Virtual Events: Make Your Sponsor the Star

It can be challenging for sponsors to extract the same value from virtual events as their real-world equivalents. But a little flexibility can go a long way to change that.

In-person events naturally offer lots of opportunities for bringing attention to sponsors, whether a prominent banner, a sizable floor space, or a spot on a stage. But how can you give sponsors the visibility they paid for in a virtual context?

Simply put, the old strategies don’t work. A recent white paper [registration] from Ricochet and Bruce Rosenthal Associates suggests that the conventional sponsorship model for meetings may need to be thrown out.

“During the pandemic, the traditional benefits offerings repurposed for virtual events are not likely to be of interest. The old way of courting sponsors has likely come to an end for most events and associations,” states the report, titled “The New Sponsorship Model for Virtual Events.”

So what can be done to ensure sponsors get the value they’re after? Perhaps the new play is to position your sponsors as thought leaders, giving them a way to raise their voices, rather than just their logo on a banner. Here are a few ideas on what form sponsor thought leadership could take.

Work sponsors into your virtual event sessions. As the virtual event platform Socio recently noted, many in-person event tactics translate to virtual. Sponsors can help moderate or take part in panels and even be given a speaking slot where they can talk about issues relevant to the sector. Just make sure your sponsors are well versed in how to moderate or present. “Speakers need to be able to run their own tech, switch slides, and roll with the technical glitches as they come up,” Socio’s Corey McCarthy writes. “Training your speakers on strategies to keep the audience engaged wouldn’t hurt either.”

Focus on presenting provocative ideas. Thought leaders present ideas that challenge the status quo or question traditional thinking. And while there’s often a lightning-in-a-bottle aspect to how provocative ideas reach an audience (example: what happens on Twitter basically every day), associations can plant the seeds for thought leadership to flourish, writes the Bizzabo blog. Start by picking hot topics with the potential to drive thought-provoking responses that will raise a sponsor’s profile. Contributed blog posts and other engagement strategies could have a higher chance of catching fire with a perfectly selected topic.

Adapt digital marketing tactics for sponsors. While you may not be able to re-create the impact of an in-person appearance, digital events put different tools at your disposal—whether it’s short interstitials between virtual sessions, email marketing campaigns, or sponsored chat messages during livestreams. With a little bit of workshopping or the right links to the right places, these can be effective messages for trustworthy voices. That said, virtual events differ greatly from physical ones, and that should inform how you roll out these messages. “Treat virtual events as something new. You have the framework of what you are used to doing, but think outside the box and reimagine as you go,” Cvent’s Madison Layman writes.

Consider the value of your event data. While attention can be a major benefit for sponsors during virtual events, a bigger win might be the additional access to data that events offer. Using data from your meeting, sponsors can better target their efforts for future events. “Companies need associations to provide the type of marketing data and prospect access they receive from their own digital marketing efforts,” Ricochet white paper authors Christopher Gloede and Bruce Rosenthal write. The secret isn’t just giving sponsors access to the data, but also helping them interpret it so they can put the right kinds of thought leadership in front of the people they want to reach.

(ANA BARAULIA/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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