How can you provide real value to sponsors in virtual events?

How can you provide real value to sponsors in virtual events?
Sponsorship is necessary for events for many reasons such as capital, marketing, audience reach, and additional media coverage. Event pros share their insights on how to add the benefits sponsors are looking for if an event is virtual.

If you’re hosting a webinar-style event where attendees are actually viewing some kind of presentation, display your sponsor logos on either one or several key slides.

Here are a few of my tried and true planning pearls prior and during Covid-19.

One of the ways to provide Pre-Event Value…

  • Include sponsor logos in all promotional content – This includes your website, emails, newsletter, social media posts, etc. And since most of your promotional content will likely be online (virtual promotion for a virtual event!), include a link back to the sponsor’s website, if possible and where it makes sense. (And don’t forget to tag them on social media too!)
  • Allow your sponsor(s) to publish a guest post on your blog – If you have a blog, use that as a tool to add sponsor value. Allow your sponsor(s) to publish a guest post, and then share that (or those, depending on how many you have) in your newsletter and on social media. (Tip: Encourage the sponsor to write a thought leadership piece based on their expertise. In other words, try to discourage posts that sound like a sales pitch. A thoughtful, educational post will perform MUCH better than a sales pitch.) 
  • Encourage and help facilitate virtual appointments – If your in-person events typically involve a vendor marketplace of any kind, try to weave that into your virtual event. Yes, having a full-blown marketplace virtually could be a little tough, but why not encourage and help facilitate one-on-one virtual appointments? Prior to your event, you could send out a one-page introduction to all of your vendors. You could then encourage attendees to make one-on-one appointments. (This could be done survey-style for the sake of simplicity. “Who would you like to meet with?” “What time slots work best for you?”) Appointments wouldn’t need to be long — 5-15 minutes max. And once you have all the meeting requests, you could then share those with your vendor partners and they could be the ones to actually schedule meetings. The real value, though, is helping your attendees and vendors chat in much the same way they would in a traditional expo setting. 

During the event…

  • Display sponsor logos in one or several key slides — If you’re hosting a webinar-style event where attendees are actually viewing some kind of presentation, display your sponsor logos on either one or several key slides. If you have sponsorship packages, that could dictate where and how often those logos show up. For example, if you have a “Platinum, or Gold” sponsor, the company or organization that secures that spot could get more display promotion on the introduction and closing slides. All others could be featured on a ‘Thank you to our sponsors’ slide. 
  • Give shoutouts to your sponsors — At the beginning and end of your event (at the very least) be sure to give a shoutout to your sponsors. Just as you would likely acknowledge them at an in-person event, do the same with your virtual event. And let attendees know how they can learn more about and/or get in touch with your sponsors post-event. (If you have an “About our sponsors” landing page you can direct them to, that’s even better.)
  • Offer up a “commercial break” — Regardless of the length of your event, try adding in at least one “commercial break,” where your sponsor can jump on as the presenter and talk a little bit more about their company or organization. If this is a day-long event or a multiple-days event, you could have a few different commercial breaks, dividing up your lineup of sessions. But note: Even if you’re having a two-hour virtual event, you can still break it up with a short commercial break. Your attendees might actually find that break refreshing! 
 Post Event…Thank you’s and a post event survey are absolutely important to garner feedback from the sponsors. This provides crucial information in maintaining the status quo, while implementing changes to improve what needs to be done better at your next event.
Veronica Rodie-Fazio

Veronica Rodie-Fazio

Owner

Veronica Wedding & Events, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

When thinking about providing sponsors with a return on their investment, it's important to consider their goals and objectives for supporting your event in the first place.

When thinking about providing sponsors with a return on their investment, it’s important to consider their goals and objectives for supporting your event in the first place. For some, it’s a straight business development expense, and they’ll measure success by how many attendees convert to customers; for others, it’s a marketing expense, and a chance to create community around their brand, a product launch, or their association with a cause the attendees care about; and another organization may consider it an educational opportunity for their employees, where success comes in the form of a new process or strategy for the company. Then, once you discuss their goals in detail, it’s important to consider the available features within your virtual platform, as well as the capabilities of your team or your sponsor’s team with respect to producing branded content to add value to the event.
In working with our clients, we like to offer at least (3) options for ways for our sponsors to engage that are outside of the normal capacities of the platform itself. If the sponsor has a product they’d like to get in front of an audience of yours, can you arrange a drop-ship to VIPs? If they are looking to connect 1:1 with attendees, are they able to host a networking happy hour, a workshop, or offer office hours during the event? What about offering the option of the sponsorship covering a virtual concert, or other similar experience? There are always ways to engage attendees virtually, you just have to think of the partnership as a catalyst to break beyond the screen and offer a real-life, tangible experience.
Making sure that your sponsors understand the nuances of not only using the platform, but thriving within the confines of a virtual experience, is key. We recommend offering a few ways to ‘train’ your sponsors on the platform, if they are not familiar:
  • Schedule a series of pop-in ‘webinars’ where your sponsors can see and test the tech, and gain a deeper understanding of the real estate available within the platform.
  • Record a Loom video of your screen, engaging as the sponsor would in the platform. Remember: you want them to be able to know everything that’s relevant to having a great experience, and reaching their goals. Try to avoid going into too much detail about anything you’re doing on the back end, it’ll only confuse them!
  • Send written instructions via email, with the link to the loom video, for those who process information best this way.
  • Create a ‘know before you go’ page for your sponsors, with marketing collateral, suggested copy, a timeline of deliverables and key dates, and links to press about the event. It wouldn’t hurt to also have a social feed on this page, so you can see what people are saying about the event.
Next, make sure that your sponsors are aware of the elements that are most relevant to them, and are engaged throughout the process:
  • Schedule final meetings with each sponsor prior to the event
  • Send calendar invites to the key contacts within the organization reminding them of the dates, times and sessions that are most pertinent to them.
  • If possible, create a custom itinerary for each sponsor, which maps out the event against their goals
  • Co-create surveys that ask your attendees relevant questions throughout the event, to gather feedback in real time
  • Create custom post-event reports for each sponsor
Assigning one person or agency to your sponsor experience is highly recommended, so that you always have someone focused on ensuring these key stakeholders have an experience they are proud to have invested in. Above all, try to put on your ‘marketing’ hat and put yourself in your sponsors’ shoes. Sponsors are your largest partners, and in most cases you are navigating this uncertain and ever-changing world of virtual together. The more we communicate, the better off we will all be throughout the process of planning, executing, and wrapping up the event.

Beth Lawrence

CEO

Beth Lawrence Meetings & Events, Philadelphia, PA

Ultimately, it's going to take event producers connecting with sponsors during the creation phase to determine what makes the most sense for the virtual attendees.

When it comes to Sponsor ROI, the biggest thing that sponsors want are activations. They want to see people with real interest in their products or services. Virtual events that use impressions as the selling point will not attract sponsors in the same fashion as virtual events that are sending attendees directly to sponsor’s landing pages.

Sponsors also want to be a part of the virtual event. This can be in the form of introducing a keynote speaker, sending gifting packages to guest’s homes and doing a live unboxing, and creating micro events within the virtual event.

Ultimately, it’s going to take event producers connecting with sponsors during the creation phase to determine what makes the most sense for the virtual attendees. Sponsorship development should not be an afterthought when it comes to building a relationship. In some cases, sponsors don’t want to be involved during the virtual event directly. I’ve seen sponsors want pre-event opportunities where they reach out to attendees with incentives before the virtual event. I believe this only enhances the experience of the virtual event and gives attendees more than what they expected.

Andrew Roby

Event Storyteller

Andrew Roby Events, Washington, D.C.

The optimum way for a sponsor to get high return on their investment is to participate in and engage directly with the virtual event attendees.

A great sponsorship should be considered a partnership between the event organizer and the sponsor. While many events offer packages at different sponsor levels that include branding opportunities, listing in directories, sharing of data, and sponsoring sessions, ask if there can be a unique perk that works best to align with your company’s brand.

The optimum way for a sponsor to get high return on their investment is to participate in and engage directly with the virtual event attendees. This can be done by hosting a key note speaker, hosting a session or attending any of the pre-event or post event networking. The sponsor should be actively engaging by chatting, writing specific polling to gain valuable data or participating in the Q&A. If the event offers a trade show floor, ask the event organizer if they allow the sponsor to ‘be there’ or if the virtual platform includes a meeting scheduling tool to allow for 1 on 1 chats.

In addition, if the event is sending out a swag gift box, be sure to include something in it that will allow the sponsor to capture the attendees attention and a potential for a post event encounter. An example of this would be a discount card or code to a future purchase.

Heidi Hiller

Owner | Creative Director

Innovative Party Planners, Baltimore, Maryland

The key is to create opportunities for authentic connections, not meaningless moments, or flashes of their logo here and there.

I’ve discovered a real enjoyment with the strategy of helping sponsors find benefits in this digital space. Without the opportunity for them to connect with clients/potential clients/contacts in a standard in-person environment, it’s essentially they understand how to connect virtually.

In terms of finding real value with virtual events, the key is to create opportunities for authentic connections, not meaningless moments, or flashes of their logo here and there. There is much more time spent in the development and creative phase of planning with respect to sponsor opportunities, so that these opportunities are woven throughout the event.

Then, it is incumbent upon us to spend time with our sponsors preparing them to make the most of these opportunities during the event itself. It’s absolutely a two-way collaboration and conversation when working with sponsors in virtual events.

Heather Herrig

President/Chief Event Strategist

Every Last Detail, Atlanta, GA

If there is an opportunity to post a quick ‘commercial’ during the event, that would be ideal promotional value for the sponsor.

Real value to sponsors of virtual events is critical.  It begins with the promotion of the event, whether that is an email campaign or via social media postings.  Use of the sponsor logo where feasible, in addition to their website link and other contact detail, is important.

Regular re-posting of the event is useful as well, as we are all inundated with emails and texts.

Then, during the actual virtual event, mention of the sponsor up front, as well as periodically throughout the event will be appreciated.  If there is an opportunity to post a quick ‘commercial’ during the event, that would be ideal promotional value for the sponsor.

The virtual event host will also gain attention and credibility by association with the sponsor.  This can have ‘legs’ for quite a while after the event has concluded.

And of course, a hearty thank you to the sponsor and mention to the attendees to reference the sponsor’s social media and web site is mandatory.  As well as in the follow up messaging to the attendees of the event.

This type of attention to the relationship with the sponsor will be appreciated and will only make the host of the event, that much more credible and interesting.

Rene Kraus

Owner/Chief Event Officer

Agnes Verano Weddings & Events, Big Sky, Montana

We look at our sponsors as marketing partners and we are there to help them connect with the pre-qualified target market that our event attracts.

Planners of virtual events can continue to provide real value to sponsors in many of the same ways as they do for in-person events.  At Sherpa Group Events we always start with a discussion on our sponsors’ objectives – why are they choosing to sponsor an event, specifically this one?  We look at our sponsors as marketing partners and we are there to help them connect with the pre-qualified target market that our event attracts.

Once we understand their objectives, we talk to them about what success looks like to them – are they simply looking for brand alignment with a well-executed and exciting event or property?  Or do they want to collect contact information? Maybe they want their sponsorship to result in sales.

The answers to these questions will determine what benefits would best meet their needs and virtual events offer lots of sponsor benefit opportunities.  Options can include logo representation, speaking opportunities, online exhibit booths, sampling packages, database lists and more.  Virtual events also can provide some very detailed analytics and reporting for your sponsor, depending on what platform you may be using online.

Whether your event is online or in-person, be sure to work with your sponsor to ensure you understand their goals and leverage all the assets at your disposal to meet those goals.

Heather Sharpe

Event Producer

Sherpa Group Events Inc., Vancouver, B.C.

Your event is being viewed on a screen. Brand that screen!

In some respects, it’s almost easier to recognize sponsors in virtual events. Sponsors typically equate value with exposure and access. Here are some ideas for how to offer both.

The good news from virtual events is that your reach is likely farther now and your audience may be larger since guests can attend from anywhere. This all translates into more exposure for your sponsors, which often means more ROI for them.

Your event is being viewed on a screen. Brand that screen! Try a frame with your sponsor logos or a less-distracting transparent logo ‘bug’ like you see on your local TV news. In keeping with the TV theme, offer your sponsors a short video spot that can be shown between sessions. Keep it brief and exciting to keep attendees’ attention. Pre-recorded videos can (and should!) be available for post-event access as well.

As you would at an in-person event, offer your sponsor the opportunity to introduce your superstar keynote speaker. It doesn’t matter if they’re not in the same room; they can still meet virtually in a separate virtual “green room” prior to the session and have that on-screen moment together during the introductions.

Stacy Heit

Principal/Owner

sassēvents, Washington, D.C.

My favorite concept to provide real value to sponsors of virtual events are Sponsored Entertainment Breaks.

My favorite concept to provide real value to sponsors of virtual events are Sponsored Entertainment Breaks.

Sponsored entertainment breaks are a mini private concert or speaker series during your virtual event that is underwritten by a sponsor.  This would be a performance with a live musician or speaker that adds energy & excitement to an event while creating a huge buzz for the marketing opportunity.

A short private concert from an entertainer’s home or a mini speaker series broadcast into the online event with a frame around the viewing panel branded with the sponsors name, and a hashtag for anyone who shares the experience online, gives that sponsor even more exposure.

Jodi Wolf

CEO

Paulette Wolf Events, Chicago, IL

One way to ensure that sponsors are highlighted is to provide attendees with a take away sample of their product, assuming it's something physical.

One way to ensure that sponsors are highlighted is to provide attendees with a take away sample of their product, assuming it’s something physical.  It can be something for them to enjoy later, or experience during the event.  Make sure it has their instagram handles so attendees can tag them while enjoying, consider including some kind of “show and tell” if they are using it during the presentation and have some creativity, such as a base to a drink.  Give them a designated “moment” on the run of show so they are front and center with a captive audience.

Before you commit to all this, make sure you’ve checked shipping restrictions and costs, as well as factored in the cost of someone packaging them up and shipping.

Jessica Barrett

Jessica Barrett

Founder

Bigger Picture Solutions, Minneapolis, MN

I think it's important to allow the sponsor to have their own "room" for attendees to pop in and ask questions or get additional information.

I think it’s important to allow the sponsor to have their own “room” for attendees to pop in and ask questions or get additional information. We have offered them during the lunch break and also during a longer break period during the day. Not all sponsors take it but it’s offered.
Kelley Millar

Kelley Millar

Owner

Events By KelleyNCo, Colorado Springs, CO

Get creative with the experience and opportunities you offer your sponsors and attendees. 

Ask them what they want, have a fluid and flexible approach to sponsorship in the current environment, and get creative with the experience and opportunities you offer your sponsors and attendees. 
Carly Silberstein

Carly Silberstein

CEO

Redstone Agency, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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