As in-person meetings come back, the online medium is a genie that cannot be stuffed back into the bottle. The potential for business events to engage audiences far larger than they could get in person is simply too great.
For exhibitors and sponsors, the opportunities to engage virtual attendees can surely be worthwhile. Here’s how your planning team can deliver many valuable opportunities to both sponsors and attendees.
Lesson 3: Create Scarcity and Value
Meeting hosts can drive sponsorship package sales by including high-value opportunities that aren’t available á la carte. “Packaged tiers are always the best value in sponsors’ eyes and typically bring a lot more revenue to the event host,” says Mae Ibe, CMP, director of conference and trade-show services for Meetings & Incentives Worldwide. “Each one of our event clients sees things a bit differently, but generally we're seeing opportunities around thought leadership limited to packages. So, if you only offer three platinum sponsorships, you can provide each buyer a connection to an entire educational track of their choice” but then include product/innovation theater sessions in the mid-tier package and not offered as á la carte items.
For the Medical Group Management Association’s annual conference and trade show, there are 10 “marquee sponsor” slots available that deliver “exposure in very visible places and at important moments during the event,” says Denise Miller, CEM, senior meetings manager, exhibits and sponsorship, for MGMA (pictured here). The group’s 2021 annual event was held in an asynchronous-hybrid format (a late-October in-person meeting followed three weeks later by a virtual version), and buyers of mid-tier packages and above were eligible to host a presentation on either the Thought Leadership stage or the Application Arena stage.
The advantage of buying into a higher-level MGMA package in 2021: the ability to address both audiences and have the presentation archived for post-event viewing as well. Tom Myers, vice president of sales services for SmithBucklin, notes that having dedicated times for product/innovation theaters that don’t compete with educational tracks could also justify keeping those presentations confined to mid-tier packages and above.
Lastly, Ibe notes that most of her events offer some á la carte options that package-buying sponsors like to tack on, such as “push notifications during the event for a couple thousand dollars.” Other possibilities include white-paper uploads to the event’s media center, promoted blog/chat-forum posts, and selected banner-ad opportunities.
Myers adds that “the tier packages you promote are generally a starting point; almost every partner has different things they’re trying to do, especially in the virtual medium. Some of their ideas might be what we call ‘off-prospectus,’ and you have to be prepared to modify a package by putting something in or taking something out.”
Lesson 4: Educate and Motivate Attendees to Spend Time with Sponsors
Making product theaters and exhibit booths successful for a virtual event requires a communications effort aimed at attendees, plus a few proactive tactics.
“Our sponsors and exhibitors contribute a lot towards our cost of using a good virtual platform, and they help keep the event affordable for attendees—that's a central message we communicate to attendees before and during the show,” says Mae Ibe of Meetings & Incentives Worldwide (pictured here). “We need them to realize how important sponsors and exhibitors are.”
In addition to that message, the American Academy of Physician Assistants provides attendees with tutorials on how to best navigate its virtual product theaters, exhibit booths, and other sponsor activations. “We did several educational videos where we feature prominent people in the industry or social-media influencers talking about how to get around the exhibit hall and the other features on the platform,” says Del Baker-Robertson, CAE, director of strategic business development for the American Academy of Physician Assistants. “Our platform provider Freeman also provided help with that.”
In addition to educating attendees on how to use the exhibitor-matchmaking feature for the virtual hall, Ibe leverages attendee and partner data to conduct AI-based matchmaking. “This way, people can be automatically assigned a certain number of appointments depending on how many they signed up for on their own. The data analysis is really good for matching people to companies they are likely to form a relationship with.”
While attendees don’t have to accept those appointments, there are ways to persuade attendees to interact with the event’s partners. For instance, Ibe sometimes sets up small-group virtual-booth interactions and promotes the networking benefits that come from this format.
“Of course, one-on-one appointments are a big thing in the virtual platform, but exhibitors want leads and attendees want networking,” she notes. “So, some of our event clients are allowing small-group sessions; it can be just a 10-minute introduction to the company and to each other. We’ll assign each attendee to a few of them during a one-hour block we set aside for these informational sessions. They have gone over pretty well.” And at AAPA’s annual event, there’s a pause in educational sessions during time slots when attendees are encouraged to interact with exhibitors.
Another way to ensure participation is to incentivize attendees. For engaging in a minimum number of partner interactions, attendees could receive a rebate on the event-registration fee or a credit towards the fee for an upcoming event, says Ibe. Pre-loaded DoorDash, GrubHub, or Uber Eats cards for meals delivered at home can also work, as can drawings for prizes provided by sponsors.