Your organization traditionally relied on industry support at its in-person business events to meet overall revenue targets, but the pandemic has precipitated the transition over to virtual platforms. How can you maintain sponsorship revenues when sponsors can no longer meet prospective clients in person?
We are all in this together: sponsorship and industry liaison managers everywhere are scrambling to find answers. It is human nature to focus on what has been lost, however, virtual events provide new opportunities that may actually enhance sponsorship revenues – but only if managed properly.
Much has been written about the “pivot” from in-person to virtual events and the associated challenges: keeping attendees engaged, maintaining revenue streams, and adapting speakers, registrants and sponsors to new virtual environments. Similarly, virtual sponsorship opportunities need to be adapted and developed for their virtual event space.
One aspect remains unchanged: sponsors are interested in supporting an event – be it in person or virtual – for the business leads it will generate. Hence why it is critical for your digital sponsorship benefits to link directly to lead generation.
The elements of an attractive sponsorship offering are constant regardless of event format:
When the event is moved over to a virtual platform, the importance of these elements shifts as well. Let’s look at each element in order of importance for digital sponsorship offerings.
The one-on-one meeting is crucial to sponsors as it allows for an undistracted conversation with a captive audience. Can these meetings take place in a virtual format? Absolutely. If you ever had to track down a key prospect at a large convention, you know that this challenge isn’t new. The good news is that buyers are more easily accessible virtually than they are in person. If making these connections at your event is important to your sponsors, make sure to leverage a platform that allows one-on-one meetings between select attendees.
If your sponsorship offerings include facilitated face-to-face time between buyer and seller, this will likely be the most valuable benefit your event can offer to sponsors.
Attendees’ expectations remain unchanged in a virtual event: they look for learning opportunities, entertainment, new experiences, supporting a cause, and a bit of fun. Similarly, sponsors are still measuring their event investment’s ROI using the same metrics: sales, leads, enhanced rapport/relationships, obtaining valuable customer feedback data, and industry intelligence.
Shifting to virtual means your event attendees can access more quality content, for a longer period of time. That is catnip for sponsors, who want to be seen as leaders in their field. There are many ways to get sponsors involved, while simultaneously enriching your virtual program content.
It is key to design numerous options to attract sponsor participation; this is where you can get creative! For example, they can take part in a panel, moderate a chat room, host a sponsored symposium, run their content in a separate (branded) room, record clips to play between sessions, interview the CEO as a program element – all of which can be uploaded in post-event content, which enhances the sponsor’s reach.
Ask anyone responsible for fulfilling sponsorship agreements what keeps them up at night and they will likely say “placement rules” – those niggly specifications about logo size, location, format, screen time duration, and the like.
Traditionally, organizations have relied too heavily on brand awareness. While still integral to virtual event offerings, brand awareness assets should be an even smaller percentage of the overall sponsorship package.
Even though virtual events present an opportunity for enhanced data analytics, the value of brand awareness should be muted: sponsors do (or should) not necessarily perceive link clicks alone as valuable. Remember, their primary reason to support your event is to generate business opportunities: the connection between the sponsorship asset and that objective must be clearly articulated.
Sponsorship Managers have often advised supporters about the “pivot” in negative terms: “Unfortunately we can no longer hold our event in person, so we have moved to virtual.” This is an opportunity to showcase the new sponsorship assets’ positive features. Be prepared to demonstrate how they will (still) deliver – or even exceed – the anticipated ROI. Focus on the new ways a virtual event can fulfill the benefits of the original agreement.
Do not draft a new agreement! Send an addendum to the original. Studies show that 75% of sponsors will typically agree to move their support to the virtual event. Their event funds are already earmarked, and they may have little choice but to follow you into the virtual space. Make sure to underline that all the benefits from the original agreement that were not tethered to the event itself (e.g. pre/post communication with attendees) will remain the same. If the platform allows (and it should, in our view), the granular data captured during the virtual event is valuable to sponsors.
If you articulate the virtual offering in terms of the three elements outlined above, you will be able to highlight the incremental benefits of sponsoring the virtual event.
To ensure your virtual sponsorship assets are valuable to existing or prospective sponsors, review them through a sponsor’s lens.
The issues that usually prevent a sponsor from following you to the virtual space are either a lack of understanding and/or a lack of resources. Persuading them to make the pivot with you is the easy part: helping them make the most of it involves some heavy lifting.
Those responsible for allocating precious marketing dollars – and delivering the expected returns – ask these questions about virtual sponsorship opportunities:
Before you advise your sponsor about pivoting over to a virtual event, make sure you have the answers to these questions.
JPdL and Intertask Conferences offer consulting and implementation services to help organizations maintain and grow their revenues, whether they are linked to sponsorships, partnerships, donations and/or exhibitions, within virtual platform environments. We favour a collaborative approach: one of our Senior Consultants will meet with you to explore how we can best support your sponsorship program. The initial consultation is provided on a complimentary basis.
Want some company on your virtual journey? Contact:
Alan Mikhail • Director, Business development and strategic partnerships
T: 514 287.9898 ext.253 • M: +1 514.606.3865
Wish to learn more about virtual events? Read our article on Virtual Event: Six Questions to Ask Yourself to Ensure Success!
Article by Peggy Nieghorn, Director, Business Development.