Over the last several weeks I have found myself working on answers to the same question for both client work as well as some personal efforts around Personality Not Included. The question is a simple one that most marketers will deal with at some point in their career: how to get your product or service to stand out at an event that you are sponsoring or participating in? Despite the much exaggerated death of conferences and real life events at the hands of the virtual world and social networks, in most industries these events are still alive and well. In many cases, they offer the best opportunity to get your product or service in front of the right decision makers in an efficient and big way.

So how can you be sure you are getting the best value out of the events that you are participating in and even get your efforts to be talked about by conference attendees? Here are a few steps to consider:

  1. Decide to sponsor or not to sponsor. The surest way to have a presence is to actually pay for a sponsorship. In most cases, having some kind of sponsorship is a good idea as it gives you a specific platform to build from and a guaranteed way in. This doesn’t mean you can’t engage in guerilla activities around it, but it makes it much less likely that you will be barred from the event or that your efforts will be shut down. The exception is if you are trying to market to an event where sponsorship is either unavailable, or far outside your price range.
  2. Think around your sponsorship. Once you finalize a sponsorship, you will have a list of things that you get. This may mean "inclusion" in the brochure and on the website. It might also offer a table at the venue for the event. This list of elements is your starting point to brainstorm. If you are allowed 4 free passes, what could you do to give those away and generate interest? What can you do to go beyond just the few pieces you are offered and make your sponsorship work harder?
  3. Distribute seeds instead of planting them. One of the keys to standing out at an event is not just reaching people individually and telling them what you do. That’s the hard way to do it and you will be fighting an uphill battle to stand out among all the other brands doing the same thing. Instead, think of each person you interact with as someone who can carry the seed of your idea to someone else. Your goal isn’t just to convince them, it’s to give them some way, large or small to carry your message forward.
  4. Follow up by networking. The classic mistake many marketers make when planning their event marketing strategy is simply thinking in terms of "staffing." The most successful event marketing you can do is building on your sponsorship by networking with event participants. Instead of just sending the 4 junior people to man the booths, think about sending a few people to roam and attend the event. Get to know the speakers and get others interested in what you do.

Taking my own advice, I decided to sponsor the MashMeet San Francisco event tonight (as well as the Mashmeet LA event on Friday). I have a table where I will be selling and signing copies of Personality Not Included (that’s the sponsorship). The challenge for me was bringing the book more relevance to the Web 2.0 savvy crowd that will be at the party and breaking out of just having a single table that people may or may not visit. Any ideas on what I might do? Since it’s meant to be a surprise, I’ll share details on what I decided in a timed post later today (check back at 6pm PST, 9pm EST)!