Conferences and trade shows are excellent ways for professionals to learn, engage, and find new opportunities. But everyone knows the real business happens after hours.
Speed-networking lunches, happy hours, and after-parties offer people the chance to connect in a low-key environment. Within warm, inviting atmospheres, many a deal has been sealed at an evening affair. And with so few methods of marketing in cannabis, event sponsorship can offer big dividends—if done correctly.
“In cannabis, where brands don’t have the deepest access to the modern world’s most prominent advertising channels, event sponsorships are all the more important,” said Ricardo Baca, founder of the Grasslands agency.
Baca is no stranger to the networking event scene. The Grasslands Party, a curated annual gathering of high-level execs, journalists, and other industry tastemakers during MJBizCon, is a highly coveted, invitation-only ticket. (To request an invitation for the 2023 event, visit this link.)
With trade show season ramping up, companies may be curious about the best ways to approach event sponsorship—and how to maximize return on investment. Here are six tips to getting the most from your engagement.
Set key performance indicators
The first step to notching a win in the event sponsorship game is to know precisely what success looks like. Maybe you want to focus on lead generation or letting your team spend quality time with prospects they’re about to close. Perhaps you wish to see your brand go viral.
Defining what you aim to get out of your sponsorship will not only guide which event you choose to be a part of but also help you see if there was ROI after the fact.
Vet the opportunity
Being part of a highly visible event is an excellent way for operators to meet decision-makers, boost overall awareness, and elevate their reputations. But you have to do your homework.
“In the same way that the right ‘earned-media’ placements allow brands to borrow from the legitimacy of the publication covering them, the same can be said about event sponsorships,” Baca said. “Businesses and brands alike can borrow eminence and trustworthiness from the events they sponsor if they’re strategic.”
Baca recommends asking about the demographics of event attendees to ensure they align with your target audience. Testimonials from past sponsors and attendees are also crucial, since glowing reviews may be a good sign of future success. Collaboration and transparency between event producers and brands are also key.
Make your activation memorable
Once you’ve settled on the party or happy hour, it’s time to curate your company’s presence. Hanging a banner above a table isn’t going to cut it. You have to stand out.
“Your sponsorship activation is only as memorable as you make it,” Baca said. “So, if your team is bold and creative, then put your thinking caps on and ask yourself, ‘How can we make sure attendees encounter, interact with, and remember our brand?’”
If the event has a specific theme, make sure to consider that in the planning process. Interactive elements that draw people in and keep them engaged are vital. Games, Instagram-worthy photo ops, and unique components will get people buzzing. But make sure to build a team of “hype-builders,” as Baca calls them, whose sole focus at the event is to get people to participate in your activation.
Make a game plan
Having your vision set and a team assembled is only half the battle. The next step is getting everyone on the same page. What will go down once the doors to the event open?
“Cannabis event sponsorships aren’t ‘set it and forget it,’ and so an event strategy is essential,” Baca said. “We encourage our sponsors to create their own run-of-show [plan] for the event to ensure they’re maximizing the value of their spend.”
Pre-event promotion also is key. Social posts, invites, and outreach to other potential attendees will build hype and help solidify your plan. A good night’s sleep beforehand will ensure you bring your A game on the big night.
Content, content, content
Events are incredibly busy and go by in a blur. Knowing this, having a dedicated crew in charge of taking photos and producing videos is essential. After all, if it doesn’t appear on social media, did it even really happen?
“Event sponsorships can be impactful for cannabis businesses looking to develop content that places them in the thick of the conversation and zeitgeist,” said Baca. “This content can and should power their social and owned media channels for the following six to twelve months. It’s an incredible officiating stance, and it’s also a powerful way of extending the value and ROI of a brand’s event spend.”
In many ways, the content you create at a party can be even more impactful than what happens the night of the event. While there may be a couple hundred people in the room for a few hours, the millions scrolling on their phones for days and weeks to come should be in the back of your mind.
“It’s not the actual event but the exposure to so many more people on your social media. That is your ROI,” said Tony Gallo, managing partner at Sapphire Risk Advisory Group. His company is known for its popular trade show after-parties and is already promoting an MJBizCon rooftop soiree for 2023 on social channels.
Don’t forget the post-mortem
Once the dust settles on your grand affair, it’s time to make all that effort count. Take a hard look at how things went and whether you achieved your goals. Follow up with new contacts as soon as possible, and execute your social sharing plan. (Content calendars are your friend.)
Make sure to discuss the entire process from start to finish with your team. What went well, and what can be improved next time? The event will come and go faster than you realize, so be sure to have fun while also keeping your eyes on the prize.