The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked transformational change in the association industry, as it has in many other sectors — affecting not only where association employees work and how they collaborate, but also how they organise the all-important event calendar, and derive crucial revenues from those events.
For many member-based bodies, event income — particularly sponsorship — has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. In a recent survey of industry associations – whose members drive a majority of their revenues through events – more than half reported a decrease in sponsorship revenue.
Most also predicted the negative impact would continue post-COVID-19, according to the study, COVID-19 and Beyond: Lessons for Associations from the COVID-19 Crisis. And sponsors indicated they would be re-evaluating their sponsorships to focus on channels that would generate the most value.
Those event organisers that can create sponsorship packages that meet the needs of all stakeholders will be the ones that reap success.
That might not only mean thinking outside the square when it comes to planning the event itself, but also outside your current realm of prospects.
Reaching a virtual audience spread across different geographic territories might be attractive to sponsors that have never considered it before, not to mention the data that can be shared from registrations, polls, Q&As and surveys.
The level of creativity associations demonstrated when attempting to pivot sponsorship arrangements from face-to-face events to virtual events also impacted sponsorship revenues and outlook, the report found, with associations that invested the time to reinforce and deepen existing relationships, and deliver value, more likely to have a more positive outlook for their future sponsorship revenue.
It’s also important to identify the objectives of individual sponsors’ involvement: is it to increase brand awareness, to directly address delegates with a speaking gig, or to network and make connections during social activities?
With that in mind, we’ve compiled 10 ways associations can think creatively to increase their engagement with virtual event sponsors and ultimately to boost sponsorship and revenues.
- Pre-event marketing
Don’t neglect pre-event marketing opportunities in your sponsor packages. These might include the opportunity to email a short video to registered participants or introduce a keynote speakers pre-event video, as well as promoting sponsors on your event website and registration page, your corporate website and newsletters, social media channels, and physical mail-outs. You can also include sponsors in event reminders and registration emails.
- Get hands-on
The virtual world also offers some opportunities to be creative before the event. Sponsors can physically deliver materials to participants so they can engage with a product or service during a presentation or send some complimentary treats and beverages.
For example, the organisers of a recent virtual awards night we took part in asked registrants before the event what their favourite style of wine was. On the afternoon of the awards, we received a parcel containing a bottle of our favourite tipple, along with some yummy accompaniments, which made the night more engaging and enjoyable.
- Location, location, location (wherever your audience is)
The opportunities available to sponsors as part of a virtual event can be as effective and varied as those we’re used to at their traditional physical counterparts. Think on-stage and on-screen real estate, transition slides, and social posts. You can provide a sponsor a platform as a key speaker, broadcast a live product demo, or feature them in a Q&A or fireside chat-style interview which can include questions from the audience via a public or private chat room.
- Sponsored sessions and ancillary events
Virtual meeting rooms provide opportunities for sponsored breakout sessions, networking chat rooms and one-to-one meetings, to name a few. Networking sessions can be complemented with a wine and cheese delivery from an online sponsor.
Polls, competitions and surveys also enable sponsors to offer supporting information or attract attention by offering a prize — delivered to the winner’s door.
- Virtual exhibition booths and trade shows
Your sponsors may benefit from setting up a virtual trade booth, with live online chat, online brochures, video and special offers. Virtual booths also enable sponsors to broadcast live or recorded product demos and schedule meetings with delegates.
- Sponsored add-ons – thinking outside the square
Increase the value for sponsors by offering opportunities outside of a major event, which is also a good way to build more loyal customer relationships.
Try a sponsored life-skills session, tips on working from home, tax tips for businesses during the pandemic, or more casual networking opportunities such as quiz nights or ‘paint and sip’ creative workshops.
- Virtual swag bag
Don’t forget the thing many people look forward to most at conferences and other events – the swag bag.
Online gift cards, online vouchers, streaming service subscriptions and even non-profit donations can make great gifts. Create a section on your event platform where sponsors can list or link to special offers, or attendees can redeem them or obtain codes for fulfilment on other sites.
While it’s sometimes hard to know what gets used in a physical delegate bag, it’s much easier to track the effectiveness of an online offer.
- Let your event live on
Unlike physical events, virtual events can live online for as long as they’re still attracting views, building engagement, informing audiences and promoting sponsors. They are also a great source of reusable video content both for your own brand and for your virtual event sponsors.
Re-package and re-send content with a word from your sponsor once, or many times, depending on how much video content your event generates.
Digital events can be packaged up into highlight reels, individual sessions and short-form video snippets. These can include sponsor acknowledgements such as opening and closing slides with logos and links.
On-demand content hosted online also enables sponsors to collect audience data and take advantage of the same options for on-screen real estate that you provided your sponsors during the live event, such as on-page logos and links, and evergreen content offers.
A speaker session or Q&A may also be able to be repackaged into a podcast after the event. Top and tail the event audio with a new intro and out-tro and include a mention of your sponsors where relevant.
- Post-event emails and social
Don’t forget to acknowledge your sponsors in your post-event emails with mentions, logos and links. If your sponsors provided speakers or participated in the event, you may wish to feature them in newsletters and blogs exploring the highlights.
- Measure and report
With the right permission from your attendees, you may be able to provide your sponsors with delegates lists, attendee titles and company names, as well as the responses to polls or surveys.
By tracking attendee registrations, event engagement, viewership of particular sessions (and where this may have peaked or tailed off), you’ll have lots of valuable information to share with sponsors — and to get you started on planning your next association event.
Have a meeting with your sponsors after the event and present the results to them, to ensure each sponsor is aware of the full value the event delivered.
Membership-based bodies that can creatively engage with sponsors to identify and exceed their objectives — and prove the value they can deliver — will be in the best position to maintain and extend their event revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Redback Connect conducts more than 2500 virtual events and conferences a year for our customers. Reach out to one of our consultants if we can help your association develop new ways to engage with virtual event sponsors.