Due to the current environment and decisions by many event producers to shift from live to virtual events, Andy Herman, Vice President, Sponsorships & Events at Event Marketing Partners, surveyed three sponsorship veterans: Denise Sabel, Global Business Development Manager with Intel; John Tatusko, Head of Sales for Informa Tech; and Rom Portwood, EMP Sponsorship Sales Team, to delve into their 2020 virtual sponsorship strategies. This included discussing what they’ve identified as best practices and recommendations based upon their experiences.
The biggest adjustment in each industry veteran’s sponsorship strategy was an abrupt shift from a planned mix where live events were the chief component to virtual events dominating their sponsorship strategy for this year. It will be interesting to see how well live events are received by sponsors and attendees in the coming months, but all agree they will include virtual components for a long time to come. In fact, the online components of face-to-face events will need to be robust enough to serve as the sole arm of any program in the event of cancellation due to potential pandemics.
- In reviewing platforms to meet sponsorship needs, the results of our survey illustrated that virtual event platforms often provided too much flexibility with few recommendations on how to provide potential sponsors with unique opportunities/options. They were each providing sponsors the ability to engage with attendees as that was their primary goal at live events. In reality, engagement with attendees seems to have presented challenges both in platform design and tech support.
- Overall, it appears virtual platforms will require the same amount of resources, time, and energy as face-to-face events to meet the needs of sponsors. In fact, initially, virtual events have required more effort due to a host of factors including learning curves and team members on both sides of the equation being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (health, quarantines, furloughs, and like).
- From an attendee standpoint, it’s hard for virtual events to compete with face-to-face engagement. When online, attendees are distracted by their day jobs and can ‘mute and minimize’ at any time. To compensate, most attendee activity should be pre-scheduled. Event teams are going to need to ensure virtual programs are designed to engage attendees with the event and its sponsors. This includes having a process and communication plan in place, as one would for a live event. Plus, it’s critical that attendees and sponsors know who and how to contact the event organizer, not just the tech company providing the platform.
- As far as sponsorship revenue is concerned, two of the veterans were all getting close to their goals, with very similar pricing to onsite events. The third stated their pricing and revenue goals were dramatically less than the onsite version. Opportunity does exist for revenue growth as new sponsorship opportunities are identified and explored, plus the number of sponsors can be (potentially) ‘limitless’.
- Sponsor feedback on virtual events has been positive when it comes to many aspects of the virtual platforms including live and video on demand, chat sessions and some features typically offered for live events (documents available for attendee download and links to sponsor websites). Virtual platforms also offer what some lead retrieval vendors offer for live events – the ability to access attendee data instantly.
They also seem to be pleased with virtual booths and happy hours which attendees can participate in. This is especially beneficial when it comes to showing virtual demos, exhibits, and theater sessions. Each of us is well-aware of the impact the pandemic has had on our daily lives, society, and the event industry. At EMP, we are happy that technology supports virtual events, but understand face-to-face interaction is a key component to all aspects of life and commerce. We believe face to face events of the future will likely have a virtual component and they are here to stay. But we look forward to the near future when live events provide a place to personally engage in a safe, respectful manner; where hosts, sponsors, and attendees can greet one another with a handshake, fist bump, elbow bump or just a friendly smile of acknowledgement and get down to business.