Here’s a statement many people will think controversial: your exhibitors probably never wanted to attend your physical event in the first place, they just wanted the leads it was able to generate.
Actually, it isn’t controversial.
Sure, some events are great, but many are a means to an end for a commercial partner. They want targeted, qualified leads, and we know that they are willing to pay for them.
You might think you can’t deliver this value virtually? Well, you can. Virtual events can deliver leads just as well if not better than a physical event. But first you must focus on how you can qualify and deliver those leads - not on how you can replicate your physical event virtually. Matching or improving upon the value that stakeholders get from a physical event is what matters, not delivering an online version of the physical event.
And, in many cases, they are not the same thing.
This jump to virtual has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reassess our physical events. You are hopefully already seeing an amazing transformation of conference programmes, as events have jumped to virtual. Boring one-hour panel sessions and the endless PowerPoint presentations have been replaced by truly ‘texturised’ content! That focus on engagement and interaction has been brilliant to watch.
What has happened with virtual content should happen with sponsorship. We have to take the chance to offer more value to our sponsors. Running virtual events offers us the opportunity to reassess the value proposition within our sponsorship packages.
The shift to virtual is an opportunity to make your sponsorship packages even better for our sponsors; to add even more value.
Look at what you currently offer your sponsors and group everything into these three areas: brand awareness; thought leadership, and face to face.
The majority of agreements I see tend to rely heavily on part one: brand awareness (or logo placement). When we move to virtual it will be important to still offer logo placement, but it should become a smaller percentage of your overall offer.
Digital logos are much better than physical ones, because, if you can get someone to click on them (as opposed to looking at them at a physical event) you can send them off to more specific information. And crucially you can gain some valuable metrics.
This is way better than physical event placement.
However, I must stress the ‘if you can’ part.
Early evidence is that attendees don't spend much time clicking on logos or visiting digital booths when they are at your virtual event. We can’t just place logos and branding on our virtual platforms and expect attendees to spend all day clicking links. This is not how we drive value for our sponsors. It is not going to happen!
We can give our commercial partners more coverage than we did at our physical event, as most platforms open up the opportunity to do that through a variety of different ways. But, overall, we have to think about toning down the value of 'logo placement' and move towards face-to-face and, crucially, thought leadership.
Boost these two and you will deliver more value.
Face to face can be online, too
Face to face
Virtual events offer a great opportunity for face-to-face contact between buyer and seller. Not in person but face to face. We are used to chatting to someone on Zoom and all of our virtual events should be able to facilitate face to face between buyer and seller.
If you are not offering sponsors the opportunity to meet face to face with potential buyers online, then the connections piece of your event and the value you offer your sponsor will be very weak.
The top line here is that you should be able to offer the sponsor the opportunity to meet one to one with select attendees and they should be able to meet face to face with anyone who visits their booth. Also, they should be able to join small meetings and have conversations with attendees in chat room style sessions - like the tables on Remo if you are familiar with that platform.
Platforms give us the ability to boost this aspect of a sponsorship agreement and this is where I suggest you look to add more much more value online.
We should be able to offer more involvement in the content at our events as virtual gives us the opportunity to have more content (an important point part of the value proposition for your attendees should be access to more quality content and for a longer period of time). And, of course, some of this new content should involve your sponsors.
Why not offer them the chance to:
- Take a place on a panel.
- Moderate a slot in a small invite-only chat room style session
- Upload content /not just promo stuff to their own booth or give them their own room.
- Have your host interview their CEO and put into programme.
- Have them record 30-second clips that will be of interest to your audience and drop them between sessions.
- Add a summary of a session to the end of a popular slot when you upload it as your post-event content.
Virtual offers new ways to add content that boosts the sponsor's thought leadership profile. It offers us the opportunity to do things differently and to do some things better. Building on this positive approach to virtual sponsorship, we can have more confidence as we try to retain the sponsorship money we have earned.
How to retain sponsors' in-person budgets
How to retain sponsors' in-person budgets
For many organisers we are still looking at income that was committed to a physical event, so how do we retain that income?
I have had three clients who have successfully used this strategy to retain around 80 per cent of the physical sponsorship. The first thing to do, is to approach the pivot as simply another way to deliver on the agreement that was made for the physical event. This starts with a confident, front-foot approach along the lines of, 'our virtual event gives us the opportunity to deliver every aspect of our agreement that covers our physical event'. Confidence is key. Never apologise for ‘going virtual’. However, most companies I speak to are offering the option of a sponsor transferring to the next physical event and I like that.
If this happens, I still regard this as ‘retained revenue’. But a lot of the event organisers I am in touch with are reporting a high jump to virtual. To give you a benchmark a figure seems to be around 75 per cent of sponsors coming on the virtual journey.
Once you have informed the sponsors of your jump to virtual you should send them an addendum, not a new contract, and break down the contract to highlight: face to face, brand awareness, and thought leadership.
Within these three areas, you can list what will remain the same from the physical contract, and what you can be delivered similarly at your virtual event.
And then the fun part: You can now add all the wonderful extra things that you can now do in the virtual world! This process proved to be less of a challenge than my clients thought it would be. For example, when you look at some of your event sponsorships, I bet there are areas not directly related to your actual event, like emails to members or subscribers, posting blog posts on your website, adverts in magazines etc. So, all of these parts remain the same.
There will be parts that are clearly like for like (a physical booth changes to a virtual booth for example). Taking the approach of breaking down the contracts into these three areas – face to face, brand awareness, and thought leadership, has proved to be a brilliant way to highlight the extra benefits that going virtual can bring! Especially in terms of metrics.
The data you can send back to your commercial partners is supercharged online. This is an area where you should definitely be investigating. With the right platform you can amaze sponsors with the details you can provide.
Supercharging lead generation
Underpinning all of this is lead generation. Your sponsor or exhibitor probably never wanted to attend your event, but they did want the leads that your event was able to generate.
And there is no reason that your virtual event cannot generate as many leads. So, focus on how the virtual event can supercharge the lead generation for your sponsors. This will boost the value proposition and will help you retain those who have already bought into your event.
And of course, this all sets you up to attract more sponsors for your virtual event.
From your sponsors' perspective
Finally, you need to look at virtual events from your sponsors' perspective and to do that you should think about the following six questions:
1. What level of support and best practice education do we now need to give our sponsors for them to get the most out of a virtual event?
2. Setting up a virtual booth is one thing but how well do sponsors actually use it? And what can you do to help?
3. Do you commercial partners actually know what is possible? Have you explained all of the options available to them?
4. Do they have the right digital assets to make the most of the virtual opportunities?
5. Are they comfortable using the technology you have chosen?
6. Will it take them more time, resources, and expertise than they thought or is their virtual involvement quite straight forward?
Take 15 minutes or so to really think about these questions: it might tell you something really important. You might find out that it is not price that is scaring your commercial partners away. It may be a lack of understanding about virtual, or a lack of resources.
And you can help them in those areas.
We have to do all we can to ensure that our commercial partners have the opportunity to receive the coverage they enjoyed at our physical events. Not only that, but we have to make the most of the added potential of virtual.
I think the easy part may be persuading our sponsors and exhibitors to come with us on the virtual journey, the hard part might be helping them to make the most of it.
About the author: William Thomson is head honcho at Gallus Events. Author of Successful Events For Not For Profit Organisations, he has an impressive list of past clients including some of the largest membership bodies in Europe. He is an AMI expert contributor on meetings. www.gallusevents.co.uk