With the Right Touches, Virtual Events Can Be Very Sponsor-Friendly

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You've converted one of your premier events to a virtual event. How do you keep your sponsors? Do you adjust their pricing? Change the time period? Give more guarantees?
 
The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University had their Collaborative Journalism Summit set for Charlotte, N.C. on May 14–15. Then, of course, they had to go virtual. "We let our sponsors know that several of their packages would have to change since we weren't hosting in person," they wrote on NiemanLab. "Every confirmed sponsor stuck with us, even our North Carolina-based sponsors—a testament to their commitment to collaborative journalism and knowledge sharing. The new sponsorship package included showing on-screen sponsor slides and messaging during the conference, and sharing links in the chat."
 
But in the end, they said that if they do another virtual conference, they would do some things differently. "[We would] completely recreate sponsor packages. We mostly focused on converting the in-person components of our sponsor packages into virtual components this year. Next time, we'll focus on fundamentally reimagining what sponsorship looks like in a 100-percent-virtual setting."
 
Other ideas:
 
Position your sponsors differently. An ASAE article last month said that Instead of refunding conference sponsorship fees or transferring this year's sponsorship to next year, organizations can benefit by finding new ways to position sponsors as supporting your audience. For example, sponsors could provide information to help your audience/members with challenges identified in recent surveys, issues related to changes in the marketplace, or new pain points as a result of the coronavirus.
 
Continue to connect buyers and sellers. "Why does someone buy into an event?" SIPA 2020 June 2 keynote speaker Krystle Kopacz asked last week. "I've been working with a couple clients—why does someone spend a ton of money to host a booth? They want to have face-to-face conversations with possible clients. So how does the lack of live events across the industry affect us? What does that do to lead generation efforts? And how are you refilling that pipeline? Publishers still have a key role to play between buyers and sellers. There are many ways you can mimic what live events do."
 
Forfeit some revenue now for goodwill. "...There are brands that've done a good job of sticking up their hand to say, 'We understand you, we're with you, and we're not trying to sell you anything right now, we just want to engage,'" said Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of Translation in a Fast Company article. "I think that's the work that's resonated the most for me. Brands with good intentions. They're selling something at a discount that you need. They're speaking to you in a way that seems empathetic to what you're going through."
 
Rebrand the sponsorship for a longer period. Identify the various ways to provide your conference sponsors with "replacement value" throughout the year. This could include podcast mentions, dissemination of thought leadership content, webinars, social media campaigns, outreach to a specific demographic of your members, promotion of each company's webinars or seminars, and so forth.
 
Give more gravitas to the virtual event. The Center for Cooperative Media said that they were so successful in their conversion to the virtual event that they will keep an in-place component for future conferences. "We were able to include so many more people this year by hosting in place that we're now thinking about making a live, interactive virtual conference a permanent part of the Summit for as long as the Summit exists." They actually made their tickets free, but registration increased so much that more sponsors signed on.
 
Keep everything as is because these virtual events may be the future. Companies are actually starting to take advantage of the way we're doing things now. Margaret Johnson, a partner and chief creative officer at Goodby Silverstein + Partners, said that for a Panera commercial, "We're getting drivers to shoot themselves with their phones on their delivery routes, texting us the takes, then we're texting back notes and direction on how to do it again differently. It all seems so foreign at first, but you quickly adapt. I believe the people who haven't really embraced this new world will be in big trouble."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…