor's logo) and enrolled in a contest to determine who covered the most ground.

Participants were encouraged to periodically check in at the sponsor's booth, where their progress was tracked on a large leaderboard, also bearing the sponsor's logo. It proved a win-win: The most active attendees earned prizes, and the contest created a good deal of buzz and exposure for the sponsor. is among firms that supply electronic leaderboards. Custom pedometers are available through vendors including

2. VIP lounges. Sponsors can create VIP, invitation-only lounges outfitted with comfortable furniture, drinks, charging stations, etc., to attract attendees in specific demographics, such as C-suite executives, Millennials or trade-show first-timers. These spaces are appreciated by attendees because they can mingle with other professionals at their own level, says Wendy Holliday. And the lounges work for sponsors, since they target the buyers they want to attract or the audiences they want to grow.

3. High-tech postcards.
 Printed marketing materials might seem like an old-school way for exhibitors and sponsors to reach buyers and draw them to their stands, but a new twist gives them a high-tech touch. Attendees receive cards (mailed prior to the show or handed out at the entrance) inviting them to the sponsor's booth. The booths are outfitted with iPads that -- when the card is held up to them --  reveal hidden animated messages or characters. For example, global marketing firm FreemanXP created cards that revealed 3-D superheros when attendees stopped by clients' booths. Among the companies creating these augmented printed materials is

4. Hydration stations.
 Nearly all delegates at a busy trade show will be drawn to hydration stations during the event, making these oases a great platform for sponsorships. Sponsors can take the concept further with eco-friendly stations stocked with pitchers of water featuring the company's logo, plus branded reusable bottles that attendees will carry during the event and keep for future use. Note: It's worth investing in a quality bottle that attendees will want to use and save; vendors such as offer eco-friendly water bottles that can be customized with logos.

5. Consultation sessions. Most business professionals will jump at an opportunity to get expert advice in their chosen field. Some organizations sponsor short consultation sessions, or micro meetings, right on the trade-show floor.

"One firm that wanted to brand itself as a creative ad agency set up a glass booth where people could sign up and have their ad campaigns evaluated," recalls Howard Givner, founder and executive director of the New York City-based Event Leadership Institute. In another example, the Golf Industry Show has sponsored "Answers on the Hour," 30-minute Q&A sessions with industry pros, where attendees and experts discuss hot topics in the sport.

6. Wellness. Getting exercise and sticking to a healthy routine while on the road is a priority for many professionals. Not surprisingly, sponsors are embracing opportunities that position them as advocates of wellness and exercise. For example, the IMEX Group made a concerted effort to focus on attendee wellness during its 2015 IMEX Frankfurt show in Germany.

The agenda featured a 5K run that was sponsored by the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Olympics. Rio provided distinctive yellow T-shirts to the runners and a hearty Brazilian post-run breakfast. The race generated a lot of positive buzz for the city -- plus plenty of press and social media coverage.

Among firms that arrange sports programs and activities for events is Sports by TLC, which organized the IMEX run.

7. Beacons.
 Beacons represent the new frontier of geolocation technology. The inexpensive transmitters rely on Bluetooth to communicate with attendees' smartphones, thus bypassing the challenges often inherent in using GPS or Wi-Fi to pinpoint someone's location. By setting up such transmitters and using a mobile event app that incorporates beacon-based features, event organizers open up opportunities for exhibitors to send targeted messages to attendees in or near their booths, or to participate in a scavenger-hunt type game that directs attendees with location-specific messages.

Beacon functionality is still in its early stages, but related sponsorship opportunities will grow as more apps incorporate the technology. 
For more ideas from M&C, see "10 Fresh Sponsorship Ideas" .