How to Drive Value for Sponsors at Virtual and Hybrid Events

How to Drive Value for Sponsors at Virtual and Hybrid Events

Event Management • February 11, 2021
How to Drive Value for Sponsors at Virtual and Hybrid Events
Rachel Rappaport
There are countless ways to drive sponsorship value for virtual and hybrid events. Here's some ideas to help as you build out your sponsor strategy.
It’s no secret that event sponsorship is a continuous pain point among event planners, even more so with regards to virtual. In fact, ranging on a scale of 1-10, leading marketers reported an average 6.5 confidence level when it comes to providing value for their virtual sponsors.
And it seems that just as soon as we’ve started to get the hang of virtual sponsorship , hybrid is right around the corner. So how can you create unique programming to attract and retain sponsors for both virtual and hybrid events? Let’s dive in.
Discover What Your Sponsors Really Want
The best way to provide valuable opportunities for your sponsors is by getting to the root of their goals. Rather than coming up with ideas in a vacuum then trying to find where they apply, take a step back and refocus your energy on understanding your sponsors’ perspective. Putting yourself in their shoes will open up a world of new ideas, and you can be certain they’ll be relevant. 
By the same token, it’s equally important to get to the bottom of what your audience wants. Once you have an understanding of their end goals, you can plan your sponsorship opportunities more strategically. 
Once you have an idea of what your sponsors are interested in, you can fine-tune your event programming to match their goals. Here are a few examples of virtual sponsorship opportunities that align with specific sponsor goals.
Thought Leadership
If your sponsor is looking to establish thought leadership, you might want to offer a speaking or moderator position. Maybe you’re hosting a panel or even a keynote where you can feature someone from your sponsor’s organization to speak. This is a great way to get their brand in front of your audience and it allows them to represent their brand as they see fit. 
Another idea is to offer sponsored tracks. If you’re hosting a longer event with multiple or concurrent sessions, you can let your partners sponsor those tracks. Here’s an example of what a sponsored session looks like on the Bizzabo platform.
Brand Awareness
Brand awareness is a very common goal, and with good reason. Conscious and subconscious interactions with an event brand leave a lasting impact on attendees. If your sponsoring company’s goal is brand awareness, they are likely interested in visual placements. One place to start is with sponsor branded video intros. Before a keynote or particular session, you can run short intro videos put on by your sponsors. Another option is to offer sponsored lower thirds of frames. There is a ton of real estate on screen during virtual events where you can place sponsor logos. From lower thirds to the frames and mock-ups themselves, so intermediate slides - there’s a lot of space to promote your sponsors. 
Finally, you can take advantage of your event’s mobile app as well. Many virtual event platforms will offer an app to accompany your event and website. An app opens up even more areas for logo or video placements, from splash pages to sponsored offers.
Attendee Engagement
Perhaps you have sponsors that share a similar target audience as your event. For the sponsors looking to engage with your audience , you can dive more into experiential sponsorship opportunities. For example, a sponsored game or even scavenger hunt can be a really enjoyable and engaging way to break up the programmed content. Your sponsors can host these games and even offer prizes to winners as another way to showcase their brand.
Event entertainment is another engaging way to offer your attendees a break from the content and gives them a chance to relax and have fun before the next session. Your partnering companies can sponsor these entertainment segments, getting their brand in front of your audience while giving them a memorable experience. 
If your partners would rather be more closely associated with the content itself - perhaps because the topics are highly related to them - you can also offer sponsored intros or commercial breaks throughout your virtual sessions. These commercials and intros can be anywhere from a few seconds to a minute, but be mindful of your attendees’ time and attention spans, it’s best to keep it short and sweet. 
Exhibitor Booths
One of the most common opportunities for sponsorship is the classic exhibit booth. And the good news is you can reimagine this idea of the exhibit hall in the virtual space by offering virtual sponsor booths. Some virtual platforms will have this capability, so be sure to check if your provider offers this. These virtual booths serve as a hub for your sponsors to house their marketing collateral, documents, and images that they want the attendees to have access to. If you want to take it a step further, you can utilize breakout rooms so that sponsors and attendees can have private demos and continue their conversations, which will drive a lot of value for your partners. 
Understand that what used to work may not work anymore. Much has changed in the events industry, and it will continue to do so. Event sponsorship is a fast-changing landscape and in order to create value, we will need to constantly adapt to meet our sponsors’ needs. 
“Don’t stand still. Things that were highly successful at the beginning of the pandemic now feels stale and audiences and sponsors are moving on. You have to continue to innovate.”
- Jonathan Meyers, CNBC
Start With What Translates to Virtual 
In addition to the new ideas you’ve come up with, you probably have a few tried and true ideas that you’ve leveraged for your in-person events in the past. Perhaps you host an annual event where your sponsorship opportunities are consistent every year. There is certainly something to be said about having an established experience that both sponsors and attendees alike look forward to every year. Especially in times of uncertainty, offering a familiar element will create a much-needed sense of nostalgia.
One way to approach virtual sponsorship is to simply ask yourself which ideas can easily be taken online. Here’s a great example from Bloomberg Live’s Jennifer Hoffmann Roach about how she started by getting to her sponsors’ underlying goals and then reworked a classic idea to fit in the virtual setting.
Hybrid Event Sponsorship: Integrating the Virtual and Live Audience
It’s clear that virtual events are here to stay, but hybrid will be the new key player this year, and the next opportunity for event planners to master.
The question everyone is asking is how exactly do we drive value and create opportunities for sponsors at a hybrid event? We’ll go through some tactical solutions, but the overarching idea is actually quite simple. In order to create a seamless experience for both your IRL and online audiences, you’ll need to shift your focus to the online attendees. Cramer’s Mark Wilson says it best: 
“Instead of treating the virtual audience completely differently than the venue audience, we’re going to put more emphasis on the virtual audience and spend more time and effort engaging them.”
- Mark Wilson, Cramer
Sponsored Swag
One of the most common ways to include sponsorship in your event is through branded swag. This could include anything from the name tags you grab at registration to the swag bags you get at your seat. If you offer these branded promotional items to your in-person audience, you can also send out a swag bag to your virtual attendees to make them feel involved and give them something physical to interact with. This is a great way to integrate the two audiences and an exciting new opportunity for hybrid sponsorship. 
Hybrid Happy Hour
This alliterative example is a highly interactive way to get your sponsors front and center. A sponsored happy hour is the perfect opportunity to engage your IRL attendees by offering a fun setting for them to network and connect, and you can send out drink kits ahead of time to make the online audience feel just as involved. 
This “drinks on us” format is a unique idea that will excite and delight your audience, making it a valuable opportunity for your sponsor partners. And there are many companies out there that offer DIY cocktail kits for your attendees, such as TalkTales , which we recently used for our own hybrid happy hour. 
Sponsored Lunch
You’ve probably already seen or participated in giving digital food gift cards as a way to reward your virtual guests or even employees. But in a hybrid world, you can take this a step further to create a sponsored hybrid lunch. You can order catering for your venue attendees and send digital gift cards in advance to your online attendees. Meals are always a great way to bring people together and create room for networking and conversations. And if your event is longer, programming a dedicated break is an effective way to split up the content and be mindful of your attendees’ attention.
Sponsored Coffee
Similar to a sponsored lunch, you can also offer a coffee break. Maybe your event is shorter, so you only have time for a quick coffee, or perhaps your audience is just more interested in a complimentary coffee. Either way, allowing your sponsors to put on a coffee break helps them gain brand visibility while giving your attendees a gift, and they’re likely to associate the generosity with that sponsoring brand in the future. For a sponsored coffee chat, you can offer a complimentary coffee bar on-site and send gift cards to your digital audience ahead of the event. 
Hybrid Networking Lounge
Networking is always top of mind for both attendees and planners. Hybrid events offer a unique opportunity to create an integrated networking lounge. 
One option is to offer an in-person networking lounge for your live audience and a central networking hub for your virtual attendees to interact. This method is the easiest way to make sure both audiences have opportunities for networking, though it does not necessarily integrate the two.
Another approach is through facilitated networking, where you can pair an in-person attendee with one or more virtual attendees, that way you are truly bringing together both audiences. 
Key Takeaways to Drive Value for Sponsors in Virtual and Hybrid Events
Sponsors will be eager to partner on both virtual and hybrid events because it gives them access to a larger audience and more robust data. So all you need to do is program valuable and unique opportunities that will excite your attendees and therefore, create value for your sponsors. 
The first step is to identify your sponsors’ underlying goals. Once you get to their actual wants and needs, you can create opportunities that drive ROI for your partners. Then you can reimagine your ideas in either a virtual or hybrid setting. The key is to keep in mind the attendee experience. Your sponsors will only see a return on their investment if your attendees find value and are able to create impressions and moments with those brands. 
The virtual and hybrid space offers limitless possibilities for sponsorship, and now is the time to test, iterate, and take risks.
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