December 14, 2020
The first wave of virtual events underperformed in a number of key areas, including sponsorship. In fact, sponsorship is the third-most cited challenge for event planners pivoting to virtual and when you look at the market for virtual event tech it’s not hard to see why:
According to EventMB, nearly a quarter of virtual event technology providers don’t offer any sort of analytics for demonstrating sponsor ROI. Only half offer exhibitors a space or booth in a virtual hall, and just 55% allow for lead generation when attendees interact with it. 56% allow exhibitors to do live demos for attendees, but only48% offer leads from that or from sponsored sessions. The lack of conference-oriented, revenue-generating features apart from expensive virtual trade show platforms is making it difficult for organizers to keep sponsors happy in the age of virtual events. Without ample monetization options, it’s impossible to replicate the lead-gen potential of live events, no matter how big an increase in attendance experienced online.
Now those sponsors who sat out 2020 in hopes of the return of in-person events in 2021 are realizing that virtual events will continue to dominate the first half of the new year and probably longer. So, what can you do to create more opportunities for your sponsors online? Here are five ideas, plus examples of what we did to create value for our sponsors of our virtual event in October.
ONE - Pre-event
The classics of pre-event sponsorship promotion still apply to digital: Placing sponsor logos on the event website and mentioning sponsors in promotional materials, including emails and social media posts. Whenever a new sponsor or exhibitor signs on for our event EWTS, we post on social media to welcome that company to the EWTS community. This includes an image with the event branding and sponsor's logo. On the event website, each logo in the Sponsors/Exhibitors section links to a company profile that lives on our website. Our event communications include a number of database emails leading up to the event (announcing the event, preliminary agenda and early confirmed speakers, highlighting sessions and sponsors, etc.) along with event updates for registered attendees (ex. new speakers, sponsors and other news). Do you have a close working relationship with any of your sponsors? Some companies have been involved in EWTS since the very first show in 2015, while others have been with us for multiple years. Even before the pandemic, we ran ideas by these sponsors as well as our veteran speakers. If you have this kind of relationship, consider bringing a sponsor or two into the planning process, providing early access to the platform to get insight into how you might monetize different aspects of the virtual event.
TWO - Sponsored Swag
With more experience and time to play the second wave of virtual events in 2021, you might also partner with one or more sponsors to send swag to speakers and/or attendees before the event. This could include quarantine essentials like branded playing cards or a bottle of hand sanitizer, a company tee-shirt or sunglasses that recipients could wear during the event (for the chance to win a prize, for instance), or even a bottle of wine to open during the virtual happy hour. For speakers, you might consider selfie lights or webinar mics to boost presentation quality. We didn't have time to experiment with such an idea for EWTS 2020, but you can be sure we will in the new year. Of course, cost and logistics are factors (cost of the items and shipping, getting all the addresses); I like the idea of a gift for the sponsor's "top 10" attendees they want to meet, since we do something similar at our in-person events to help with introductions. Pre-event swag is also a great way to build excitement before the show.
I've heard of event planners sending cocktail kits (sponsored or not) to attendees before the show and having a mixologist show them how to make their own cocktails over Zoom during the event, and even of sending coffee or lunch via food delivery services like Seamless. Personally, I find the logistics of such an endeavor a bit impractical, but it depends on the size and resources of your event. It may be easier to provide a code (ex. a sponsor's name) to attendees to order on their own (services like Grubhub have corporate accounts for this) or to limit the sending of such swag to attendees your sponsors really want to impress. Sponsored entertainment like a live performer is another opportunity that can be "brought to you by" an exhibiting company.
THREE - Commercials
In addition to traditional presentation opportunities like keynotes, panel moderation and chair roles, we offered a limited number of video commercials to be played during EWTS' scheduled programming breaks. Since there was a five-minute break between each session, this provided incredible exposure to sponsors. At in-person events, you usually fill transitions between sessions with holding slides but for virtual events you can sell and broadcast sponsored commercials. We created a 15-minute (or so) video loop that played on rotation whenever there wasn't a session going on. Companies that chose this sponsorship provided a 1-2-minute video commercial, which we mixed into the loop along with animated housekeeping announcements and CTAs to use different platform features. If your sponsors don't already have a commercial produced or are unable/unwilling to pay to produce one, you can also simply rotate sponsor logos during breaks. We used free tools like Canva and Promo to create video clips for lower-level sponsors; our AV team cleaned these up and each played for several seconds--a simple animation involving the company logo and a one-liner letting viewers know what that company is all about (what products/services they provide).
FOUR - What can you brand on the platform?
Create an inventory of all 'surfaces' of your digital event--anywhere where you might include a sponsor logo. Are there banner spaces? Can you put a sponsored watermark, overlay or lower-third on the livestream? Can you give title or naming rights of different areas or features of the online event? Etc. And how often can you change or rotate all the branding opportunities? Can you have more than one media player sponsor (ex. one per day)? You might want to create a virtual event sponsorship kit or prospectus with renderings of the different areas/pages of the online event featuring sponsor branding in all available places. Also consider pop-up ads that redirect attendees to sponsor booths as well as digital goodie bags (similar to above) with exclusive offers from select sponsors (ex. vouchers for online courses or a free 30-day trial). In addition to sponsored video ads between sessions, we sold banners (top and sidebar with hyperlink to sponsor's digital booth), marquee messages (scrolling messages along the bottom of the platform that linked to posts in the public Activity Feed), and leaderboard/prize center naming rights. Sponsors could pay to be, say, the top banner sponsor for the entire event or just one day; and we monetized the platform's Digital Briefcase feature by allowing sponsors to pay to have select pieces of content (ex. promo videos, case studies, white papers, etc.) pre-loaded into all attendees' digital briefcases.
The inventory of sponsorship opportunities for your event is largely dictated by the virtual event platform you use. We weren't satisfied with the monetization options offered by available market solutions so we created our own platform ConnectworX to ensure we had ample sponsorship opportunities for our partners. If your platform is lacking in this area, get creative! For instance, virtual selfies can be monetized by posting a dedicated selfie slide somewhere on the platform with event branding, sponsor logo and space to "insert yourself here." Users can take a selfie with this image and post it on social media using either the event hashtag or a sponsored one for great exposure.
FIVE - Giveaways
We love sponsored contests and giveaways; not only are they a great way to increase sponsors' visibility, but you can also blend them into your virtual programming and networking activities to boost engagement. And giveaways allow you to create a moment for the sponsor by, say, allowing the sponsor to get on camera and announce the winner(s) live, and make these moments shareable. At our in-person events, we give each attendee a playing card at registration, the idea being to discover other attendees' cards and form the best poker hand. The winning group gets to share a bottle of champagne. Something like this can be easily translated to digital and monetized if your platform has built-in group video calling. Scavenger hunts with sponsored prizes, raffles...all are doable with the right technology. In fact, virtual events can make giveaways easier--for instance, attendees don't have to do anything manually (like put a business card in a bowl) other than visit a sponsor's digital booth in order to enter a raffle if your platform offers real-time leads and analytics. Even better if the platform is gamified. For our event, we were able to assign points to different actions taken on the platform, so we allowed attendees to earn points for every video call with a sponsor. We teamed up with one of our top sponsors on the prize and created a session on the fly to announce the winner. This was automatically recorded and available to share because our platform has fully-integrated recording and streaming.
Bonus: Reassess your choice of virtual event platform. At the end of the day, no matter how creative you are, the success of the virtual event experience for attendees, presenters and sponsors depends upon the platform and its features. Not satisfied with the sponsor opportunities offered by your current platform? Look for another solution. Virtual doesn't have to be inferior to in-person; in fact, the medium has the potential to offer more value to sponsors but you need the right platform to unlock it.