Dave Lutz, CMP
Sponsors don’t have to buy
stage time to meet their thought-leadership objectives. Instead,
1 Underwrite a keynote speaker
or sponsor sessions and tracks.
2 Model thought leadership in
their booth with bite-sized learning and demos, or by offering
white papers to participants.
3 Sponsor awards that recognize
the best in your profession.
4 Purchase naming rights
to show-floor theaters or
5 Help fund and provide access
to session video recordings, live-streaming, and scheduled replays.
6 Submit a session for
ON THE WEB
› For another perspective
on sponsored speakers, read
an automotive-industry blog
post — “The Conference ‘
Pay-to-Play’ Mentality: Is It in Your
Best Interest?”— at convn.org/
› The TED Commandments
make a great resource for
presenter coaching and training:
Avoiding Pay-to-Play Pitfalls
There’s a place for sponsored content in conference programs,
but you have to be thoughtful in your approach.
The seventh of the TED Com- mandments — “Thou shalt not sell from the stage: neither thy
company, thy goods, thy writings, or
thy desperate need for funding; lest
thou be cast aside into outer darkness”
— is especially timely advice. As more
sponsors embrace content marketing
or thought leadership as arguably the
most powerful strategy for improving
perceptions of their brand, conference-speaking slots are increasing in value.
Conference business models in this
area vary greatly — from stringent rules
about featuring only education champions to flat out selling keynote slots to
the highest bidders.
I’m not sure if pay-to-play has ever
been defined in the context of conferences. A good working definition might
be: an organization, person, or firm that
writes a check and receives stage time
on the conference program as one of
the benefits. Stage time can range from
a five-minute-interruption marketing slot to a full-session buyout. Some
organizations limit commercial presentations to the exhibit hall. Others sell
concurrent and/or keynote slots on the
I used to be strongly opposed to pay-to-play, but I’ve come around a bit. In
some industries, thought-leadership
investment opportunities will absolutely
make or break a sponsorship program.
Many sponsors have grown more sophisticated and recognize that breaking TED
Commandment No. VII wastes a prime
opportunity to make an emotional connection with their target market.
If your conference incorporates
pay-to-play, here are a few attendee-centric concepts to help guide the
1 Transparency Attendees can smell a
sales pitch a mile away. In your conference marketing, final program, and
mobile app, be sure to clearly state that
this session is sponsored, presented,
offered, or organized by the sponsor.
2 Choice Attendees vote with their feet
and don’t like being held hostage. Pay-to-play programming ideally should
have non-pay-to-play education offerings at the same time. Exceptions to
this can be sessions that benefit attendees — like during a free meal or other
tangible offering to participate.
3 Vetting and coaching Some organizers put a lot of extra effort on the front
end, working closely with sponsors to
ensure that the content and presentation is helpful and forward-leaning for
their target audience. They collaborate
on session designs, learning outcomes,
and slide decks to make certain that
programs provide valuable takeaways.
4 Performance based I haven’t run
across this yet, but it’s an approach
more pay-to-play models should consider adopting: If, as a sponsor, your
session is a hit and non-salesy, we want
you and your money back next year. If it
bombs and comes across as a sales pitch,
we either don’t want you back or you
lose your place in line to select the most
highly valued opportunities. .
Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director
of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting,