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by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | January 01, 2010

As your organization evaluates its meetings and events, it might also be time to rethink your sponsorship model. Even the most generous organizations are scaling back their levels of support. And if they do go smaller and still experience a strong return on investment, they probably won't want to supersize their efforts any time soon. The competition for sponsorship dollars is at an all-time high.

Following are some ideas for securing that support.

New Outlets Sponsors might be tired of seeing their dollars used -- and their name/logo promoted -- in the same way, year after year. One of the most tired sponsored elements of a meeting or event is the conference bag. It is time to retire the tote. After all, how many can a person have? How many are left behind in hotel rooms? Consider seeking smaller, more useful giveaways, such as pens. Better yet, ask sponsors for input and recommendations.

Sponsors need new and long-lasting ways to get their brands out, and one of the best ways today is to attach their names to socially responsible gifts or events. For example, consider setting up "green lounges" with 100 percent recycled furnishings, or having sponsors contribute toward a donation to organizations like Heifer International or Oxfam. Donors can be thanked in the program or in signage.

Another area sponsors traditionally pour their dollars into -- signs and banners -- also is ripe for rethinking. Similar ROI from branding can come from less costly, fresher and more green options, such as putting a logo on a wall using environmentally friendly paint, or projecting a logo onto a wall or other venue space.

Unusual SuspectsWhile it's imperative to keep the sponsors you have, it makes good business sense to reach out to potential new partners from slightly different, yet complementary, fields. (Of course, sponsorships still must make sense in relation to your company and industry.)

For example, your high-tech firm has a product that reduces electricity use; why not approach an alternative energy firm to sponsor your event? Or, if your software company has applications for mapping, it might make sense for you to approach online travel services as potential partners.

Clause ControlA growing number of sponsors are requesting zero-liability clauses in contracts, allowing them to terminate their sponsorship agreements at any time with no penalties. Obviously, that's a bad deal for the organization holding the event. Better to counter with a compromise: Suggest a penalty ranging from 25 to 40 percent, so that fixed costs (e.g., electrical, rental) of the event are covered, and a cancellation window of three months out, so you'll still have time to seek other sponsors to fill the hole.

Remodeled Model A big change coming involves the sponsorship business model itself. A one-size-fits-all method for selling sponsorship is outdated.

New models might offer sponsors profit-sharing from a show's revenues, or for their costs to be tied to the show's results (e.g., number or types of attendees, or number of leads generated). This puts the onus on you and the meeting host to prove value and provide sponsors with ROI information (obtained via tracking technology, show surveys, show audits, etc.). At the same time, it makes the exhibitors and sponsors true stakeholders in the event.

Although it might seem daunting, all of this transformation will pay dividends -- and elevate the value of the event planner's role.