If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: These are strange times.
Just a few months ago, we were all excited for the upcoming event season, then COVID-19 very quickly changed things.
Seemingly overnight every private and public event was canceled and went virtual, and good, bad, or otherwise, it is looking like these events are here to stay.
Being a “glass half full” kind of guy, one really positive thing to come from all of these event cancellations is the fact that virtual events were forced to get a lot better in a shorter period of time.
Going from the 30-minute sales demo we used to call “webinars” to full-day virtual conferences was never the dream, but it became the reality, fast.
I applaud every event organizer out here who made the best of a bad situation all in the name of driving value for their company, their sponsors, and most importantly, their attendees.
When it comes to live event sponsorships, the playbook has been written and executed on for… well… ever.
Historically, virtual event sponsorships were in the form of these sales demo webinars and of little value to the organizers, sponsors, and attendees, but was something we all felt like we should be doing.
Thanks to COVID-19, that changes now.
Why sponsor a virtual event?
The fact is that virtual events are where everyone’s attention is right now.
In the past few months, as everyone is social distancing, we have seen a lot of virtual events pop up.
With about five months left this year, I’d expect to see this list top out around 200, and that is just the events we know about!
IMPACT’s director of demand generation, Kirsten Harold, had this take on the current state of virtual events.
“The last few months my inbox has been flooded with virtual event invitations. As live events became restricted, we saw a lot of brands lean heavily on virtual and not all of them have done it well. That said, virtual events can still be a valuable play in your marketing plan. The key is making the content stand out above the noise in the market. I see niche virtual events that are tactical for the user as the way forward.”
So, like everything in life, where people go, the dollars flow.
With their large, active audiences, virtual event sponsorships have become one of the most effective ways to drive awareness and generate leads for companies of all sizes.
In fact, sponsoring a virtual event is far less expensive than a traditional live event sponsorship.
Most live event sponsorships cost anywhere from $4,000 to $100,000 and in some extreme cases, up to $1,250,000. Virtual sponsorships, on the other hand, usually top out at around $15, 000.
This has opened up significantly more opportunities for the small companies who couldn’t pony up the big-bucks large conferences charge to get in the door.
So if you’ve found yourself saying “my sales team is starving right now” and you need a quick and effective way to drive awareness and leads, virtual events are probably a great way to fill the gap while you ramp up your digital sales and marketing strategy.
It doesn’t look like they are going away anytime soon.
Once you find an event that looks to fit the bill, here are a few things you’ll want to drill down on to be confident that sponsoring it is worth your investment:
How do they make sure people actually show up?
Subject matter fit
The event host and organizers have a large enough reach are they qualified to host this
The event has a 2-3 big-name speakers
If all these boxes are checked, you can start thinking about sponsorship.
What do virtual event sponsorships look like?
The options for virtual event sponsorships are seemingly endless as event organizers are working hard to figure out pricing and packaging. So let’s walk through some of the most common packages and options out right now.
The virtual booth felt like the most natural progression when pivoting from a live event given it is was the baseline for event sponsorships.
A virtual booth is a “room” where attendees can, like at a live event, chat with your company representatives, learn about your brand, and check out your offers.
The cost can range from $2,500-$15,000 when paired with other sponsored services.
Complete with polls, Q&A, giveaways, handouts, offers, and promo videos, these booths are pretty stacked with everything a prospect would need to learn about doing business with your company.
The most common problem with virtual booths is that often attendees will “enter” the booth, maybe ask a question or watch your promo video, and leave within ~60 seconds. Things they could easily do directly on your site or live chat
Unfortunately, given how much time and effort it takes to get a virtual booth set up and the lack of any engagement, we haven’t found these booths translate well online and the ROI is pretty low.
If you find yourself with a booth, I recommend pairing it with another offer like a presenting sponsorship.
Another way to describe a sponsored speaker, a presenting sponsorship can be a live or pre-recorded 30-60 minute presentation during a virtual event to educate attendees and show the value of your company, while you interact and respond to their questions in real-time.
Your company logo and branding will be displayed prominently on the event agenda, in-event session landing page. You’ll also receive the list of the attendees that opted-in to hear from sponsors and joined your session.
If you are going to opt for this type of sponsorship, focus on creating a really inspiring and effective talk title and description over-relying on a big name or high-level employee speaking.
Attendees can jump from session to session quickly and no matter if your CEO or marketing coordinator is speaking, value is the most important thing. If you don’t deliver it, attendees will bounce.
If you do deliver the value, attendees won’t care much who is giving it to them.
The cost to be a presenting sponsor can range from $1,000-$15,000 when paired with other sponsored services such as virtual booths and other in-event logo placements or advertisements.
However, some events work in a flat rate model where the cost is fixed no matter how many people show up to the event and your session.
In an effort to remove the risk from the sponsor and onto the event organizer it is common for event hosts to charge based on performance. Meaning you will only pay for the number of leads you receive.
These sessions are not the place for your canned sales pitch or demo, but where you can solidify your place in the eyes of your audience as a teacher.
When it comes to becoming the best teacher and educator in your industry, a presenting sponsorship is one of the best ways to up brand awareness and generate high quality leads based on intent.
Consumers across both the B2B and B2C space have been changing the way they make their purchasing decisions. Buyers now turn to your content to understand who you are and what you do. They do all their research before actually contacting your company.
As brands, we must teach buyers how they want to learn.
The presenting sponsorship pairs with this approach perfectly by putting educating your audience first — not the sales pitch.
Plus, the reality is not everyone who watches your session is looking to purchase something.
In fact, most may not be in the market for your specific “thing” and creating a need, but showing your expertise as an authority on the subject, and having content the audience can refer to after the session is just as important.
Event organizers will typically provide you a list of attendees who have opted-in to hearing from sponsors (always stay compliant, people!) as well as things like, name, email, company name, title, how long they were in your session, responses to polls, and session feedback scores to name a few.
Sharing lead lists will always be a bit taboo but it is the reality of the event world right now so be sure you get as much relevant information about the contact as possible.
There is absolutely nothing worse than when a company sells your info and getting a tone-deaf email or phone call. This is the fastest way to lose credibility with any audience, especially now.
Not to mention you can make the most out of the list you get if it is hyper-personalized and contextual.
It’s important to note that lead lists, when consent is obtained properly, are compliant and when nurtured properly, can be a very effective way to close net new business.
Session air time is highly competitive and attendees will bounce if you don’t deliver value every second of your stage time so it is critical to bring your A-game.
We’ve found that having an airtight talk title and description is significantly more important and a direct driver of session attendees than any other variable.
This means you don’t need to tap into your c-suite to host your session talk and that your marketing manager has just as much of a shot at giving an amazing presentation to a packed house if you focus on what you’re talking about and less about who's talking.
Exposure / Promo
This could be a combination of a lot of little things your event organizer can do for you.
Typically, it includes logos in emails, social media posts, ad placement across the in-event experience, and on the website.
Most of which is really just a fancy way of saying “we’re going to put your logo all over the place.”
The cost can range from $5,000-$15,000 when paired with other sponsored services
Brand associations are a powerful way to generate awareness and solidify partnerships in extremely competitive markets.
Your logo beside those that are highly respected in your industry establishes a sense of intangible legitimacy and authority that can carve out your place as a leader in the eyes of your prospective clients.
With how data-driven marketing has become, it is near impossible to track the ROI of logo placements.
Especially given how advanced paid search and social reporting metrics are, it doesn’t often make sense to carve money out of your budget for a service like this when those dollars can go a lot further in the hands of a capable paid advertising manager.
What type of virtual event sponsorship is best?
This is a classic case of “it depends.”
The two big benefits of virtual event sponsorships are increased brandawareness and leads.
If increasing brand awareness is your main goal, then any of the above sponsorship options will get the job done but know it’ll be difficult to track and tie revenue back to your effort.
If lead generation is your goal, the most effective way to do this is to become a presenting sponsor of a virtual event and collect the session attendee and any companion data available to have the most contextual conversation possible.
We must remember that for all quantifiable business outcomes and deals you can close from sponsoring virtual events, the most important (and intangible) is the trust you build with audience members by meeting them where they are and showing up as a leader and educator in your space.
When you show up as a helpful teacher rather than a cold corporation, you are able to connect and build relationships with your audience that are even more valuable long-term than a short-term sale.