money-in-black-and-whiteIn some way, shape, or form, events are probably a part of your inbound marketing strategy. Whether that means attending, sponsoring, or hosting your own industry event, every marketer should be thinking about how events fit into their overall inbound marketing strategy.

But here's the thing with industry events -- they can be costly. So as much as you might like to drop everything and hop from event to event, you have to make some choices, picking and choosing the events that will be the most beneficial for your business to either attend, or sponsor.

So how do you make that choice? You figure out what your business goals are, and whether these events you're considering align with them. To make things a little less floaty than all that, we've thought through the criteria you should consider when budgeting for event attendance and sponsorship. Hopefully, this will help you decide whether it's worth it for you to shell out dough for that next industry event.

How to Evaluate Whether You Should Attend an Event

Whether you're trying to decide whether to attend INBOUND 2013 or another industry event, here are some important things you should consider ...

1) Evaluate the Content

Before you sign up for an event, check out the sessions and speaking topics available to attendees. Strive to choose events with a mix of high-caliber speakers you know you can learn from, and topics that address pain points for your business (or your own job). Depending on your reasons for attending, you may also want to look for opportunities to participate in hands-on workshops or different session formats that align with the way you absorb content best. For some people, talking heads can only get them so far, you know?

Take a close look at the agenda, and evaluate whether the content of those sessions would help you come back from the event either better at your job, or ready to make better decisions for your business. If an SEO expert with 10 years of experience is looking for an industry event that will teach him or her something new, the content will be wildly different than, say, email marketers who are just looking to get a solid SEO foundation to help become better marketing generalists.

If you're going to be able to improve either your own career, your business, or both based on the content of an event, the money will probably be well worth it.

(Tip: Don't be afraid to ask the event planners questions to make sure the content jives with what you're looking for. They may be able to give you a more nuanced description of the sessions than what you find on an event website.)

2) Research the Attendee Profile

One of the most valuable takeaways you can get from a live, in-person event that you cannot get from other remote forms of education is the opportunity to meet others who are in similar positions to you -- or heck, positions totally dissimilar to yours. Both scenarios are rife with learning potential, and personally, I think it's one of the most fulfilling parts of attending events.

The attendee profile is certainly one way to tip the scales in an event's favor if you're looking to get something really specific done, like strike up a co-marketing partnership with some of the folks who will be in attendance. But it doesn't have to be as specific as all that. If you check out the attendee profile of an event and see that there are plenty of folks you could learn from, or perhaps lots of prospects your sales team might want to connect with, that's a perfectly good reason to lobby for attendance at a particular event.

Many larger, annual events will publish an overview of the previous year's attendee profile -- in aggregate -- on their website. For smaller events that use event registration websites like Eventbrite, you may be able to get a closer look at who is attending. If neither are available, contact the event organizers to see if you can get a better picture of the event's attendee makeup.

3) Consider the Networking Opportunities

So maybe you're salivating over the attendee profile, but it's also important to consider whether the structure of the event actually provides opportunities to interact with other attendees. Some events focus on the content, some focus on the networking opportunities -- and the best ones focus on both. If you're in this for the networking opportunities, check to see whether there are social events planned that will easily lend themselves to chatting. That may mean long breaks in between sessions, multiple parties at night, or even the chance to talk to speakers after their presentations. The opportunity to meet people in your industry in similar roles is something that is invaluable to companies, and can only really happen en masse at events.

4) Research Potential for Brand Awareness

For some companies, branding -- and brand association -- is critical to breaking into new markets, connecting with their buyer personas, or just standing out among the competition. If you're that company, it might behoove you to have some employees in attendance, particularly if this event attracts a boat load of your target market.

You may also find it valuable to have a brand presence if a lot of your current customers will be at a particular industry event. And not just to prevent a competitor from sniffing around ;-) Customers can be some of the best advocates for your company, and if you have employees talking with customers at an event, your brand will be on their mind when they're talking to others that are not yet your customers. 

How to Evaluate Whether You Should Sponsor an Event

Trying to decide whether you should sponsor an event? Here's what to consider ...

1) Seek Out Speaking Opportunities

Before you sponsor an event, see if you can have an even more powerful presence at the event through a speaking engagement. Most events will likely have sessions where you can either educate attendees about an industry topic, or talk about your company and the industry -- growing not just brand awareness for your company, but also your thought leadership and credibility in front of an importance audience. Oh, and that doesn't even include the hundreds or thousands of people who may be following the event on Twitter!

If you are considering event sponsorship anyway, you might find opportunities as a speaker help get you an added level of visibility that can really make your investment worth your while.

2) Get to Know the Audience Profile

One of the most important factors to consider before sponsoring an event is the attendee profile we talked about earlier. As a potential sponsor, ask questions like, "Are the attendees decision makers?" "What role in the company are the attendees? Managers? Directors? C-Suite?" "What industries are represented?" "How many attendees will be at the event?" The answers to these questions can give you a better idea of whether or not a large portion of the attendees align with your target market.

(Tip: Even if the audience aligns perfectly with your buyer persona, consider whether you need to shell out for a sponsorship to get to know these folks. You may find you're already reaching most of them in other, less expensive ways -- like through social media, or blogging.)

3) Investigate the Other Sponsors

Before sponsoring an event, take a look at who else is sponsoring and/or speaking at the event. Surrounding yourself with reputable, relevant names should be central to your decision-making. Think of it this way -- with great sponsors also come great attendees who are definitely worth surrounding yourself with.

You may also want to take a look at what events companies in your industry are sponsoring. If your competitors -- or even complementary companies -- are signing up to sponsor an event, it's a good indication you should have some presence there as well.

4) Establish the Media Presence

Many events attract journalists and other influencers. See if that's the case with any events you're considering sponsoring, and whether you'll be able to get some face time with anyone. Many event organizers will provide the opportunity to invite certain professionals in the media to the event if you are interested in meeting with them.

Events are a great way to do a little media hobnobbing -- or at the very least, get your brand and name in front of the media in a natural, contextual way. This is also an excellent way to get some coverage from outlets that aren't nearby your company's home base.

How do you evaluate whether your business should attend or sponsor an industry event? I'd love to hear your evaluation criteria!

Originally published Apr 8, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated April 08 2013