Events have long been a lucrative stream of sponsorship income, offering great opportunities for brand visibility and engagement. Now that virtual events are here for the foreseeable future, and with hybrid events set to become increasingly more common, it's important to explore the possibilities for virtual event sponsorships.
The key message to start with is that sponsorships don't live and die in the scope of in person events. On the contrary, the online world has the potential to offer even more reasons for a sponsor to want to work with you on a virtual event.
Know your value
Firstly, it is essential that you recognise the value of your virtual event to potential partners. You're not just planning a virtual event - you're planning an experience.
A virtual experience can be as enriching and exciting as your in person event, and that's exactly what you need to sell to your sponsors. This isn't just a Zoom meeting with 10 people waxing lyrical. No, this is a full-scale virtual event with incredible speakers, talented entertainers with valuable resources, Q&A sessions, exhibitions and more. There's clearly a lot of worth in what you're offering, so make sure they see it.
Harness the power of the online landscape. There's a reason why so many companies in recent years have moved their efforts online, it’s because that's where the audience is, and the opportunities to create curated and personalised content are much bigger, and so costs are significantly lower. As such sponsoring a virtual event means better leads, and digital advertising space allows for a myriad of options including videos, banners and logos.
With the right speakers and the best team behind them, speaking sessions can be as entertaining and as valuable as real life ones, so these are a great channel for sponsor engagement. It feels a lot more intimate and attendees can react and participate in real time and offer great personalisation opportunities for your speakers. Not only can this drive a lot of revenue for you as the virtual event organiser, but it can also provide valuable insights and warm leads.
How to package sponsorship?
There are various ways of creating sponsorship packages. Let’s deal with tiered sponsorship packages first.
This model involves sponsors paying different prices for different features. So, for example, say your introductory or Level 1 package is £2,000. The sponsors’ package may include branding on the event website, and promotion on social media channels and email blasts pre-event. During the actual event they could be featured on the tickers and several rotating banners throughout the course of the day. Additionally, sponsors who choose this tier could get a small number of breakout rooms.
Your Level 2 package could come in at £3,000. Sponsors who opt for this level will have access to everything in Level 1 plus speaking opportunities during the event. This can take many forms including Q&A sessions, a 30 minute slot to promote their brand on the virtual stage, or sharing case studies followed by discussion with the attendees.
The top tier, Level 3 package could cost £5,000. This tier of package would include all of the previous benefits of Level 1 and 2, plus business and networking opportunities. This can take many forms including, but not limited to, live demos, one to one networking interactions and sponsored live sessions. Be clear about what each package offers a sponsor, and why the benefits presented are worth the price tag you have decided on.
The goal, as with in person events, is to offer several packages that will attract different sponsors who have different budgets and goals to meet.
The second sponsorship model we will look at is a sort of ‘pick and mix’ offering,
essentially consisting of offering a series of different opportunities. Each priced individually, this option allows a sponsor to pick and choose what better fits their needs and business objectives. This could include all of the elements we discussed before, but with different pricing options or ‘bundles’. Think about how we buy data, messages etc from a mobile phone provider.
It could look something like this:
These are only a handful of examples, you can offer your sponsors via packages. They will depend on the capabilities of your virtual events platform. If you are running your event through an App based platform for example, you can promote your main sponsor via push notifications that remind attendees about sponsored sessions or other offers.
It's a great way to do keep attendee engagement going, whilst keeping your sponsor front of mind.
Leverage the power of digital ad space
There are several ways to monetise a virtual event and digital advertising is one of them. It has become one of the most popular marketing tools in the modern world -something you can definitely use to your advantage. So consider including pop up ads and banners as a way of promoting your sponsors on your event event platform and live stream. This can be harnessed from the outset of your participant journey.
Since a registration platform is a vital component of your event, consider adding a spot banner or ad promoting your sponsors on the webpage.
Make sponsors a part of your promotion strategy. If your marketing strategy was already paramount within past events, then it becomes increasingly more so with virtual ones.
Your attendees will need constant, but not overbearing reminders of what will take place. There's also room for sponsorship promotions here, whether it's on your social media channels or email blasts, make sure you include sponsor mentions at some point. This is not that different from what you do with an in person event, you just need to be a bit more assertive in your messaging.
Sponsored speaking and branding opportunities
From a sponsor perspective, it doesn't get much better than a chance to speak directly to attendees. The possibility of being virtually face to face with the audience and introduce the company products or services can be quite appealing. So why not offer your sponsors a branded speaking opportunity. It doesn't have to be too long and generally speaking, it's one of the best ways to drive revenue on your side. You might also want to go ahead and offer your sponsors the possibility to have a Q&A with the audience. This way, not only do the sponsors get to be face to face with everyone, but they also get to interact with them on a deeper, more personal level.
Q&A's are an extremely important element to virtual events and enable attendees to feel heard and connected.
Sponsored speaking opportunities are a great offering. However, unprepared speakers are a sure way to drive the audience away, so ensure that the content is checked in advance for quality control. A sponsor will appreciate your advice on how best to engage your audience. An easy alternative is to promote your sponsors before the presentation takes place - you can include sponsor and speaker videos and intros in delegate communications, or even better go ahead and add their logos to the presentation slides. This won't be as disruptive as an advert thrown into the middle of a speaker session, but still alerts the attendees' minds to the existence of the sponsor. You can also include branded breakout rooms and sponsor booths. This of course will depend on the capabilities of your platform, and is why you should work with a virtual event specialist.
Digital Goodie Bags and Delegate Offers
Sponsored goodie bags have always been a thing in events but just because the event industry is shifted to virtual doesn't mean they won't be any more. In fact the digital alternative provides attendees with more value than any normal run of the mill tote bag. Think vouchers for online courses, supplier gift cards, free 30 day trials for digital products and services, and so on.
Chances are attendees will appreciate this a lot more than they would a branded mug or a pen!
Catering Experiences at Home
There are things that simply can't be replicated in the digital world and catering is one of them. But if your sponsors were open to it, offering home deliveries to the attendees would be an incredible and very well welcome surprise. This could take the form of takeout food or a nice bottle of wine for a virtual happy hour. The food packaging and the labels on the bottles could also be branded to include the sponsors logo.
Virtual Stores and Gamification
E-commerce is already one of the biggest players in the retail industry, so why not make it part of your virtual event? Adding a virtual store could be something very unique, and additionally, it would offer your sponsors the opportunity to showcase and sell their products.
Recognising that a whole day of speaker sessions can be quite tiring, the smart organisers are including elements of gamification into their events. This is a chance to keep both your attendees engaged, and offer yet another sponsorship opportunity. Sponsored icebreaker activities and games can be a fun, interactive way of connecting sponsors with the audience, as well as providing some lighter moments throughout your virtual experience.
You can take this one step further by creating a 'freemium model' for attendees to enable some of them to attend your event at a slightly lower price point. This would involve them agreeing to connect one to one with the sponsors, watch a longer sponsored video or even provide some sort of relevant data to the sponsor.
Whatever is valuable to your sponsor could be included here and it is a win-win
The event is more financially accessible to everyone, and the sponsor gains additional attendee touch points. This is a model that is subtly replicated throughout many of our daily online engagements, just think of Apps where you opt for the free package in return for watching adverts, like Duolingo.
In conclusion, here is a little infographic to show some of the areas you should be considering for sponsorship of your virtual event.
Next time we will be looking at hybrid events - what are they and how can we adapt to this next phase?
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.