Blog
11th May 2022

At a recent Marketing Leaders dinner hosted by MPG, I had the privilege of chairing a great discussion about something that has become a big deal for many B2B media/events organisations: commercial marketing.

What do we mean by ‘commercial marketing’? This is a broad term we use to describe the marketing that supports the generation and growth of commercial revenue i.e. revenue from sponsors, exhibitors and advertisers. Sometimes these types of customers are called ‘clients’ or ‘partners’.

The type of marketing that applies here is very different to marketing we use to attract ‘audience’ i.e. conference delegates, exhibition visitors, magazine readers or website visitors. Marketing to attract new audience members tends to be more transactional, requiring a very high volume of activity executed across multiple channels simultaneously – some manual, some automated.

The methodology needed for commercial marketing, on the other hand, is very similar to what is needed for high-value subscription or membership product marketing, which is akin also to SaaS product marketing. The main difference between commercial marketing for events and the SaaS businesses is that events have a hard deadline. Therefore, commercial marketing to attract event sponsors is much more time-bound, with a great sense of urgency required in marketing processes and execution, as well as marketing messages.

Why do we believe commercial marketing has become so much more important recently? We believe there are three reasons:

  1. As we emerge from Covid, there is a huge amount of opportunity, with large numbers of sponsors looking to invest significant sums again in live events. When automation is applied to commercial marketing, this opportunity can be fully exploited via automated lead generation, lead nurturing, and lead management techniques that can be deployed at scale.
  2. Sponsors have fallen out of the habit of sponsoring the same event every year. In other words, they are less loyal. Event organisers therefore need to use commercial marketing to convince sponsors that their events are the best investments of sponsorship budgets – with strong messaging and well-executed campaigns -.
  3. Many event organisers are concerned that delegate revenues won’t reach pre-Covid levels. With many digital alternatives now on offer, and travel becoming more expensive, delegates may be more price-sensitive than they were. So, sponsors need to make up the shortfall. (It remains to be seen if delegate revenues will recover well or not – the jury is still out on that one, and we expect it will be for some time to come.).

The above is based on MPG’s perspective from working with a variety of event organisers globally – mostly focused on conference-style events for senior executives. To get the perspective of these companies more directly, here are the ‘key takeaways’ from the Marketing Leaders discussion about commercial marketing:

 

Opportunities:

  • In the short-to-medium term, conference organisers are expecting sponsorship revenues to recover and grow much faster than delegate revenues.
  • ABM techniques can be used to great effect when targeting specific companies, to attract them as sponsors for events.
  • When approached at ‘brand level’ (i.e. sponsorship opportunities promoted across a range of products in a portfolio), commercial marketing can work very well in terms of economies of scale and synergies.
  • Commercial marketing tactics can be built into existing delegate customer journeys e.g. by adding a tick box to ‘agenda downloads’ for the downloader to indicate if they are interested in sponsorship.
  • Applying automation to commercial marketing can deliver great results. Automation should be built into lead generation, lead nurturing, lead management, and lead scoring – all to help the sponsorship sales people be more efficient by giving them better quality, warmer leads.
  • Building a dedicated, benefit-led messaging strategy for commercial marketing can significantly improve results. Strong collaboration between the sales people and marketers is essential to develop the most compelling and impactful messaging.
  • Building data-led performance reports for commercial marketing gives all stakeholders strong visibility of how investment in commercial marketing grows sponsorship revenue, increases conversion rates from lead to sale, increases average order value, and reduces length of sales cycles (i.e. making sponsorship sales more efficient).
  • Having a strong marketing and sales alignment – through commercial marketing and sponsorship sales working closely together towards the same goal – can turbo-charge revenue growth from sponsors.

 

Challenges:

  • Senior executives, including sales leaders, are often not aware of, or have limited knowledge of, the concept and workings of commercial marketing.
  • Sales people can often be quite skeptical about the value of marketing, and sometimes don’t pay attention to the leads generated by marketing – preferring to rather leverage existing relationships or source their own leads.
  • It is very difficult for marketers to work on both delegate marketing and commercial marketing as they are two very different types of marketing, with different methodologies and cadences. Also, marketers who are experienced in delegate marketing are typically not trained in, or able to do, commercial marketing very well. It may be necessary to separate out delegate marketing and commercial marketing, in terms of the allocation of marketing skills and resources.
  • Marketing databases are not set up well for commercial marketing campaigns. Often the data is missing from the database, so email campaigns to attract new sponsors to events are difficult to deploy.
  • A substandard marketing tech stack can stand in the way of effective commercial marketing, as automation is not possible and data doesn’t flow in the way it needs to for marketing and sales processes to be aligned, efficient and effective.
  • In order to build marketing performance reports, data has to be managed well. All sales people need to be logging in the CRM when leads are followed up and closed. This does not always happen, which means that it is not possible to accurately track, analyse, and report on the performance of commercial marketing or sponsorship sales.

Clearly there is a lot of opportunity to grow revenue fast via sponsors – as long as the right amount of attention and investment is given to building and maintaining commercial marketing capabilities. It is important to bear in mind that not all of these capabilities need be built inhouse – some external expertise and resources can be plugged into an events business to deliver great results in a scalable and repeatable manner.

As with all marketing initiatives, having a strong strategy and operational plan in place is essential for success – with good execution absolutely critical. It’s easy to talk about commercial marketing over a networking dinner, but it is quite another thing to do it well!

Commercial marketing to grow sponsorship revenue: opportunities and challenges

Blog
11th May 2022
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