Branded bags. Custom key cards. Exhibitor booths. Hosted breakfasts and lunch sessions. These are just a few of the options available to sponsors at conferences and other industry events. Sponsorship packages can go a long way toward helping companies stand out from the sea of competitors and conference goers, but they come at a high price – and can make a big dent in your marketing budget. Last year, North American companies spent more than $21 billion in event sponsorship (source: IEG).

Fortunately, maximizing conference participation doesn’t require blowing your marketing budget on sponsorship fees. By channeling your efforts from negotiating sponsorship deals into seeking speaking opportunities through the event programming team, you can secure powerful platforms for your executives to disseminate your company’s message without breaking the bank. While there are a few exceptions, most speaking opportunities aren’t pay-for-play. Here are three ways to lower your sponsorship spend, while increasing speaking invitations.

Identify the Right Targets

Ask yourself: Who are we trying to reach?

The best platforms for your company’s message aren’t necessarily at the biggest or most well-known conferences. TED continues to be one of the most coveted stages, but if you are trying to reach an audience of human resource executives, for example, a platform like the Human Capital Institute may provide more business value. Many companies want to reach C-level executives and there are a number of high profile business conferences targeted at this audience. The challenge is that these platforms are highly competitive.

Since many only occur once a year, onstage opportunities are limited. Additionally, many of the top positions are often already reserved for “big brands,” Fortune 500 CEOs or disruptors whose names will help “sell seats.” Beyond these large annual events, there are a number of platforms, like the Churchill Club and the Executive Club of Chicago, that put on quality programs for regional executives of global companies. These groups run programming throughout the year and can often offer a more targeted audience for speakers with a compelling message than larger conferences.

Partner with Industry Thought Leaders

Ask yourself: How do we disseminate our message so it isn’t seen as self-promotional.

No one wants to hear a speaker on stage selling a product or service. Few speakers have this intent, but it can be a challenge to convince conference planners that a topic is worthy of their stage and that you are the best person to address it. To help make the case for the relevance of your topic (and your company’s speaker), consider partnering with a client or another industry thought leader when you propose a talk. As many conferences move away from traditional keynotes to more interactive formats, proposing panels with perspectives across the industry or a fireside with an executive of a well-known brand could be your ticket to the stage.

Get Creative

Ask yourself: How can we become indispensable for this organization?

Despite your best efforts, there are still a few platforms that require vendors and service providers (e.g., consultants) to pay a sponsorship fee for speaking opportunities. If you see value in such a platform, consider alternative approaches to structuring sponsorship agreements. There are a number of ways to partner with host organizations that don’t require the exchange of money. For example, do you have a strong database of contacts or following to your blog or social media channels? Consider how you might tap into these networks to help the conference organizers increase registration or highlight content coming for the event. Does the conference put together a white paper or executive summary post-event? If not, perhaps you could lead this charge by serving as a content partner.

Conferences and industry events are important places to connect with customers, prospective clients, thought leaders and other like-minded individuals. Make sure your company is seen and heard. Where will you be headed in 2017?

For more communications planning insights and tips, read our guide, “How to Create a Communications Plan Your Boss Can’t Refuse.”

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Focusing on placing clients on top speaking platforms and developing relationships with conference planners, Stephanie leverages her insight into industry and business trends to secure high visibility engagements. Her work puts our clients face-to-face with the audiences who matter most, whether in the innovation, healthcare, technology, higher education or mainstream business arenas. When Stephanie isn’t in the office you might find her running around town, training for her next road race or chasing after her son.