Revenue Rehab: It's like therapy, but for marketers
Oct. 12, 2022

Event Sponsorships: Value or Waste

This week our host Brandi Starr is joined by Elizabeth Irvine, the VP of Marketing for MarketMuse, where she drives the content, demand generation and sales enablement initiatives for the organization. Elizabeth spent over eight years at TechTarget,...

This week our host Brandi Starr is joined by Elizabeth Irvine, the VP of Marketing for MarketMuse, where she drives the content, demand generation and sales enablement initiatives for the organization.

Elizabeth spent over eight years at TechTarget, five of which were in London where she built the site marketing department for the new European branch spanning four international markets and languages. She spent a year at Gartner, building an audience for their marketing-focused product as well as a year at an early-stage start-up, Code Ocean.

Elizabeth joined MarketMuse in 2018 as the first full-time marketer and built the marketing structure and automation from the ground up. Additionally, Elizabeth organized the marketing launch for MarketMuse’s first self-serve products, launched an affiliate program and regularly litters the company slack with corny quips and The Office gifs.

In this week’s episode, Brandi and Elizabeth discuss the intricacies of Event Sponsorships. Touching on how to be effective, getting attendee attention and how to select which events for sponsorship will best suit your needs and goals, this episode of Revenue Rehab has everything you need to evaluate: Event Sponsorships – Value or Waste.

Bullet Points of Key Topics + Chapter Markers:

  • Topic #1 Effective Event Sponsorship [13:03] Beyond leads, there is so much more to gain from sponsoring events. Elizabeth emphasizes that alignment with the [sponsors’] value before the event starts, defining that well in advance is key.
  • Topic #2 Getting Attendee Attention [20:10] Creativity can go a long way, says Elizabeth, but take the time to partner that excitement and attention with value that gets you to the defining value for the event.
  • Topic #3 How to Determine if Event Sponsorship Will Be a Win [20:10] The ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) alignment is crucial, shares Elizabeth. It comes back to understanding your goals for doing an event and determining if the event attendees (for example) support those goals and in what ways.

So, What's the One Thing You Can Do Today?

The one thing you can do today, Elizabeth recommends, is dig deep on the ICP of an event that you are considering sponsorship for.  Look into things like the previous attendee list to figure out if that event is within your ICP.

Buzzword Banishment:

Elizabeth’s Buzzword to Banish is the phrase ‘touching clients’.  There are many other ways to express you’ve connected with a client, Elizabeth says, we should use them.


Get in touch with Elizabeth Irvine on:

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[0:05] Intro:  

Welcome to Revenue Rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita, Brandi Starr. 

[0:34] Brandi Starr:   

Hello, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Revenue Rehab. I am your host Brandy Starr and we have another amazing episode for you today. Today I am joined by Elizabeth Irvine. Elizabeth is the VP of Marketing for MarketMuse driving the content demand generation and sales enablement initiatives for the organization. Elizabeth spent over eight years at TechTarget, five of which were in London, where she built the site marketing department for the new European branch spanning for international markets and languages. She spent a year at Gartner building an audience for their marketing focused product and also spent a year at an early stage startup Code Ocean. Elizabeth joined MarketMuse in 2018 as the first full time marketer and built the marketing structure and automation from the ground up. She organized the marketing launch for a MarketMuse’s first self-service product, launched an affiliate program and regularly litters the company slack with corny quips and the office gifts. Elizabeth, welcome to Revenue Rehab, your session begins now.

[1:52] Elizabeth Irvine:   

Oh, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

[1:55] Brandi Starr:  

Yes, I'm excited to have you. I love that you love The Office. It's one of those things we here; we do the Dundees as our team awards, we call them the Teggies. And for those that are watching on video, you can kind of see my Teggie awards over my shoulder here. And so it's funny because when we say that a lot of people are like, what's the Dundee's? And it's like, uh, how do you know? We unfortunately, can't go to Chili's, because we're not all in the same location, but we do make it a thing and it's always really fun.

[2:36] Elizabeth Irvine:   

Oh, that just made my day.

[2:40] Brandi Starr:   

Well Elizabeth, I'm so glad to have you. And I always like to start off our sessions with a little bit of a woosah moment that I call buzzword. banishment. So tell me what industry buzzword would you like to banish forever?

[2:59] Elizabeth Irvine:   

Yes, I would like to go with touching clients. The heavy have we touched this client recently? Why are we saying that? There are other words that we can use in other phrases that ask the question of have we contacted this customer recently. I cringe every time.

[3:18] Brandi Starr:  

Yeah, when you say it that way, it does come across a little creepy. And it's [inaudible 03:24] because everything is about the touch points. It takes this many touch points to get their attention. How often should we touch them? And I never really thought about it that way but we should definitely find another word for that. 

[03:44] Elizabeth Irvine:

Even touch point is better.

[3:47] Brandi Starr:  

As you say, instead of how often are we touching them; we shouldn't do that, that can get us into trouble. Well, I will make sure to not talk about touching clients today. And so now that we've gotten that off our chest, tell me what brings you to Revenue Rehab today.

[4:10] Elizabeth Irvine:   

Sure. We're talking event sponsorships to be or not to be. And I am very, very proud to be, after running a lot of sponsorships, both running events and sponsoring events, excited to excited to dive deeper.

[4:28] Brandi Starr:

Awesome. As I say I've got some strong opinions on this one as well so we can see where we align. But before we jump into that I believe in setting intentions. It gives us focus, it gives us purpose and most importantly, it gives our audience an understanding of what they should expect from our conversation. So tell me what are your hopes for our talk today or what would you expect to be different after our conversation?

[4:56] Elizabeth Irvine:   

Sure. I think there are a lot of opinions and probably some confusion about whether or not, especially now with the current market to focus marketing budget on events, and I'd like to talk about what I've seen work and what I've seen not work and share some of that with the group so that those who go in and invest that money into events can put their best foot forward in every possible way.

[5:28] Brandi Starr:  

Okay, sounds good. I can say like, early in my marketing career, I was the queen of events. I did a big vending machine, I've got pictures where I was in a green tutu with a wand and a briefcase handcuffed to my wrist, because I was prize queen in Vegas. I while extra pregnant drove sports cars with clients, as a result of an events campaign that we did. So I definitely, in general, have been pro-events for most of my career and have absolutely loved planning, participating executing them. However, as the market has changed, I have become lukewarm on events. Not that they're bad, I don't have a hard line of you should never do them but I would say more times than not now, I would opt out and just potentially have a presence in just attending for the networking, but not actually sponsoring. So I know that you are very pro, so I'd love to hear your stance and why you've been pro events and why you think they're still effective.

[7:05] Elizabeth Irvine:

It's definitely been scary this year. We had one in person event earlier this year that didn't go great, and we just wrapped two up in August and September that were probably two of our best events that we've done. And part of that, I think, when you look at event sponsorships, if you only look at it as those days in the booth when you're there in person and talking with people, you're really missing out on a lot of other opportunities. So we create a content strategy. We're a content focused company so it's natural, but we create a content strategy a few months ahead of the event to start talking about it and start having material that we can send to prospects and supports the event overall, as well. And we'll message folks in our database within a certain radius, just to see if they're going, if they're attending and when we've gone to an event for previous years include those people as well. So even if they're not going, we have those touch points to go back to people and have a reason to connect. So I think the initial thing for me, with event sponsorships, it really starts way ahead of time and not just relying on those conversations that you have in the booth that are very, very important. But how can you start fostering that earlier on?

[8:31] Brandi Starr:  

Okay. And so is the thought process there to really initiate a conversation that makes them want to come to the booth, or to just have a parallel conversation with them that even if they're not attending, that it's still relevant.

[8:51] Elizabeth Irvine:   

I'd say a little bit of both but more the latter. We're not expecting to email our database and that's going to be the thing that's going to drive them to that event. It's more having a reason to reach out. And we actually had success with that with this event in August that we participated in, that was a really small event, it was only about 100 people, and really, really focused niche audience. And when we message them ahead of time asking if they're going and if they hadn't registered yet, here's a discount code, we ended up booking half a dozen meetings before the event even started because there was an alignment of priorities. So I think if you think about an event as a full campaign, how do you create a full campaign and a full story? What is the nurture look like before and after the event? How can you align your digital strategy to the event sponsorship? It's going to make that investment even more impactful.

[9:57] Brandi Starr:   

Okay, I think you hit on something key that I want to dig into a little bit more. You talked about the success of that smaller event. And my personal opinion, that is the direction I have leaned. I used to really enjoy sponsoring the large conferences, because when you've got large amounts of people, there's a lot more that, it makes sense to invest in the sponsorship, and a lot more fun things you can do. But as events have grown, and I've, worked in events in different industries, I have found that those small events, 100 people or less, are the places where I have seen greater success. Do you have a preference? Do you feel one works better than the other? Do you think it's a blend of both? What's your opinion on sponsorship, small versus large?

[11:00] Elizabeth Irvine:  

I think it, I think it depends on how aligned the audience is to your ICP. So I usually avoid the larger events if they're covering too broad of a topic and marketing. So for example, inbound is a great one, we're told all the time, we should be inbound, why aren't you at inbound? It's a great option for us, but they cover so much of marketing that the problems that people come to that event with that they're trying to solve, we may hit a percentage of that. Whereas some of the content focused events may be smaller, and this one was more AI focused, that was 100 people, and this other one we went to was around 2000 people. And as long as the audience is closely aligned to your ICP, I feel like the size matters a little bit less. And sometimes it's hard to tell. So we'll typically sort of test out an event by sending reps ahead of time one year and let them talk with the audience, see what the interactions are like the booths and does the content sort of match up, and it's kind of a good test run for us before investing. Because we don't have a ton of a budget and that's typical of my history as well. So the events that you sponsor -- because that's also takes a big portion of your marketing budget, you want to make sure that there's real alignment with that and that's why that that digital strategy matters on top of that, to make sure that investment goes even farther. I think the smaller events, and even with bigger events, I always try to push for having a speaking slot, whether it's organic and we apply before we sponsor and get a speaking slot with one of our co-founders, or if it's part of the part of the sponsorship because that's going to have a dramatic impact on the awareness and driving that foot traffic to the booth too.

[13:03] Brandi Starr:   

And that is I that is another thing that I have seen really effective, because I have often been the speaker for my organizations, and the times where I have had a speaking slot it'll be that day, day and a half after that presentation, that people will be consistently coming to the booth purposefully, not just wandering by. I know that you also mentioned that you have been on the other side of it and being the event host, how have you positioned your events so that they are effective for sponsors?

[13:48] Elizabeth Irvine:   

It's so hard and more recently, we've done more virtual events. So I've been experimenting with that. And how do I really make sure that I drive value for these sponsorships having been a sponsor myself, so that they would want to come back and sponsor again. And a lot of that comes down to the engagement and experience. I think it's I think it's easiest to associate the leads that you get from an event and just do cost-per-lead and how does that align, but there's so much more that you get from an event both as a sponsor, and as an attendee, and as the organizer, and a lot of that comes down to relationships. One of the biggest takeaways that we have gotten from participating in these events is creating relationships with other speakers and other sponsors that create long lasting co-marketing partnerships and just increases our breath in the industry and that's hard to measure. And as an event organizer, it's similar and we saw that with our virtual events. It really opened up more doors with those speakers when they agreed to participate and either supply video or in the past, if you're doing that in person. It creates a really long-lasting relationship that has that long term impact. And it connects you to the industry more when you're participating in those events.

[15:24] Brandi Starr:  

So I have definitely experienced that where some events, the value is in the connections that you're making. We sponsored a road show, because it's four years ago, now with the pandemic years seem -- time is so relative. And there weren't a ton of leads that came out of that event, but there was some really strong alignment to some technology partners/technology vendors, because we're a services company that really made the sponsorship worth it. And I think most people, when they are looking at the success of an event and putting that money in there, the goals that are put around the event, most marketers are only putting lead goals behind them. And so you can have an event sponsorship that appears to have been a flop. If I had looked at that three city tour that we did, based purely on leads, I would have said it was a complete waste of time because the number of leads that came out of it based on what we spent, did not at all pan out. But if I really step back and think about the connections that we made there, the other speaking opportunities we got, the partnership alignment, where we were able to do some co marketing or have some referrals, it would be totally worth it. So thinking about it as most of our listeners are marketing leaders, how would you encourage the CMO or head of marketing to reframe goals around events?

[17:15] Elizabeth Irvine:   

And that's a huge piece of it is, is the goal. And of course, you want to earn to your money back in some way. And aligning with the value before the event starts, maybe as you're signing that the agreement, here's what we're going to use this event for. You could be tying it to a product launch and just letting people see this new thing that you're doing. It could be focused on relationships, it could be larger branding. But defining that ahead of time is really important. And we've moved away from leads, and my team asks me how many leads they should get at the booth. And I'm like I'm less worried about the number of leads, I'd rather have you have quality conversations with people and set clear next steps so that when we come back from the event. So we actually have a really modest booth and we'll have tchotchkes and stuff because you have to have that. But we don't usually go much bigger than that because you will end up scanning people who have no intention of talking with you afterwards. They're just there for a game or popcorn, which I've done and we got tons of leads when we had popcorn, because once you smell popcorn, you can't not eat popcorn. But the number of those that turned into meaningful conversations were pretty, pretty small. So I think really thinking about the outcome that you want, even if it's a certain amount of opportunity value, which is usually what we focus on. If you have X number of high-quality conversations that have clear next steps, and even scheduling that time already on site, sometimes that's all you need. And you can you can 2x an investment really quickly.

[19:12] Brandi Starr:    

So I want to dig more into the thought process around the games or the popcorn. And mainly because my experience has been similar but different, and so I'll give you an example. There was one event huge sponsorship. The goal was it was a product introduction that this event was the first time it was really being pushed in the market. So there was a lot of coordinated effort around messaging and it was a huge event. So it was like if you're going to be here, get to see it first kind of messaging. And what we did was it was in Vegas. And so I mailed out company branded poker chips. So it was a direct mail activation. And basically it said, come by the booth for a 10-minute demo, and exchange, this fake poker chip for an actual MGM casino poker chip, which is the hotel we were in. And the poker chips ranged from $5 to $500. So you had the potential for that to get you 500 bucks. And the pushback that I got from sales, because we were mailing out let's say 300 - 400 of these things, and it was presumed that a solid portion of these people were going to be at this event, because it was 'the event'. So kind of like inbound, in marketing is one of those 'it events’, Dreamforce, those sorts of things, it was that kind of event for this industry. And so sales was like, oh, you're going to be sending us a bunch of crap people, we're just going to be doing a bunch of demos for people who were totally not interested, you're setting us up for failure. And I pushed forward anyway. And what we did was the setup at the booths was really clear. We had them doing the demos just constantly, so it wasn't like one-on-one. And the call to action at the end was, if this has actually piqued your interest -- it was like a little ticket that you had that had your name and stuff on it -- put that in this box. If you just want to win your poker chip, put your little ticket in this box. So we had to clear boxes there. So anybody who wanted the poker chip could get the poker chip. And that's why I was walking around with the briefcase, handcuffed to my wrist, and it was a whole thing. And so they got to pick one, and you got what you got. As a result of that, people who literally were just there for the chance to win some money, they put theirs in the box of them totally not interested. The salesperson didn't waste any time because there were always multiple people there watching the demo. And the people who put their little card, their little ticket in the other box, were real leads. And they were more qualified than any other event. And so coming out of it -- and that's one great example. But I've done a lot of things just to get people there, and then had some way of discerning the, I just want your free stuffI just smell popcorn and I need a snack versus I'm actually interested. And so because I know, especially for large events where I have struggled most is you're in a sea of a bajillion booths. And I usually have always gone with the modest booth. So you've got this little corner of space in this huge area. And so for me, the popcorn, the games, I did a prize vending machine, all of these different things, were the thing that got people to stop, which in many cases was the only way to get people to pay attention. And so I'm really curious if those things that are really more the stop here kind of efforts, how they've compared in your experience to when you have had just more the modest booth of harder to get attention, if you still felt like that was more effective?

[23:47] Elizabeth Irvine:  

Well first, that's such an amazing idea, because you figured out how to get people to your booth. But taking that the step further and giving them their choose your own adventure. Because then you don't have to weed through them. Because you see people scan, scan, scan, scan, scan, scan, when they have something that drives folks to the booth. But you took that extra step of thinking about well, how do we make sure that we know who is real. And so I think that was brilliant. It's tough. I mean, I would love to have the type of budget where you can really go big. I haven't experienced that before. But I have seen ways, and we've done a vending machine to where you had to tweet, that was when I was at Gartner, we ran an event where we had to tweet and then you'd get the prize. And we ended up trending on Twitter that day, because people wanted these transit map socks, you had to have the transit map socks. And I think there's a nice balance between those because you can build those connections through those experiences, but you also have to make sure you're adding value; I think that's the biggest thing. You can drive people to your booth in a really creative and fun and goofy way, but it's the value piece at the end that's really going to make a difference. So how do you make sure that they have the intention of connecting with you afterwards? What additional value are you going to provide or promise? After you got them to that booth and got their attention? Because sometimes as an attendee too, you're a little scared, you're like oh, I kind of want to go over there. But what kind of conversation am I going to get into, because I'm definitely not in the market? It's kind of thinking about it on both sides.

[25:47] Brandi Starr:  

That is a good -- and I've definitely seen that the fact that we're consultants, and consultants kind of get a bad rap. And so sometimes it's like, oh, I don't want to talk to the consultants. And it's like, we're friendly people!

[26:00] Elizabeth Irvine:   

We love consultants, so...

[26:05] Brandi Starr:  

Our brand, we used to have consulting in our name. So when our logo was on stuff, just taking consulting out of the logo, changed the amount of people who would stop at a booth. And it’s an interesting phenomenon, but I won't go down that path. So thinking about if head of marketing is evaluating whether event sponsorships, should be a part of their marketing mix, or not, what kind of criteria would you give them in evaluating events, packages, etc. What's your advice for how to figure out if this is right for you, and whether it can be a win?

[26:58] Elizabeth Irvine:   

For sure. The ICP alignment is crucial. If there's only a percentage, so if you really need the C-suite, if they're crucial for your buying decision, you only want to talk to suites with the C suite, but 20% of the audience is that group, as great as the event might be and it has nothing to do with the quality of the event or the overall attendees there, it's that alignment. And the presence of the event is really important. As I mentioned, the modest, booth and modest presence is typically where we ended up, but more recently, with that smaller event, we had a slightly higher-level sponsorship and we were just everywhere. And other people were talking about us by accident in their sessions, and we had a session, we were part of a round table, to the point where people came up to our booth and like we've heard your company mentioned enough at this event where I clearly just need to talk with you and understand what it is that you do. So the branding, I think it comes back to really understanding what your goals are for the event and aligning the sponsorship to that. If you're looking to get eyeballs and just drive people to you, maybe the larger branding plays are more important. If you want really specific lead lists from your speaker session, and you're not worried about general eyes, that type of sponsorship may be more appropriate; or you find some other way to create an engaging experience with the attendees working with the vendors and working with the organizers. But I think that's something that we kind of forget when we're sent this this media kit, because there's a menu of what you can do. But a lot of times the organizers want to talk and get creative about what they can add to their event that would provide value for attendees and for the sponsors too. So we've started to have other conversations, especially when we've been a multi-year sponsor; like alright, we want to do something a little different, what could this look like? So just because something is on the sponsorship doesn't mean you're tied to that, and also if you ask for first time sponsor sometimes you can get a nice little discount.

[29:35] Brandi Starr:   

Ah, little secret tip there.

[29:39] Elizabeth Irvine:   

It's worked for me in the past.

[29:43] Brandi Starr:   

Because they really do want to get you into those multi-year, whether they have multi-year opportunities or just getting you to come back year over year is always key. And I do love that the thought process around what is your brand play? You're right; if the goal is just to get people to know you exist, then that big sponsorship where your name is on the lanyard and on the board and stamped into the pancakes at breakfast, those are the things that do make sense; and if that's not your goal, then those sponsorships are less advantageous. So ICP and ops to brand sound like the two things that are your key criteria for evaluating and events. Awesome! Well talking about our challenges just first step and nothing changes, if nothing changes. So understanding that that's what we're looking for. In traditional therapy, the therapist gives the client some homework, but here at Revenue rehab, we flip that on its head and ask you to give us some homework. So for those marketing leaders that are listening, can you give us that one thing, what is the one action, the one takeaway that you would like to give to our audience?

[31:12] Elizabeth Irvine:

I'll lean in more to the ICP element. If you go back to your previous lead list from your events, or you could ask potential events that you're considering for either sample list, or just titles and companies, or title and location, they'll usually provide that because that shows that there's your further down the funnel, and analyze that against what your real ICP is. When I did that with one event, I found that really only 30% of their audience was applicable to us, even though it was the event to go to. So I'm not going to invest in that because I need that to be higher for us to dedicate that that budget. So it's sort of beyond this is the general this is a great event, our people are there, but really thinking, the percentage of those who are most likely to convert and those that are most lying to you. So really dig deep on the ICP and ask those tough questions of the organizers because they're much more likely to help and provide that information in order to get you in.

[32:26] Brandi Starr:  

So our one thing is look at an event that you are considering sponsorship for, or that you think could be a good opportunity and dig deep on their past attendee list to figure out if that event is within your ICP. And so there's our one thing whether you decide to sponsor or not, whole different conversation, but at least go ahead and do that due diligence. I appreciate that as an action item. And Elizabeth, I have enjoyed our discussion. But that's our time for today. 

[33:02] Elizabeth Irvine:

Thank you so much.

[33:02] Brandi Starr:

Thank you so much for joining me, I appreciate it. I love talking events, especially topics I've got strong opinions on are always great episodes for me. And so thanks to everyone who has joined us today. I hope that you have enjoyed my conversation with Elizabeth. I can't believe that we're at the end. See you next time.

[33:30] Outro: 

You've been listening to Revenue Rehab with your host Brandi Starr. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. Join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at We're also on Twitter and Instagram at Revenue Rehab. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.

Elizabeth IrvineProfile Photo

Elizabeth Irvine

VP of Marketing

Elizabeth Irvine is the VP of Marketing for MarketMuse, driving the content, demand generation and sales enablement initiatives for the organization. Elizabeth spent over eight years at TechTarget, five of which were in London where she built the site marketing department for the new European branch spanning four international markets and languages. She spent a year at Gartner, building an audience for their marketing-focused product and also spent a year at an early stage startup, Code Ocean.

Elizabeth joined MarketMuse in 2018 as the first full-time marketer and built the marketing structure and automation from the ground up. She organized the marketing launch for MarketMuse’s first self-serve products, launched an affiliate program and regularly litters the company slack with corny quips and The Office gifs.