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Virtual reality: how to give sponsors what they want

Angela Guillemet, executive director of INCON, the international network of congress organisers and association management companies, asks how to make online events work for sponsors…

As events move online and many have been postponed or cancelled, we need to convince sponsors to support new event formats and to explore longer-term sponsorship opportunities.

Once we can make sure that sponsors make the connections that they need then we should be well placed to ensure our clients have the funds to deliver best-in-class meetings and flourish.

Whether live or in person, it is more important than ever to bring people together.

Congress organiser AIM Group International recently conducted research on sponsorship of virtual events. The study confirms that 80 per cent of corporate sponsors are interested in investing in virtual events but they want to see more interaction during the meetings. The study also confirmed that 99.5 per cent of sponsors want content available on demand after the congress, ensuring greater availability for participants and greater visibility for sponsors.

Jurriaen Sleijster, INCON Board member and COO of congress organiser MCI said: “We are witnessing a lot of loyalty between clients and sponsors. Sponsors don’t want to see a strong annual conference or an association fail, as long as you can guarantee tangible ROI, companies are more than willing to support conferences as they move online.”

So how do we meet this demand?

During IMEX’s recent virtual education planetimex, there was an insightful webinar by Ville Vanhala on sponsorship of virtual events. Ville, co-founder of Brella which is a leading event networking platform. Now that’s a company that you need to know during a crisis like this. He explained that virtual events provide the opportunity to have more meaningful conversations. In other words, virtual events are a great opportunity for sponsors to meet with existing and potential customers.

Nicole Walker, CEO of Arinex, has this advice to share: “Apart from brand positioning, many sponsors look for ways to position themselves as thought leaders to a captive audience at an event. Just like a physical event, opportunities can be created during virtual events for sponsors to interact with the audience through facilitated workshops, panel discussions, hosted roundtable discussions and welcome addresses.” Nicole also offers some insights on the pricing model for sponsors.

Carol McGury, INCON Co-Chair and EVP at Association Management leader SmithBucklin, added: “We need to find unique ways for sponsors to engage with clients throughout the year not necessarily just for a virtual conference. Technology is not going to provide magic answers. Every client and sponsor are different, so we need to look at each situation with new eyes and new ideas”.

A recent case study from MCI outlined ways to attract, engage and retain key audiences – 365 days a year. An online community platform like this could be the backbone of a successful virtual event and offers an incredible sponsorship opportunity for the conference and beyond.

Tips to maximise sponsor ROI

  • To drive attendees and the relevant attendees invest heavily in event promotion. Personalize and tailor campaigns using digital marketing tools and or AI.
  • Leverage social media for promotion but also to acknowledge and thank sponsors.
  • Embrace the technology ensures higher conversion rates and quality online experience.
  • Leverage technology and apps to develop engaging meeting formats, using polls, chat, breakout rooms, annotation, white boards, virtual exhibition areas etc.
  • Be brave and consider 3D, virtual and augmented reality formats.
  • Offer new ways for sponsor branding: ticketing; event app; pop up banners during or between sessions; video ads; polls; waiting rooms; welcome, closing thank you addresses; VIP gatherings; branded gifts delivered before or after the event etc.
  • Invest in immersive, realistic and fun layouts and backdrops that can be branded.
  • Ensure that sponsors have access to more touchpoints to collect qualified leads.
  • Track and provide robust data, before, during and after the meeting.
  • Make sure that conference content is available on demand for at least a year or more ensuring greater visibility for sponsors.
  • Once an event is over, automate event follow-up to maximize sponsor ROI.
  • Virtual meetings can never replace the benefits of face-to-face environments but by working with the right set of tools and with an open mind we can still make this a unique and beneficial experience for our clients and event sponsors. We should also take this opportunity to look beyond the virtual event to identify additional sponsorship opportunities for our clients.