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How to Monetize Your Virtual Event Through Sponsorships

Updated

The better your sponsors, the better virtual event experience you can give your guests.

Without a physical room to rent or flights to book, virtual events don’t intuitively seem like big investments. But virtual events are more expensive than they appear, with significant costs including:   

  1. Your virtual event software
  2. Creative costs (graphic design, etc.) 
  3. Labor costs (i.e., the people building the event, doing the promotion, graphics, etc.) 
  4. Credit card processing fees (per guests) 

Especially if your event isn’t charging admission, it’s important to offset those costs with a thoughtful monetization strategy. 

That virtual event monetization strategy should have three components: ticketing, sponsorships and exhibitors. Your choices in each of these areas should support your overall goal for the event: whether it’s maximizing demand, revenue or engagement. 

Here, we’ll focus exclusively on sponsors: how to secure them, how they can enhance the guest experience, and how you can work together to bring mutual value to your virtual event.

How to Score Sponsors  

Sell Them On Virtual Event Sponsorships

Virtual event sponsorships provide value for both host and sponsor, as we’ve seen among our customers at BigMarker. 

For example, one large professional association hosted an event with BigMarker that sold over 50 sponsorships across $5,000 - $10,000 price points, generating over $250,000 in sponsorship revenue during a three day event. A large global media company generated over $500,000 in sponsorship revenue for a similar event.

So you can secure valuable sponsors for your virtual events, but only if you can tell them how to leverage the virtual event setting to secure new business. 

Here, it’s important to position your virtual event sponsorship not just as the alternative to an IRL event, but a distinct opportunity with its own specific advantages—and ROI. 

Sponsors can recreate the live experience in a virtual format, then leverage some virtual-specific perks to take it over the top. As you pursue sponsors, organize your pitch around these points, adapted from Markletic

1. Virtual events are cheaper to sponsor than IRL ones: Virtual event sponsorships offer less in the way of face-to-face informal networking and are priced accordingly, making them more attractive for smaller marketing teams looking for exposure to new audiences. 

2. Virtual event sponsorships generate more granular—and actionable —data: By their nature, online event platforms automatically provide more specific data, leading to more precise insights and more tailored and intentional follow-up. 

Besides the standard names and email addresses, your online event data tells your sponsors: 

1. The number of live number of attendees in their booths and sessions

2. The number of viewers who watched recordings of sessions or demos  

3. The number of minutes attendees spent in the booth—and the percentage of that time for which they were engaged (i.e., they had the sponsor’s tab open in their browser) 

4. A transcript of all chat messages and Q&A questions submitted by attendees

5. Individual poll responses and the overall response rate

6. The number of clicks on promotional pop-up offers and banner ads—and who clicked each one

Imagine trying to figure out everything your audience said during an IRL session, or how many people were paying attention v. scrolling Twitter at any given moment. With that kind of intel, sponsors can get a fine-tuned engagement profile for each attendees, then reach out to each one with ultra-specific and successful offers.

3. Virtual event sponsorships allow sales teams more time to sell: During virtual events, sales teams usually speak with attendees in pre-scheduled 1:1 meetings. With that extra time, the sponsor’s sales teams can conduct more of these meetings, do more research on each lead and follow up more quickly than is possible in an in-person event. 

4. It’s easier to book one-on-one meetings: It’s also easier to secure a one-on-one sales meeting at a virtual event than in an in-person setting. 

5. Virtual events have fewer sponsors: This means less competition for attendee time and eyeballs, especially important when you’re already fighting an uphill battle for attention. 

6. Virtual events have a global audience: This lets your sponsors tap into multiple geographic regions in one opportunity. Removing the limitations of a physical event allows you to access your various geographical markets with 24/7 events that “chase the sunrise” around the world, or changing the priority of sponsors based on different days of the event – two features that would be nearly impossible to achieve in person. 

Pick the Right Partners

Keep in mind that companies use sponsorships to access new audiences within, or slightly outside, of their target demographic. Your job as an event host is to provide potential sponsors with a fresh pool of complementary, but not identical, leads. 

At the same time, you also need to ensure your sponsors can still provide relevant, enticing resources and perks for your audience. Those two goals in mind, find sponsors in industries or populations that are slightly adjacent to yours.

Say I’m the marketing manager of a SaaS company, and I'm hosting a virtual sales and marketing summit for early- to mid-career professionals. When looking for sponsors, I wouldn't go for the MAS and CRM tools that many of my attendees are already using. In that case, the potential sponsor isn’t getting access to a new audience, so the event isn’t worth their investment.

Instead, I’d pursue marketing and workplace-adjacent companies: productivity or meditation app services, career development startups and/or publications, the kind of things that your audience is shopping for. They're all products that would provide a value-add to my potential attendees, but unrelated enough to my company that the potential for audience overlap isn’t as high. 

Useful products and services for your guests, useful new leads for your sponsors. Once you’ve settled on some potential sponsors, learn how to sell them effectively.

Create a Compelling Ask  

Asking strangers for money is never easy, but with preparation and a read of the room, you can pitch your sponsors more confidently and effectively. Here’s where to start: 

Give Them Data

We know that online events produce powerful and actionable data, so use it to your advantage when seeking sponsors. 

Many may be new to virtual events and might not grasp the ROI of an online event quite as readily as they would a “real” one. So share your virtual event software’s analytics and reporting tools with them, so they know how precisely they’ll be able to evaluate their event success—and how quickly they can capitalize on their interested leads afterward. 

Know Your Event’s Market Value

You wouldn’t negotiate your salary without taking into your account your work performance, and comparing it to your industry’s salary range. 

So before pitching sponsors, you need to understand the market value of your event, especially compared to your competitors. What exactly will your sponsors gain from their participation and investment in your event?

How many guaranteed one-on-one meetings can you offer? Are your engagement opportunities significantly more creative than your competitors? 

Make your perks as concrete and revenue-oriented as possible. This includes, but isn’t limited to, qualified leads, guaranteed one-on-one meetings with attendees and access to attendee contact information. 

Create Tiered Sponsorship Packages

Similar to the range of ad placements you'd find on Youtube—from banner ads to 15-minute sponsored videos—you can also offer different sponsorship tiers for virtual events, adding progressively more features as the price increases. Tiering lets you secure more financial support without sacrificing too much creative control or programming space in your event.

Sponsorships generally sell anywhere from $500 - $20,000. Within that range, you can offer any combination of the following: cross promotion via email or social media, giveaways, post-event blog posts on your platforms progressing up to unique experiential activations (as seen below) and speaking opportunities.

Offer Opportunities for Brand Exposure 

The most visible benefit of event sponsorships is brand exposure. Through signage and ad placements, as well as photos and videos, brands establish a presence and reputation with their audiences through their visual real estate.

In an online event, those physical branding opportunities go away, which can prevent potential sponsors from participating in an online event. But virtual event softwares have opportunities to insert sponsor branding into many components of the event microsite, including banner ads, expo hall and exhibitor booth signage, event emails and more. As you’re pitching sponsors, show them examples of these branding opportunities to ensure them they can still have a branded presence in an online event space. 

Show, Don’t Tell 

Though they’re gaining traction, virtual events are still an abstract concept for many business people. After all, who imagined networking or conducting sales meetings via the Internet ten years ago? Even if new sponsors understand the value of virtual events, they probably won’t be able to visualize how your virtual event can help them meet their business goals. 

Some potential concerns: How does the software work? How will attendees find sponsor booths? How can sponsors chat with attendees, book meetings, pre-load their presentations, obtain their prospects’ contact information, etc.? 

Paying for the privilege of battling a clunky software is not an attractive business opportunity, as you can imagine.  

So fill your sponsors’ knowledge gaps by giving your prospects a demo of your event software and capabilities. Once they get a feel for the user experience, appearance and flow of your event, they’ll be much better equipped to decide whether or not to sponsor it or not. 

Think Engagement, Not (Only) Exposure

Exposure's valuable, but it doesn’t pay the bills, especially not when today’s customers demand to see a company’s value before they buy. 

Standard virtual events tack their sponsors onto the end of their invitations, give them a banner ad in their software and treat them solely as a budget cushion. But the best ones find ways for sponsors to craft a more intimate, lasting connection with their audience. If you’re asking someone for their money and time, you need to proactively suggest opportunities to engage with attendees in more memorable, lasting ways that lead to follow up. 

Get inspired with these examples: 

1. Speaking Roles: Speaking roles in particular go hand in hand with sponsorships. For instance, when BigMarker sponsors an event, we typically offer the use of our virtual event platform in exchange for a presenting role and branding. Because your sponsors are going to have expertise in a topic related to your event, it’s a natural opportunity to provide value for both sponsor and attendee.

2. Prize Packs and Gamification: Sponsors can use gamification as both an engagement and advertising tool. Gamification is essentially a competition that requires attendees to perform specific engagement activities (visiting the sponsor’s booth, etc) to earn points, with the winner receiving a prize pack of the sponsor’s products/services. From our experiences with sponsors, this is one of the best ways to foster engagement with attendees and market themselves in the process.

3. Live Demos: Even better, participants can interact with sponsors and their products in real time through demos and experiential modules, which are available on most virtual event platforms. Sponsors can either pre-load product demos or conduct them live for participants. Not only does this introduce your sponsor to qualified leads in a more natural, practical way, but it adds more experiential activations and conversations for your attendees.

How to Help Your Sponsors Execute

Once you’ve secured your sponsors, set them up for success with proactive communication, onboarding and organization:  

Ask for assets ASAP

Virtual event softwares require graphics and assets with a strict set of dimensions and specifications. Since your event producers need time to upload all of the sponsor collateral to the virtual event site prior to the event, you will need to secure those visual assets from your sponsor as soon as possible. 

Provide each sponsor a list of all required visual and copy assets, including all dimensions, file formats and character limits upfront in a spreadsheet or list. Since you’re repeating the process with multiple sponsors, this will ensure that your team doesn’t forget about anyone. 

Prepare Sponsors to Staff Effectively

Sponsors will need to talk “face to face” to attendees in multiple event locations simultaneously, which requires coordination and planning pre-event day. To make the most of their time, sponsors should spread out their team, with one person working the booth, another manages the live networking session and a third supervises a sponsored agenda session.

The importance of this step rises with the complexity of the sponsorship package and the level of the sponsor, so be sure to check in with your top sponsors as they get closer to the big day.   

Provide Troubleshooting Contacts

If a sponsor can’t enter the event site and participate in their sponsored opportunities, they’re losing leads—and their ROI from participating in your event. Bad news for both sides. But you can minimize any potential damage by telling them exactly who to contact in case of a technical issue, where to send messages, and how to communicate service interruptions with attendees. 

Also provide them with documentation covering frequently asked questions and technical issues, so they can resolve minor issues without your and your support team's intervention.

Onboard Them to your Software

Of course, you want to avoid the above situation as often as possible. And your sponsors have already interacted with the event software before the big day, they’re less likely to Slack your support team because they can’t turn on their mic.

So one month before the event, schedule an onboarding session with each of your sponsors. During that meeting, teach them how to log into their booth, turn on their microphone and camera, share their screen and files (for offers and handouts), trigger any desired interactive features (like polls and Q&As) and initiate video chats with attendees. 

Create Ultra-Targeted Content

Besides exposure, the biggest advantage of a virtual event sponsorship is the ability to capture incredibly fine-tuned insights about your prospects, then leverage them for follow-up. But those insights are only actionable if they’re very narrowly defined. Here’s what we mean. 

Say you host a sponsored session called “Amplify Your Marketing Strategy in 2021.” That broadly titled session appeals to a huge range of buyer personas: content marketers and designers, SEO strategists, analysts and even C-suite executives from all industries. Those attendance numbers look great in the analytics, but don’t provide any guidance on how to convert those attendees. 

That’s because each of those personas needs different messaging and outreach to make a final decision. Since the data encompasses so many different personas, you won’t be able to parse out any actionable ideas about one person’s interests and behaviors. 

So narrow your scope—and pull only your most promising leads. Returning to our example, “Amplify Your Marketing Strategy through Engaging Virtual Events” is a better title because it attracts a self-selected group of virtual event marketers, which gives you more information about what they need from you. The more narrow your topics and discussions, the more conclusions you can draw from your audience’s interest in it. 

This paints a clearer picture of your new prospects, letting you follow up and convert them with ultra-personalized and effective offers.

How to Incorporate Sponsors Into Your Event

On the big day, let your sponsors in on the fun! Besides letting them shine for your attendees, this also strengthens your relationship with the sponsor and increases the likelihood they’ll partner with you again. Consider some of these options from The Virtual Event Sponsorship Guidebook

Pooled Donations

Corporate social responsibility is an imperative for virtually every business, making donation opportunities a particularly relevant sponsorship add. Here’s how it works, from the Virtual Event Sponsorship Guidebook: “Your ‘giving sponsor’ can present the organization or cause and pledge to match attendee donations. Announce the program at the beginning of the event and allow attendees to donate as the event continues.” 

“Include a sponsored giving bar that fills up as donations increase, and allow your sponsor to pop in with reminders during session transitions. At the end, make a grand announcement by inviting someone from the organization to present  the ‘check’ live.” 

Within their booths, sponsors can create a pop-up offer for attendees to introduce the donation campaign. That pop-up would then link to an external donation website for attendees to submit the payment. Post-event, sponsors can use their session’s analytics to identify who clicked the link and send thank you messages to those participants.

Coffee Session Sponsorships

One of the small pleasures of an IRL event is that mid-morning coffee break. After a few hours of heavy programming, you get to kick back with gourmet coffee you’d never stock at home, hear a relatively lighter talk and decompress. Virtual events often don’t fill this void, giving your sponsors a chance to surprise and delight.

On BigMarker, sponsors can host a coffee break session within its own chat room within the virtual event lounge. In that room, sponsors can give attendees a promo code, then direct attendees to an external delivery site to claim the free meal. This gives attendees an unexpected IRL treat while also giving sponsors an additional touchpoint.  

From the Virtual Event Sponsorship Guidebook: “Between sessions, have a sponsor moderate a discussion or networking event. Keep it to thought leadership and nix any selling, presentations, or monologues. Have a few topics teed up that play to your moderator/sponsor’s area of expertise. As an added touch, have attendees pre-register for the event (lead generation) so the sponsor can have coffee and pastries delivered to their house.”

Sponsor a Virtual AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Popularized on Reddit, the AMA is a chance for sponsors to share their insights with attendees in a conversational, free-flowing format. In a chat room, attendees can submit questions for the sponsor, who can answer in real time. 

On BigMarker, hosts can hold an AMA in a dedicated chat room within their event’s Networking Center. Event hosts also have the option of opening attendance to all or restricting access to premium attendees, allowing them to create different pricing tiers and groups of leads within their wider audience. 

Since your sponsor isn’t likely to be a household name, encourage them to introduce themselves, their career background and experiences before prompting attendees to ask questions. Also encourage your team members to pre-submit a few questions to kickstart the conversation, then allow attendees to chime in.

1:1 Expert Consultations

Most sponsorship opportunities tell the attendees about the sponsoring company. Here, sponsors can show guests what they’re best at—and why they should care. If your sponsor can provide an in-demand service, have them meet one-on-one with attendees during the event. 

The sponsor provides their services in a no-commitment setting, the ultimate exposure opportunity, while attendees walk away with tangible resources. In BigMarker, each sponsor booth comes with their own meetingspaces, personalized virtual meeting rooms. 

In these rooms, sponsors can distribute offers and handouts to encourage conversion, and customize the space with their own logo and branding. Attendees can even book another appointment with the sponsor directly within the virtual event microsite as well, giving your sponsor a smooth pathway to conversion. 

How to Help Your Sponsors Convert 

For your sponsors, the payoff comes post-event, when they follow up with their interested leads and guide them along the sales pipeline. The granular data generated by online events 

With more nuanced data, sponsors can identify the ROI of every component of their programming. Then they can leverage those insights to create more specific follow-ups actions, including: 

1. Comprehensive attendee data: Provide exclusive offers to attendees after your event to promote your product/service and increase brand awareness

2. Q&A transcripts for event, session and booth chats: Identify knowledge gaps and potential pre-purchase objections that can be addressed through future programming

3. Event recording: Repurpose recordings for future content and marketing outreach

4. Poll responses and handout downloads from booth: Leverage customer insights and behavior to inform follow-up strategy and packaged offers  

5. Engagement rate and time engaged: Identify the most and least captivating parts of your presentation and adjust accordingly

This targeted approach gives every attendee exactly the message they need to progress along the sales pipeline, which inspires a lot more action than one generic “Thanks for visiting!” email would. But you can still position your sponsors for success with the following: 

Distribute Offers

In each of their booths, sponsors can give exclusive offers to attendees, linking to their website or another conversion page. On BigMarker, sponsors can pre-load and customize their offers within the software, then seamlessly introduce the call-to-action during their presentation. This way, your sponsors can generate event- and post-event conversions in an intuitive, organic way. 

Provide Analytics + Reporting for their Booth

Most webinar softwares provide sophisticated analytics with down-to-the-minute registration, attendance and engagement, all of which can help them identify their most engaged visitors. These reports also come with chat transcripts, Q&A and poll answer records and lists of who downloaded their handouts, letting them narrowly define each individual lead’s interest and tailor their pitch accordingly. 

Incorporate Sponsors into your Post-Event Email

You’ll include your biggest sponsors into your promotional materials, so include their branding in your post-event email as well. This can nudge the on-the-fence guests to reach out for further information. 

Facilitate Post-Event Outreach

Encourage post-event outreach by sharing an opt-in list of attendees with contextual data, distributing sponsor-branded handouts in an event follow up email, or creating an online community of attendees that’s open to sponsors. You can also connect sponsors and exhibitors to one another.

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using online events to advance their business and marketing goals? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help. Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com to get started! 


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