A SunTzu-inspired guide to negotiating anything for your event

A large chunk of your time organizing an event is spent on arranging and negotiating sweet, sweet deals with various services, partners, sponsors, etc. The better you are at negotiating the sweeter these deals are going to get. But what makes a deal sweet and how do you negotiate something that’s equally delicious for everyone involved – for you as the organizer, for said services, partners, sponsors, etc., and essentially for the event participants?

We spent a whole week locked in a room, brainstorming and solving mathematical problems in order to come up with this ultimate guide to negotiating Sun Tzu’s Art of War style.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Obviously in organizing an event there’s no enemy to prevail against, but the real takeout here is that you need to do your homework as an organizer. As we discussed in our last blogpost, knowing the audience is key to understanding the true value of your event and will be a huge factor in the outcome of any negotiations.

an excerpt from ‘Organizing Events on a Zero Budget’ by Weemss Labs

“If you really want to to learn how to create an event on a zero budget and make the most out of this book, you need to adapt and change your usual approach to organizing. This section covers basic negotiation skills and practical applications in getting venue, speakers, partners and sponsors on board.

QuickTip – If you think outside the box, instead of paying for products and services,you could actually get paid.

Following on from the previous chapter, you should by now have a solid understanding of your event audience. That particular mass of people you are gathering, your event audience, will also be interesting to somebody other than yourself. If nobody finds your audience interesting, then you might have problems and should go back to the very beginning of this book.

Understand the Value of Your Event

Pay attention because this is what a lot of people struggle with and can’t understand – the value of their event. Value will always be the basis of any negotiation, so it is essential to master this concept for any event.

Consider what any marketing professional from any company would love to get their hands on. Apart from a Porsche, it’s reaching more people with their product or service.

Your event will provide access to people, even more so, access to a guaranteed audience in a natural setting. Knowing your audience well will mean you’ll actually know who to approach in your negotiations. Convince them your audience is the right target for their product, service, and so on.

QuickTip – Still unsure about your event’s value? You should probably work some more on your event concept!

ProTip #4

The event concept, content and the experience it’s going to offer are also part of the equation to understanding the true value of your event. Every new speaker, performer, partner, piece of technical equipment and so on, that you manage to get on board will increase the event’s value and give you stronger footing for the next negotiations.

Learn to Negotiate

When working on a zero budget, your negotiation and communication skills are absolutely vital. These skills come from practice, but if you don’t know anything about negotiation, make sure to learn the basics.

Here are some QuickTips to prepare you for negotiation:

– Focus on the value of your event – your audience, the experience you’re providing, the event concept and content.
– Talk less, listen more and ask questions: You may get a better proposal than you expected, so don’t jump in at the first chance.
– When negotiating you should always make it clear that you have other alternatives.
– Make sure you DO have other alternatives available otherwise you’re shooting yourself in the foot by going all-in on a High Card.
– Play your cards close to your chest. Don’t reveal your options.

ProTip #5

If your event has a cause, companies with a similar CSR goal may be willing to participate. They may want to align your cause with theirs or just their personal and honest values.

Know Your Options

You can get a product, service, or anything else for your event in one of three ways:

– Pay for it is not really an option at this stage of the event organizing. Further down the line you might have some money from ticket sales, but not in this early phase.
– Barter and get it free. As they say, ask and you shall receive. Negotiate a barter deal where you offer something in return for goods or services. Remember two things:
   1) In many cases you using a service benefits the provider of that service.
   2) The value of your event as discussed in the previous paragraphs.
– Get paid for it. Think Hollywood movies and product placement. If you can manage this part, you are a bad-a** event pro.

In terms of sponsorship, endorsement, partnership or in our case placement, the film industry can be similar to the event industry. General Motors for example paid good money to have a prominent presence in Michael Bay’s Transformers series, because they understood that the movie’s audience loves cars as well. There’s no reason why your audience shouldn’t be interesting to a brand, company, or service out there. But the best part is when there’s good synergy between them it will make your event an even better experience for your audience.

What Needs to be Negotiated?

Now that you see your value, know your options and understand the basics of negotiation, you can start negotiating anything for your event. Here are some helpful QuickTips to work with:


– Approach alternative, out of the box locations and avoid traditional congress centers and venues. Be original and be flexible.
– Be creative! For example, if you are organizing a conference for small business owners try to approach a bank and use their conference room. They may want to product position their small business loans!


– Look for local speakers and save them and yourself transportation and accommodation expenses.
– Target people interested to position themselves within your particular audience.
– Offer them the chance of free publicity (within your event) and positioning for their product or service (within your audience).
– Entice them with non-monetary goodies.

Media Partners

– Look for small, local and specialized media suited for your event.
– Offer them free tickets.
– Offer exclusive content, interviews.

Everything Else

You need to negotiate a few more things like catering (food/drinks/hostesses), technical equipment (AV/lighting/stage), entertainment (artists/activities), goodies (prizes/swag). Again use the draw of what your event is going to offer and the draw of your audience to arrange for these things at no cost.

ProTip #6

Work with university students or recent graduates who will help for free in exchange for professional experience (design, video editing, communication etc…) Attract volunteers for the day of the event, they will also gain valuable work experience.

Your Time is Valuable Too

You can negotiate practically anything, but keep in mind that time is money.

In some cases paying for services or goods can come out cheaper than negotiating. You should:

1) Estimate the time you are likely to spend negotiating for a good or service;
2) Estimate the cost of that good or service.

What’s the result? Calculate and make the right choices. For example, negotiating free water for a half-day event for 50 people may not be worth the effort and man hours involved. If you are organizing a multiple day event for 500 people, the time invested to negotiate the bottled water may be worth it.”

“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As you can see, the art of negotiating is all about doing research and understanding what your event’s strengths are. This will enable you to make the best possible deals for your event – deals which will benefit your business, your partnering services and sponsors, as well as those attending your event.

Business favours the bold

“Never venture, never win!”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

You never know what you can achieve until you try. That’s the subtle message that our e-book ‘Organizing Events on a Zero Budget’ is trying to convey. You can download it here for FREE – not even an email required. And for best results Weemss is the recommended software for your online event registration and ticketing needs. Get started now if you haven’t registered yet!