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The months following the COVID 19 pandemic have taught everyone in the events industry some incredibly difficult lessons. These go well beyond how exposed and vulnerable a business is when you take away its ability to actually operate. The events industry has been forced to go virtual and this, in turn means event sponsorship has also had to adapt to this brave new world.
Revenue has always been a major problem in the sector. Simply put, balancing the books is difficult because of the overall costs involved — surviving on ticket sales alone is magical thinking for many organisers. Thanks to high overheads, passes would completely outprice many people that want to attend if this was the standard modus. And that's what we call shooting yourself in the foot.
Balancing the need to make profit with the ability to draw in the required audience is never going to be easy. This was true for those throwing three-day conferences pre-COVID-19, and the issue has only become more evident since then. Digital-only gatherings rarely hit the same ticket price point as IRL due to the perception these are cheaper to run, and lack many side-line elements.
Meanwhile, ongoing restrictions and enforced social distancing at events means real world capacities are still well below anything remotely viable.
Suffice to say, this situation presents a serious case for event and virtual event sponsorship — bringing in brands that want to align with your offering, and tap into your following, in exchange for investment.
Of course this is easier said than done — according to Bizzabo, 37% of event professionals say delivering the value sponsors expect is a major challenge.
Confidence is also low when it comes to actually securing a partnership deal, which is where Eventcube can help. What follows is our ultimate guide to virtual event sponsorship ideas, which should hopefully spark some inspiration ahead of your next announcement. We've carefully screened and listed out several virtual event sponsorship opportunities that generate multiple streams of revenue.
Brand activations were a common site at the music festivals we all loved to attend and hated recovering from. But there's no reason this can't transfer into a digital space — you just need to start the process much earlier.
A major example of this was Jamestown, the company behind New York's iconic One Times Square New Year's Eve event. Suffice to say it didn't happen in person last time round, but alongside Samsung, AWS, Twitch, NASA and Ultimate Gamer crowds could explore the famous landmark through AR with digital art, interactive brand experiences and more.
The focus for any brand activation at a virtual event should always be usefulness. If we look at the pre-pandemic world there are countless examples of this being done poorly, and a few worth remembering for good reasons.
For example, Benefit Cosmetics' Glastonbury pop-up offered to make participants 'festival ready' for free, but also gave out genuine essentials like dry shampoo, wipes and stylish ponchos.
That's the perfect way to adapt sponsorship opportunities for virtual events. This may seem far removed from where most of the events industry is today, but by applying the same principles to virtual events it's possible to come away with similar levels of success and ensure attendees never forget the experience, or your sponsor brand.
The pre-event period is a great time to gain visibility. The best way is to include sponsor branding into the regular online content. It gives them way more opportunities than just one banner ad leading to multiple mentions across different channels.
For instance, logo'd email signatures are better than banners because they lead to enhanced exposure. A pre-event fireside chat might be just what you need before heading into an event that will feature many brands for one night only.
OK, there are several drawbacks to branding merchandise for events. Firstly, this isn't the cheapest way to create virtual event sponsorship opportunities if you're doing it properly — a few pencils and a sticker are not going to impress anyone, meaning you need to think properly about what kind of swag (i.e. goodies being given away) is really going to resonate with attendees. Again, this is about adding value, not just shoving logos in people's faces.
Virtual events are no different to IRL when it comes to swag, and how to use it properly. Of course, you will need to allocate more budget to cover postage costs and getting goodie bags out nice and early, so people have them in time for the event itself, is essential, but this can really help add an extra level of immersion when the day comes. Just think about giveaways that genuinely enhance the experience.
For example, a small bottle of gin and tonic for a hospitality and spirits conference. Or cheese and biscuits sent out to people's homes so they can snack on these while attending the wine seminar. The list really could go on and on, with plenty of options for this no matter what sector you are in, making this one of the most creative virtual event sponsorship ideas.
You can always surprise attendees with a physical delivery by sending items directly to attendees before or after their experience. But it would help if you thought about what items are worth sending before you send them.
Consider partnering with a local catering service for lunch deliveries during business hours. Again, make sure you're careful in your choices and respect COVID guidelines, as many people might dislike collecting packages or food items from third parties.
With many people working remotely and many of us unable to work, consider sponsored offers to help people pass the time. If you could work out a deal with a streaming service or VPN to provide better offerings to attendees all over the world, you can be sure they'll remember you fondly.
You have the option of having the workouts or courses delivered online. You can choose something that aligns with their persona and helps them move ahead.
A brand partnership is one of the most effective virtual event sponsorship ideas for driving ROI. But it cannot survive unless all parties see eye-to-eye. That's essentially marketing 101, and it applies whether the brand is a multinational or individual.
The two brands should share values. One recent example of this being done well, which also clearly shows we are living in the future, is the World Health Organisation and Knox Frost. 'He' is a virtual influencer known for promoting healthy lifestyles and wellness. WHO is a global agency concerned with healthcare which needed a big visibility boost for its campaigns last year.
Ultimately, this really comes down to basic brand partnership principles — the need for two partner organisations to align. Other memorable examples of this include TED and Rolex, which arguably set a benchmark for sophisticated gatherings by combining the famously elegant Swiss watch manufacturer with the inherently intelligent series of presentations.
How's that for the thinking person's partnership? Less academic, much more glam, Toronto International Film Festival has successfully been allied with leading hair care brand L'Oreal for several years now. Outside of the events sector, we think energy drink and extreme sports giant Red Bull teaming up with everyone's favourite HD head cam, GoPro, made a hell of a lot of sense.
Historically this is one of the most popular approaches to festival sponsorship and larger gatherings. Sprawling sites with countless areas and stages are notoriously difficult to navigate as an audience member, not least once night falls and the lighting becomes disorientating, at which point you may have had a little bit too much fun and consumed a few too many centilitres of your favourite tipple(s), adding to the problem.
Signposting and wayfinding iconography really helps, and if it comes with a brand partner logo or similar then all the better.
Just because you're running a virtual event doesn't mean there's no need for wayfinding, it just comes in a slightly different format. It's still one of the most engaging virtual event sponsorship opportunities that you should consider.
If you have created a sprawling and immersive virtual environment then this is really a case of transposing the signage into the digital venue you have developed. For more general stream events, though, you can still create some quality wayfinding partners through the clever use of outbound links.
Tying your sponsorship to attendee engagement is the best way to make sure people stay tuned. Suggest your sponsors donate prizes to gain visibility and a chance to earn some free swag! With so many virtual event platforms out there, you may choose to gamify your own events.
Back in 2018, The Sponsorship Guy — a leading expert in virtual, hybrid and IRL event sponsorship — wrote a blog entitled 'Great Data Wins Sponsorships: Where To Find It and How To Use It'. We highly recommend taking a proper look, because the post explains how data is a key selling point for brands, but the data has to be 'good'.
This means looking at psychographics and behavioural analytics and moving past the old hat demographics of 'English Male, 37' into more specific details about what these people really do, how they act and, crucially, how they make purchasing decisions.
To understand just how much data is now driving the events industry you only need to look at this blog post on b2b website, Eventsforce. Entitled 'Industry Insight: The Growing Importance of Data in Events', it was written back in 2017 and contains some crucial facts — namely that 84% of organisers saw data as a huge challenge, but 70% were planning on making significant improvements to their data capture methods in order to gather more information. That was almost four years ago, and pandemic or not the sector has moved fast in this area, meaning in 2023 you can't afford not to engage.
The first step in this process is scanning business cards and collecting data (with your attendees permission) that allows you to build up contact details for potential leads. Then categorise these contacts by qualifications like industry type, job description or location. Once ordered and cleaned, this information is golden for your sponsors.
This is a popular one in any list of sponsorship ideas for virtual events. It works in two really powerful ways. First up — and this is particularly true for one-off, debutant and young events — advertising your affiliation with a respected, relevant household or industry brand can really boost your perceived market credibility.
More importantly, though, incentivising prospective audiences by offering discounts, gifts and exclusive deals is a great way to boost attendance. And if you don't believe us just look at this blog from SeedProd, '10 Event Landing Pages (and How To Make One)'.
SwiftDigital ran a pretty comprehensive summary article on 'Why Your Event Needs a Landing Page'. It lists a number of reasons, and these include the way landing pages funnel traffic and focus conversions, alongside their usefulness in terms of social media marketing.
It also runs through what you should make sure the landing page includes, from basics what the event is, runs it and when and where it will take place; through to more subtle details like the position and length of attendee sign-up forms, one-touch sharing on major social media platforms, and, of course, logos for any and all affiliated brands.
We'd also say you need to have all this there, without overwhelming visitors with a chaotic landing page, which is why great design is so essential.
Many brands and sponsors use events as the perfect opportunity to place their products in the hands of potential customers. During physical events, swag bags and giveaways worked well, but what about virtual events?
Well, online tools & software that fit with your audience's requirements will work well here. For example if you are hosting a virtual event on digital marketing trends, you could do partnerships with companies that provide tools for this audience. Then build a unique landing page with exclusive attendee only discounts.
Virtual events offer a unique means to gift and trial new products amidst a new target market, raising both brand awareness and delighting event attendees. Guests leave humbled and happy in the receipt of exclusive offers from either one or a number of sponsors whilst brands relish in the opportunity to gift directly to what might become a future valuable customer.
The registration page or website is another perfect place for sponsorship. It's prime real estate. Don't forget to clearly state the sponsors, so people don't get confused about who organised it all along.
A final word of advice is to make sure your sponsorship opportunity doesn't create any friction on the registration page. You don't want anything distracting, messaging, or graphics that hamper capturing the contact information from the visitors.
A no-brainer considering professional virtual event platforms facilitate multiple breakout rooms; why not make one of those the 'X Brand Lounge' or similar?
2021’s Winter Music Conference in Miami had a huge digital programme alongside a smaller IRL offering, with a host of major audio, DJ and music brands partnering, many of which hosted their own virtual 'chill out' rooms.
For those not into jargon, that's a breakout room by any other name. This could also be applied to digital after parties, fringe events and more. It presents the perfect way to convert these touchpoints into virtual event sponsorship opportunities.
Although it's focused on the education sectors, We Are Teachers has a very useful piece on '10 Ideas For Using Virtual Breakout Rooms During Distance Learning'. This is particularly insightful in terms of the recommendations for how teachers should behave within the virtual environment, for example the need to 'circulate' (or dip in and out of different rooms) during the lesson, or in our case throughout the event.
Eventcube’s Virtual Venue feature allows you to creative virtual breakout rooms, which can be fully branded by your sponsors.
It also highlights the use of polls during the stream as a necessity in order to ascertain exactly how participants are finding the experience and then have go-to adjustments ready to show them their thoughts and feelings are being taken on board and acted on. Again, this seems like an absolutely underrated way to sell sponsorships for virtual events.
Are your sponsors hosting or participating in one of the sessions? Offer your sponsor the opportunity to join a Q&A afterward with the attendees. These Q&A sessions are great ways to involve your attendees and get them invested in the event.
These sessions can be done virtually, or you could have people submit questions throughout for presenters who will answer at the end of each session.
People have loved using photo booths with their friends for longer than anyone can remember — most likely as long as this technology has existed. Diving behind the curtain to pull funny faces and taking away a reel of pictures as a memento is a really popular way of taking memories and turning them into something more tangible and permanent, and after the rise of image-based social media platforms in the last decade you can see that the joy of taking pictures is as visible as it ever has been.
When this happens through a brand partnership, the results can be huge, making 'photo booths' an honorable mention in the list of sponsorship ideas for virtual events.
So how about we apply this principle to the digital world? Tying in with a brand that has a large presence on platforms like Instagram or Pinterest could lend itself to running user generated photo competitions and other campaigns, essentially piggybacking on their established reach in order to promote content relevant or directly relating to your virtual event.
In turn, the brand will receive an influx of new followers that have only been introduced to the company's social presence because they were at, or are attending, your virtual event. Of course, given the powerful filmmaking equipment in everyone's pockets, there's no reason this should have to be all about still shots — why not open submissions up to include short videos (and platforms like TikTok)?
People are craving something new and exciting after rigorous lockdowns. That's your opportunity. Planners can set up clients with sponsored happy hours, giving them options to brand within the community and leverage networking.
Growing their businesses through relationships built on trust and understanding is still a powerful strategy that's bound to work because of ongoing social isolation due to the pandemic.
This one is a very, very big deal and not a move we would suggest taking lightly. Handing over the naming rights of your event is a serious commitment to the brand partnership, and we've seen some epic fails over the years.
This is also pretty difficult to manage in terms of expectations. Brands will want coverage to include the full event name, but how many people ever really called Reading and Leeds festival 'The Carling Weekend'? The lager's reputation for poor quality drinking is likely to have contributed to the relatively short-lived nature of the deal, too.
And that's why our first point — choosing sponsors you agree with — always comes first. Nevertheless, partnerships like O2 Wireless have succeeded, partly because the branded event name actually works well.
Sponsorship Collective has a comprehensive blog post on this very subject, which includes breaking things down into Title Sponsorship and Presenting Rights. If you're already unsure as to what the difference is, then please do read up on this as there are significant separating factors between the two. It is one of the most difficult to execute virtual event sponsorship ideas.
Brainstorming new ways to add sponsorships for virtual events is a fun activity that leads to interesting paths. Here's one of those. Just because you have an event sponsor doesn't mean their sponsorship presence is limited to the event only.
Likewise, they don't necessarily need to be the overall event sponsor. Apps are becoming more and more integral to running and managing events, and from an audience perspective, mobile devices are central to many experiences.
You might build one for keeping lineup news up to date or contain a digital, easy to read version of the event’s schedule. Another example would be Firestarters, a festival of conversations on mental health and creativity that ran in March 2021 and used video messaging and sharing platform URFeed to run its panel discussions, rather than live streaming. In most cases, there's an opportunity to brand, and therefore also sponsor, elements of such software.
Some experts are already campaigning in favour of a new job, Event Technologist, who will work with promoters and other hosts to ensure that the tech side of the event utilises all the available tools to ensure the experience isn't just enjoyable, but seamless. This push to create a future-proof niche role for events is understandable when you consider some of the numbers we've heard — like how just 38% or event organisers feel they are confident technology users, and how only 20% labelled themselves "tech-savvy".
The best way to make an impression on your audience is with engaging videos. For starters, take inspiration from live streaming services like YouTube. You could add text overlays or similar graphics during interviews with experts who talk about their experiences.
During break time, prompt attendees to view a short video ad designed by our sponsor and made just for this occasion. Make sure you get buy-in from your sponsors. The videos should be timed well enough so people can watch without feeling too interruptive.
When choosing between a variety of live streaming platforms or sponsorship packages, discuss with the sponsors and be sure to check what your options are before settling on one that suits your needs.
This is a simple trick that's heavily under-utilised. Never waste the opportunity to include sponsored branding while transitioning between slides, presenters, and sessions. You could successfully add branded slides with logos.
If the sponsor is a speaker, include the images that show their smiling face and contact information. Thank your sponsors for ads during breaks. Be sure to negotiate how long the ads will stay up on the screen.
Another fantastic idea is to layer your company's logo onto the lower third of the screen during commercials or between programs. You could even go fullscreen for everything from sponsored presentations, live Q&A sessions, and of course, intros.
This could come under brand activation, if you want to get technical, but scavenger hunts are a little different to most activations in that they are about active participation rather than passive engagement, if that makes sense.
No? OK, how about this, then — scavenger hunts make people use their brain to complete branded challenges, rather than just receiving free samples of company products. The result is messaging and branding is much more likely to stay with people after the experience ends.
As with wayfinding (see number 5), there's no reason scavenger hunts can't go virtual and it doesn't have to be high tech VR. Of course we would love to see more truly immersive virtual reality scavenger hunt experiences, but as countless lockdown quizzes showed us in 2020, you run a scavenger hunt simply by setting people the task of finding items in their own home.
If this can somehow be done in a brand-friendly way, we say that sounds like a clever way of introducing more sponsorship opportunities to your virtual event. Socialtables has a very comprehensive summary of scavenger hunts IRL, most of which can be applied to virtual if you really put your mind to it and think resourcefully.
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