Sponsors as Speakers: Walking the Tight Rope Without a Net!


You CAN have speakers as sponsors without sacrificing content quality at your events. Carl tells us how!

As event organizers, we’re approached constantly by sponsors to be speakers. For over 10 years I’ve ignored this inquiries and have stuck to my guns that we don’t accept any sponsors as speakers.  I don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of our program by handing over the speaker reins to sponsors.

Well — we finally altered our policy on sponsor/speakers in April……. and it ended up being a huge success. But, it wasn’t easy…it was a delicate balancing act!

We created an add-on event called NicheTek as a pre-conference event before our Niche Media Conference. It was a one-day event focused on how to use high-tech tools to create incredible new publishing solutions.

The Easy Part: Selling the speaker sponsors. We offered 8 sponsorships and sold them right out. Each speaker got a 25-minute time slot at $2,500 each.

The Easy Part That I Thought Would Be Hard: We limited the number of attendees to 100 and sold them out a month in advance of the event. This was a $395 add-on, so attendees expected the same high quality of presentations as the rest of our conference.

The Hard Part: Working with the sponsors on their presentations. The sponsors didn’t “get it”– they needed to submit their session idea to us way in advance of the event. They didn’t want to send the presentation in early so we could review it. The resistance wasn’t because they didn’t want to do a good job, but they were busy and this was a low priority for them. The sponsors simply didn’t respond in the same way our “normal” speakers do. There was a lot of hand-holding/brow beating on my part. I’m sure I said at least five times, “I’m never doing this again!”

 The Secret Weapons:

  1. I hired our digital guru Ryan Dohrn to be the MC! Ryan added a lot of humor to the event. Plus he brought in some great content to bridge the gap between the material the sponsors provided and what we wanted in order to make it a cohesive event for our attendees.
  1. I brought in “The Gong factor”. We had 100 people in the room from 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM on a Monday. We had to entertain the crowd as each sponsor spoke. For some reason, I thought of the 1970″s show The Gong Show hosted by Chuck Barris. We actually bought the Gong and used it during the event and people loved it! Carl and gong crop logo
  1. We kept the audience’s attention. In the middle of the afternoon at any event– there is a lull in the momentum. The crowd is full from lunch and ready for a nap. So we played the “Minute To Win It Game”.  This fun, fast-paced game got the group going again!

The End Result:  Big Success! I actually counted 104 people in the room when we started and 101 were still there, engaged, at 4:30 PM when we wrapped up. All the sponsors did a great job and didn’t “pitch.” They had some innovative, practical, high tech ideas that the publishers can use. I encouraged most of sponsors to co-teach with a publishing partner and that really worked well. The overall evaluation results were a 4.3 out of 5. The sponsors were very happy and we’re bringing back the event in 2017.

I want to emphasize that there was A LOT of work on my end. Lots of talking, emailing and cajoling the sponsors to do the right thing– provide quality content and be very prepared. Amazingly it all worked out. It was a win-win-win for us, the sponsors and the attendees!



About the blogger: Carl Landau is Grand Poobah of Niche Media. He is a media/event guru, SF Giants fan and part-time blogger. His 15 minutes of fame took place in the mid-eighties when he launched his famous, “Buy an Ad, Get a Cat” ad campaign. He has long since patched things up with the SPCA.


Niche Media has created super niched-out events specifically for magazine publishers for over 12 years. We’ve helped pave the way for the era of boutique events that connect specific audiences and provide great educational, friendly and super-fun environments! Plus, Carl Landau – Niche Media’s Grand Poobah – is launching the all new, yet same AMAZING source of NEW REVENUE for your niche magazine brand! The Super Niche event in Charlotte,  March 27-29, 2017. Check it out!

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