How Virtual Events Help Sponsors Achieve Their Marketing Goals—and Chapters Achieve Their Revenue Goals

We’re at the phase in the coronavirus crisis when everyone is exhausted by their present circumstances and searching around for silver linings. Here’s one we’re seeing mentioned quite often: associations are having to shift directions and experiment with new ideas. Yes, these pivots hurt in the short-term but the long-term impact could be marvelous.

Take for example, virtual events. Members want to continue learning and connecting—more than ever, perhaps, given the economic and societal impact of this crisis. To meet that need, associations and chapters are hosting virtual events to replace their canceled in-person events. In the future, they may continue offering virtual events for professionals who normally can’t or won’t attend the usual events.

Associations are also lining up new sources of revenue from virtual event sponsors. In our last post, we suggested that chapters talk with their sponsors and exhibitors about how virtual events can help them achieve their marketing goals. Now, let’s take a look at some of those goals and the sponsorship opportunities your chapters can offer to support them.


Sponsor Goal: Thought Leadership

Many chapters have drawn a line between content and vendors—never the two shall meet. Unfortunately, this rigid attitude causes chapters to miss out on sharing the expertise of sponsors. These members of your professional community interact with a wide range of clients, leads, and partners. They have valuable knowledge and information to share with members.

Sponsors would rather teach than sell, so give them that opportunity—more accurately, sell them that opportunity. For example, give sponsors the opportunity to co-present a live or recorded session, perhaps a case study with a member client or a recap of research findings.

Other thought leadership options are:

  • Panel moderator
  • Keynote/speaker interviewer
  • Q&A or chat go-between/facilitator

Sponsors could host Zoom or web-conferencing breakout rooms for session “table” discussions and informal roundtables. Allow them to invite purchasing decision-makers (VIPs) to exclusive deep dive sessions with keynote speakers.

Offer year-round thought leadership opportunities to sponsors who have expertise to share with members, for example, a sponsored webinar or video series. IASA offers active (speaking) and passive (advertising) sponsorships for their webinars.

Sponsored content is another option: articles, white papers, research reports, tip sheets, checklists, and templates. A sponsored pulse survey would be helpful to members right now given their interest in the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and responses to the crisis by others in their industry.

“Sponsors could provide information to help members with challenges identified in recent member surveys, issues related to changes in the marketplace, or new pain points as a result of the coronavirus,” said Dan Kowitz and Bruce Rosenthal, co-conveners of the Partnership Professionals Network.

Sponsor Goal: Brand Awareness

Help sponsors get their names and faces out there by giving them the opportunity to host pre-event virtual coffee breaks or happy hours. They could also pay for the privilege of serving as volunteer orientation guides for your virtual event platform.

Display sponsor logos on slides and thank-you videos between sessions. Play video ads or informercials before sessions—and keep those ads with the recording for on-demand viewing. Just like in-person events, let sponsors make speaker introductions and run Q&As at the end of sessions.

Get creative with how you leverage your virtual event platform for sponsorship opportunities. For example, let sponsors host virtual happy hours, breaks, and lunch tables during the event. In their breakrooms, they can host fun activities during breaks, for example, chair yoga, lessons on juggling household items, trivia contests, or Jeopardy.


Exhibitor Goal: Show Off A New Product

A more challenging task is replicating an exhibit booth or tabletop exhibit, but associations are attempting it. Assign exhibitors a web-conferencing breakout room where they can showcase or demo their product/service. A company representative can act as the room’s host and provide downloadable materials or links to a special event landing page.

If you’re using an event app in conjunction with the virtual event, encourage exhibitors and attendees to take advantage of its appointment scheduling tool.

Turn a section of your website into an expo hall with a page for each exhibitor that includes promotional information, videos, and a link to more information. Encourage exhibitors to create a special landing page or URL so they can track referrals.


Sponsor & Exhibitor Goal: Meet Leads & Decision-Makers 

In an ASAE Collaborate discussion, the CEO of the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS) wrote about their recent virtual conference success. Sponsors were assigned a time and Zoom breakout room for “meet and greet” sessions during breaks. They gave presentations and demos—the “virtual equivalent of exhibit hours.” Depending on the number of sponsors and exhibitors, you could assign limited hours like ATLIS did or provide a breakout room for the entire event.

You could also ask sponsors to host virtual pre- or post-event lunch and learns, coffee breaks, or happy hours. The sponsor pays for the opportunity, but also sends gift cards (UberEats or GrubHub) for snacks/beverages to attendees. While attendees break bread (or pop corks) together, they can discuss work-related and other hot topics.


Now’s the Time to Develop a Sustainable Sponsorship Program

Looking back a year from now, it will be interesting to see what new strategies, tactics, and programs came out of this crisis. It’s a good time to experiment and consider ideas you may have dismissed in the past as impossible, impractical, or inappropriate. It’s also a crucial time in your relationship with sponsors. To get through this financial crisis, you need to be there to help each other.

Keep your eyes open for sponsorship ideas from all kinds of sources, including other associations and for-profit organizations. We’ve seen good ideas in blog posts and webinars from PCMAMPIEventMBMeetingsNet, and Meetings Today.

We found these resources valuable too:

In an Associations Now article, Bruce Rosenthal said, “One key lesson learned… is for many years, most have put our sponsorship eggs in the conference basket. While this is an extreme instance, it’s really risky because of the presence of disease, weather, and other calamities. We have to ask what can we do differently in the future.”

You can help your chapters develop a more sustainable approach to non-dues revenue by showing them how to develop virtual and year-round sponsorship packages for their revenue partners.


With all this talk about virtual events, are you getting a little FOMO? Well then, download The Complete Guide to Virtual Event Creation to learn how to best to engage and showcase presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors.

How Virtual Events Help Chapters Recover Sponsorship Revenue from Cancelled Events

It’s not an exaggeration to say that nearly everyone in the association community is freaked out by the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis. A recent Partnership Professionals Network (PPN) survey found that 82% of respondents are extremely or very concerned that COVID-19 will result in less sponsorship revenue for their organization because of canceled events.

75% of the PPN survey respondents said their organization will incur a financial loss because of how they’re dealing with the sponsors of their canceled conferences:

  • Refunding the total fee to sponsors (35%)
  • Refunding a portion of the fee to sponsors (9%)
  • Applying the sponsor fee to the same event next year (33%), which will reduce next year’s sponsorship revenue

Only 49% are choosing a better option: applying sponsor fees or a portion of them to other events (virtual and/or in-person) and/or digital marketing opportunities this year. Why aren’t more associations and chapters choosing this route—a strategy that allows them to retain anticipated revenue and sponsors to receive anticipated marketing ROI?


Getting Chapters to See the Light

Members—professionals and suppliers—rely upon their chapter to provide regular education and networking opportunities. In the midst of this isolating and nerve-wracking crisis, now is not the time for chapters to go silent, nor is it the time for chapters to close their eyes to revenue-generating opportunities. Virtual events give members and sponsors the chance to enjoy what those canceled events promised.

In March, NAIOP held a virtual town hall with their chapter leaders during which their vice president of business development presented options for replacing event sponsorship revenue. Ask your association’s sales team—colleagues who manage sponsorships, exhibitions, and/or business development—to suggest sponsorship strategies and tactics that chapters can use for virtual events and year-round opportunities. But, if you don’t have those resources, share the advice we’re providing in this post and the next one.

Leverage your event and content assets

Talk to Sponsors & Exhibitors ASAP About Recovering Revenue, and Value From Cancelled Events

Sponsors and exhibitors are your revenue partners. Get in touch with them right away to discuss how you can work together to help them achieve their marketing goals. Dan Kowitz, co-convener of PPN, suggests taking this approach: “What we’d like to do is start to look at ways we can work with you to recognize that you are sticking with us in tough times and being a supporter. Let’s get a proactive communication program out that says our value partners aren’t leaving us. We are going to figure out ways [our members] can interact with you.”

Revenue partners may already think of sponsorship and exhibit fees as money spent. They were expecting a return on their investment in your event. How can you still deliver that value?

Talk to revenue partners about their event goals, for example:

  • Spreading brand awareness
  • Showing thought leadership
  • Meeting and qualifying potential leads
  • Moving leads along the sales funnel
  • Deepening relationships with clients

What did they hope to achieve in person? How can that be accomplished in a virtual environment?

Show them the tentative agendas for your upcoming virtual events. Create a video that walks them through the online meeting platform so they get a sense of the look and feel of the event. Create a sales page on the chapter website describing the different types of event and year-round sponsorship opportunities you can offer.

Keep in mind these considerations:

  • Is the sponsor’s marketing budget affected by coronavirus crisis?
  • Is their business suffering?
  • Does their staff have the bandwidth to take on these new opportunities?

Leverage Your Event & Content Assets

Think beyond the typical chapter event sponsorship and exhibit offerings—logos and tabletops. Look at your event app and event platform as virtual venues. How can you use that “real estate” to spread brand awareness for your sponsors?

Consider program goals too. What type of event-related content would attendees find valuable? Sponsors and exhibitors would rather teach than sell. How can they share their expertise during and after your event?

Sponsorship opportunities could include:

  • “Show daily” newsletter
  • Handouts
  • Tip sheets
  • Advertorials and other sponsored content

One advantage of virtual events is the attendee data they provide. You know exactly what attendees are doing, how many are doing it, what they’re saying, and what they’re clicking on. This engagement data can help chapters plan future content and programs, but it also helps sponsors and exhibitors learn about their leads and customers’ interests.

Don’t limit your brainstorming to event-related sponsorship opportunities. Sponsors would prefer to get in front of members throughout the year, not just a few days a year. In our next post, we’ll show you how to help sponsors achieve their marketing goals with thought leadership, brand awareness, and other opportunities at chapter events and throughout the year.

We have opportunities for CRPs to meet up virtually throughout the year. Check out our Events page for details on our next one. Or, follow us on TwitterFacebook and/or LinkedIn, and subscribe to our updates.

With all this talk about virtual events, are you getting a little FOMO? Well then, download The Complete Guide to Virtual Event Creation to learn how to best to engage and showcase presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors.


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About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.