Virtual Events Are Different, so Sponsor Packages Should Be as Well

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With publishers and media organizations still wary of charging too much for their virtual events—and some like this week’s Atlantic Festival charging nothing at all—sponsorships become that much more important to financial success. But should we be approaching sponsorships in the same way that we have for in-person events?
 
Two groups, Ricochet Advice and Bruce Rosenthal Associates, have partnered on a white paper to say no. Titled The New Sponsorship Model for Virtual Events, the report offers a new blueprint for recruiting your virtual event sponsors.
 
“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 [organizations],” states the report. “An enhanced sponsorship approach that takes advantage of the unique characteristics of digital events to create better engagement between [organization] members and event sponsors can deliver more value to sponsors.”
 
Let’s go through their ideas. They break the benefits up by categories.
 
For data and analytics, sponsors would be given access to:
• registrant information and permission to “add your advertising tags to our event web pages”; 
• the virtual event platform tool with ability to collect and export select data to use in your own marketing and sales systems;
• poll answers: attendee responses to periodic event polls, including free text comments; polls are an excellent engagement tactic for virtual events.
 
For engagement, sponsors would get:
• alerts of event chats including ability to monitor conversation key words and phrases;
• one-to-one direct messaging capability that permits engagement with any attendees;
• option to supply company-branded prizes to be promoted through the event. (Is there such a thing as virtual cornhole? Trivia games translate well to virtual.)
• demo scheduling;
• a breakaway room, promoted often during the event, that allows attendees to “duck out” and join in informal sponsor conversations.
 
For content distribution, there would be:
• intermission interviews that sponsors can either be a part of as subject, moderator or presenter;
• session interstitials: live educational presentations, related to a substantive area, with sponsored content. (The industry has found that done right, sponsored content has a welcomed place in the information pantheon.)
• panel participation: as long as a sponsor can bring a subscriber/member partner they have worked with; 
• discussion groups: advertised leadership/participation in a substantive topic.
 
For conference advertising, there would be:
• logos and recognition on event promotions and registrant emails. “Underwriters” are all over the Atlantic Festival communications and website. For BVR’s Virtual Divorce Conference, a sponsor page allows visitors to download a marketing guide and video.
• pre- and post-event promotions. Even though the gist of BVR’s conference was Sept. 9-11, they are providing value-add sessions for Sept. 17, 24 and 30. No reason why sponsors can’t remain involved for those, in addition to the on-demand requests.
• online advertisements.
• sponsored sessions. This could be as simple as maybe speakers using coffee mugs of the sponsor.
• sponsored awards. Many emerging leader and "20 Under 35" awards are given out at events. Sponsorships for those could be attractive.
 
Associations Now, which wrote about the report, also emphasized the need to better 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.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…