Mastering the art of virtual events is more important than ever, with COVID-19 throwing a wrench in live events and travel plans around the world. Sponsorships are a crucial part of monetizing virtual events — here's how to do it.
Virtual events have been picking up in the last few weeks as eventprofs adapt to the current global situation and strive to continue putting on events. The number of downloads of video chat app Zoom has increased significantly since the outbreak of the coronavirus, and eventtech companies are revving up to provide more online offerings to planners.
One indispensable aspect of many events is sponsorship, which can be a challenge — and including them in a virtual setting is an additional obstacle that many planners are unfamiliar with. Without physical spaces that can be utilized for branding opportunities or kiosks handing out swag, what are the options?
There are many ways to effectively monetize an online event and to continue working with sponsors. Some of these include traditional digital sponsorship opportunities that you may already have used in your live events, and others may require a bit more creativity.
In this post, we’ve put together a list of virtual sponsorship ideas to help you make the most of your online event.
Leverage Data-Rich Digital Sponsorships
Digital sponsorships are nothing new, they’re just usually implemented in conjunction with other, physical branding opportunities such as brochures or giveaways. When planning a fully virtual event, you can focus solely on the digital part and capitalize on the real estate you do have available.
A huge advantage of digital sponsorships is that they are optimized for analytics. Recording attendee data is essential for proving ROI and informing any necessary improvements.
Most of the tools you would use for digital sponsorship include reporting dashboards so you can easily view and analyze engagement data, such as clicks, impressions, comments, or any other relevant actions that attendees may be taking.
These tools are built with rich engagement tracking in mind — a significant benefit lacking in many traditional sponsorship opportunities for physical events.
This allows you to provide robust data to sponsors and stakeholders about the success and value of your event. Attribution is also much richer, especially if you can integrate the data with your CMS and track your leads’ journeys through your digital sales funnel.
Consider every aspect of the tech you’ll be deploying, and look at ways you can add branding and monetize. Anything that your attendees will be looking at or interacting with is an opportunity to incorporate sponsor branding. Here are a few examples.
Add Sponsorship to Event Apps
Event apps are increasingly vital parts of live events, and they can be used to engage remote attendees just as (if not more) effectively since the attendees’ entire attention will be on their screens. Apps are great to include in sponsorship packages because they offer many opportunities for sponsor branding and messages.
Within the app, incorporate branded banners, pop-up ads or sponsored messages, and logos on different screens. These may be dedicated mainly to your presenting sponsor (if applicable) or other sponsors at your discretion.
You can also highlight certain sponsors in particular ways that relate to their service and make the branding more seamless. For example, you could include a border in the sponsor’s color(s) around the names and photos of specific speakers or attendees who happen to be sponsors.
If it makes sense for your event format, you can also offer a few sponsored push notifications on the app that remind attendees about sponsored sessions, or about a special sponsored offer. But be sure to use these sparingly or they’ll lose their value.
Sell Banner and Pop-Up Ad Space on Your Live Stream
Your event’s live-stream can also be monetized through ad space that you can sell to sponsors. If your platform allows for them, banner and pop-up ads are a great way to incorporate additional branding opportunities for sponsors.
You may decide to have banners appear on the screen during presentations to highlight a certain sponsor, while pop-ups are ideal for between sessions since they're more disruptive.
Use them to provide links to the sponsor’s website so attendees can find further information, since ad real-estate on pop-ups and banners tends to be limited.
Brand Transitions Between Speakers or Slides
When transitioning between slides, speakers, or even sessions, don’t waste the opportunity to include sponsored branding. During presentations, you could add branded slides with logos, and if the sponsor is also a speaker, be sure to also include a headshot and sales contact.
Put up full screen ads thanking your sponsors during breaks, and for intermissions, consider rotating between several ads.
In general, keep text to a minimum and emphasize value — product images are always a good bet. In addition to the content of the slide that you’ll be including, be sure to also negotiate the amount of time that it will be up for.
Use Sponsored Intros and Video Ads
Take inspiration from proven models that already exist in established live streaming services, like YouTube.
For example, during breaks, you could prompt attendees to view a short video ad designed by your sponsor. Make sure you communicate with your sponsors about what platform you’re planning to use for your live-stream and the quality you’re aiming for to ensure that the ads are compatible and don’t look out of place.
The exact opportunities will, of course, depend on which platform you’re using, so be sure to check out what your options are as you curate your live streaming tools and design sponsorship packages.
Overlay Lower-Third Logos
Another option for including branded real estate is to overlay the sponsor’s logo on the lower third of the screen. In a similar vein, include a full backdrop during intros, certain sponsored presentations, live streamed Q&A sessions, etc.
Branded Breakouts and Break Areas
Depending on your platform’s capabilities, you could also offer sponsors their own dedicated live-stream feeds for value-based breakouts or for informal chats between sessions, where attendees would have the opportunity to engage with them, similar to an in-person booth interaction.
These dedicated streams could also be used for break areas where networking can take place or to feature sponsored entertainment. Think about the different rooms and activities you would have if you were planning a normal live event, and try to incorporate as much as you can into the online version.
Including several different streams is a great way to engage attendees by giving them options while also providing more advertising opportunities for sponsors.
Promote Sponsors on Social Media
If you have a presenting sponsor, including them in all of your digital marketing efforts is also a great way to get the word out. Regularly give them shout-outs on your social media posts.
You can even allow them to engage with attendees prior to the event to start to build connections, like by co-hosting a game or contest with the sponsor to help increase brand awareness among attendees.
It's not advised that you create a hashtag specifically for the sponsor, but by using the official event hashtag themselves, sponsors can draw attention to their involvement in the event.
Include Branding on Registration Pages
Just as you would for an in-person event, you’ll likely have a registration page or website that offers prime real-estate for sponsorship. Just be sure to make it clear that they are sponsoring the event so people don’t get confused about who the organizers are.
Also, be mindful of the sponsorship opportunity. You don’t want anything to create friction on the registration page itself, so avoid distracting offers, pop-up ads, or anything else that might delay or detract from your audience following your calls to action until they register.
Offer Keynote Sponsorship Opportunities
If you were hosting a physical event, part of your sponsorship package may include a session or presentation led by your sponsor. This is an opportunity you can just as easily provide with a virtual event.
Offer higher tier sponsors one of the main keynote sessions and then include it among those that receive more publicity, or lower-tier sponsors a speaking engagement during a satellite session. Be creative based on your event format and the types of sessions that you’ll be organizing.
Sponsored Q&A Sessions
If your sponsor(s) will be hosting or participating in a session, offer them the opportunity to sponsor a live Q&A afterwards to give attendees the chance to interact with them — and each other — and find out more about the topic.
Q&A’s are an important part of live events and can easily be incorporated virtually. Alternatively, you can have attendees submit questions throughout the session for presenters to answer at the end.
Provide Value Offers
Another aspect of live events that applies to online events is value-based offers — benefits that have more quantifiable value. For example, if you’re charging for your event, you could provide a certain number of tickets to your sponsors free of charge the same way you might for a physical event. You could also provide your sponsors with valuable lead data that you collect from attendees.
Host VIP Pre- or Post-Event Gatherings
If it works for your event, consider having a sponsor organize a VIP session or event either before or after your main event — the same way you would for a physical event. Whether it’s a special happy hour networking opportunity or a bonus session, work with your sponsor to plan an exclusive meeting or activity that only VIP ticket holders will be able to access.
Surprise Attendees with Home Delivery
You might think that virtual events exclusively present digital sponsorship options, but creative planners can always find a way to deliver unexpected value. Especially given the current global situation, give some thought to how you can help your sponsors provide value to your attendees.
It may not be possible to hand out branded T-shirts or power banks during your event — which may actually be a relief to attendees who already have more than enough — but that doesn’t mean you have to forget about physical branding entirely. If you do want to include giveaways, you have the option of sending items directly to your attendees either before or after the event.
However, if you go this route, make sure you carefully consider what types of items are worth sending. Although the risk of contracting COVID-19 from mail and packages is considered very low, people are worried and may not appreciate being sent a meaningless trinket.
A better strategy would be to work with your sponsors to provide something people actually need and will feel grateful to have received from you. This could be hand sanitizer, a meal kit or snack box subscription — or even branded toilet paper as a timely — but useful — joke.
You could also partner with a local delivery or catering service that’s still open for business and have lunch delivered to attendees during the event. Again, make sure you’re careful in your choices and can provide information as to what the service is doing to minimize the spread and protect its employees, as many people are wary even of takeaway food right now.
Offer Sponsored Virtual Event Bags
There also exists such a thing as virtual swag bags, and now is a great time to explore the offerings. You can give your sponsors the opportunity to curate what goes into attendees’ swag bags, be it coupons or vouchers, a free trial for a software, or an online course. The bag would then be shared directly with your attendees for them to access via email, social media, or the event app, either before, during, or following the event.
A virtual swag bag also provides reporting data such as how many people accessed it and how they interacted with the items in the bag, which you can share with sponsors and use to help inform what materials attendees found most valuable.
Plan Sponsored Icebreaker Activities
One of the main drawbacks of virtual events is the lack of face-to-face interaction and straightforward networking opportunities. In order to make up for that, try organizing some icebreaker sessions with a sponsor for attendees to get to know each other and become comfortable with the online format. Have the sponsor take the lead and, if possible, create games or activities that relate to their brand or product.
Get Sponsored Event Games to Boost Engagement
Tying your sponsorship to engagement is a great way to make sure people are paying attention to the brand and getting maximum exposure. That’s why sponsored games, raffles, drives, and collaborative activities work so well.
Event apps can greatly help with this as many include gamification features that can be used in a virtual environment. These can include icebreaker challenges in which points are allotted for connections made or scavenger hunts and quizzes in which points are allotted for finding information (among others).
Things to Do at Home
With everyone at home and many of us in events unable to work, consider sponsored offers that will help people pass the time. If you could work out a deal with a streaming service or VPN to provide better offerings to attendees outside the US, you can be sure they’ll remember you fondly. Consider professional development courses, home workout programs, or anything else that can be delivered online.
Partner with Sponsors for CSR Initiatives
Whether you have a long history of fostering CSR initiatives or have shied away from them in the past, there is no better time to use cause marketing to partner with a sponsor and create a message that resonates with your audience. Use the event to promote positive social change with sponsorship dollars.
For example, instead of sponsoring the planting of trees, you could suggest that your sponsor donate a certain number of masks to a local hospital or support food banks or accommodations for the most vulnerable groups. Look for relevant organizations that you can donate to, such as Feeding America or the CDC Foundation in the US, and encourage attendees to get involved as well.
Consider Pricing Structures
One last point to keep in mind when designing sponsorship packages for online events is the pricing. Virtual events can be much more cost-effective than physical events, so you’ll need to adjust your sponsorship goals and pricing accordingly.
Using the same process you would for a live event: factor in your costs as well as the value and exposure you can provide to sponsors to determine reasonable sponsorship tiers and packages. Be sure to also keep in mind that, in some cases, your access to data and your ability to substantiate the value of your event may be more robust than for live events. While your sponsorship goals in a pivot to virtual may start off more modestly than for the well-established physical version of your event, this richer data may augment that as sponsors get used to seeing real value from the opportunities.
Virtual events may not offer all of the same sponsorship opportunities that you’re used to, but there are still ways to leverage online tools and offer packages that both sponsors and attendees can appreciate. In addition, virtual events tend to provide richer data and analytics.
Start by thinking about traditional digital sponsorship packages that you would normally offer, and see what you can apply creatively to your online event. You may need to tweak a few things and you may find opportunities for completely unique ideas to round out your sponsorship offerings, but we’ll almost certainly be relying on virtual events for at least the next few months, so now is the time to start perfecting virtual sponsorships.