The past year has posed some unique challenges to the events industry. The sudden shift to online events was bumpy at times, but it also led to serious innovation in the field. After a year of coordinating virtual events and overcoming challenges, event makers have found solutions to several complications. The latter includes learning how to work with sponsors virtually.
Virtual events may lack many of the traditional opportunities for sponsorships. But that doesn’t mean that prospects don’t exist. Even in the age of the novel coronavirus, there are plenty of chances to work with sponsors. It just takes a little creativity.
Taking the time to learn these new techniques is valuable now and in the future. It’s unlikely that most organizations will ever return to entirely in-person events. It’s just too convenient to have an at-home alternative for people who can’t travel. Whether you’re looking to switch up your traditional sponsorship opportunities or bring in new sponsorship during the pandemic, below is all you need to know about virtual sponsorships.
Finding Virtual Sponsors
The first step to finding and securing virtual sponsorships is acknowledging that this is a new frontier for just about everyone. While you’ve certainly been impacted by the pandemic—your previous, current, and wish list sponsors have been, as well. Even if you’ve been able to ask regular sponsors for a simple check in the past, it likely won’t be that easy this year.
Find Partners and Not Sponsors
Instead of worrying about how to find sponsors, you can think of the process as finding partners. This is an excellent time to reconnect with your sponsors—past, present, and potential.
Have a frank, honest discussion about how current events have impacted you and how you plan to move forward. Ask how your sponsors’ businesses have been affected, too. With this foundation, you can work together to find a mutually beneficial sponsorship arrangement. You may find that your sponsors are less able to give you a sponsorship check, but they’re more willing to offer you in-kind advertising or support.
Focus on Meeting Sponsor Needs
Exceptionally few potential sponsors choose to fund an event out of the goodness of their hearts. Identify what your sponsors want out of the relationship and cater to that. Your sponsors may want to achieve goals like:
- Alter public perception of their brands
- Block their competition
- Improve in-kind and trade relationships
- Increase their target market’s brand awareness
- Support a reputation for philanthropy
- Targeting new demographics
A sponsor with a reputation for philanthropy will likely prefer materials that praise their generosity, while a sponsor trying to outgrow a competitor probably wants exposure and praise for specific products. Once you know your sponsors’ wants, you can tailor your pitch to meet that need and grow your sponsors dramatically.
Making the Most of Virtual Sponsorships
There are as many opportunities for virtual sponsorships as there are for physical sponsors. Having a clear plan for how your sponsors will benefit from your event makes it more likely that you’ll retain old sponsors and bring in new ones. Here are some of the most effective virtual event sponsorship ideas you can leverage for your next event.
While we all know “cash is king,” now is the time to look for other ways sponsors can help you. One excellent way to work with sponsors is to consider affiliate marketing. Instead of a sponsor providing you directly with funds, they can do marketing for you and encourage their customers and employees to attend. In return, you can offer them funds with affiliate links.
What’s an affiliate link? It’s a unique link that’s connected to a given sponsor. Any ticket purchases made through that link direct a sliver of that sale to your affiliate. These types of affiliate links are common in online retail sales, but they’re seeing new life in virtual event sponsorship packages.
The Events.com ticketing tools allow you to create a unique affiliate link for any sponsor. You can set a specific portion of that revenue to go to your sponsor. Imagine a world where you are actually providing new income for your sponsors while they are helping you sell your tickets! That’s much more convincing for potential sponsors who may be running on a tight budget than traditional deals.
Plus, you get access to entirely new spaces and audiences, potentially growing your attendance dramatically. It’s a win-win.
Virtual “Goody Bags”
The swag bag is a longtime sponsor favorite of conventions and other large events. Attendees get a gift, while sponsors get to distribute their marketing materials and branded goodies to many interested people—all at once. Virtual events can replicate this experience with a little ingenuity.
For example, an entirely virtual “swag bag” can be a unique promotion code. I can allow attendees to download apps, desktop backgrounds, reading materials, or anything else that they’d typically need to pay for. There’s still the opportunity to give attendees branded materials from sponsors, but without the material cost.
For hybrid events, these codes can still be used. You can also offer virtual attendees the choice to receive the virtual or the physical grab bag, with the cost of shipping factored into their ticket price. This can help them feel included in the event despite attending remotely.
Branded Pre-Event or Post-Event Gatherings
Many people attend events to socialize and network, on top of being interested in the actual content of the event. Providing designated virtual gatherings before or after the main event can help recreate this for your attendees. This can take the form of virtual happy hours, remote brunches, or opening chat rooms before the main event to allow people to mingle.
These spaces for virtual mingling are an easy way for sponsors to get exposure. Putting that time on the schedule as “Networking Hour, Sponsored by X” is a simple way to show attendees that information. You can also go a step further by branding chat rooms and even Zoom calls with sponsors’ colors and logos.
Home Delivery “Coffee Bars”
Providing free coffee or a free meal at an event is a simple but well-loved perk that many potential sponsors are willing to provide. If you want to set up a surprise for your attendees, you can offer that free food to them at home with the magic of food delivery companies.
If you capture addresses when your attendees buy tickets, you can use UberEats or GrubHub to deliver them lunch or coffee. You can also let everyone know that the free food is courtesy of your sponsors, which is excellent for goodwill.
Sponsored Splash Pages and Streams
Any type of virtual event has plenty of opportunities for branded and sponsored splash pages. Before and after live streams, you can put up images with sponsors’ information and instructions for attendees, similar to sponsor banners at in-person events.
You can also have sponsor branding on the stream itself. From having speakers sit in front of branded backdrops to including sponsor logos along the bottom of the stream, it’s easy to keep your sponsors prominently displayed without distracting anyone.
Transitioning to Hybrid Event Sponsorships
As we move out of the pandemic and into whatever the “new normal” will be, it seems unlikely that we will ever return to the traditional in-person event model. Instead, hybrid events will be more common—with some attendees coming to the event location and others watching remotely. Sponsorship packages that take both attendance types into account will become more popular.
Hybrid event sponsorship can take current conditions into account with appropriately branded materials. For example, masks are necessary at all in-person events and will probably be so for a while. They also provide an excellent sponsorship opportunity.
You can use the same methods to find sponsors for complimentary branded masks as you do for any other aspect of your event. You could also hand out free masks at businesses in your community with branding for your event as quick, useful, and effective marketing.
Another excellent type of hybrid marketing in the next few months is testing. There are plenty of local for-profit testing centers throughout the country. While in-person events return, you can partner with your local testing center to turn COVID-19 testing into a profitable sponsorship opportunity.
Taking Your Events Into the Future
The event industry has changed—that much isn’t up for question. Changing with it is essential to thriving during the next few years. If you want more helpful sponsorship tips and tools, visit the Events.com sponsorship page.
Do you want to see more ways to build a sponsorship program, get tips for today’s virtual event world, and improve your sponsorships when live and in-person events come back online? Watch our educational webinar series, “Sponsorship Skills for Today & Growth Tactics for Tomorrow.”
As the pandemic winds down, people will be eager to return to normal. Prepare today for the future of virtual and hybrid events, so you’re there when reopening is exciting and safe.