MeetingsNet’s four-part series on virtual sponsorship strategies concludes with advice on setting prices and measuring value for exhibitors and sponsors.
Lesson 7: Sponsorship Pricing and ROI are Shifting Targets
For most event hosts, it’s simply too soon to know whether sponsors and exhibitors are seeing a satisfactory return on investment from their virtual-event spending. Mae Ibe, CMP, director of conference and trade-show services for Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, says that “we haven’t done this long enough to have proven data” for comparisons to the in-person version of an event. There’s also the fact that the virtual experience is evolving at a rapid pace. “We have some clients who will be doing their second or third virtual events by spring 2022, and then we’ll have some good data to compare.”
Until there’s enough of a track record for virtual, establishing prices for the range of sponsorship packages and á la carte elements comes down to individual calculations within each host organization. For most event clients, Ibe’s team charged 60 percent of the price of the comparable in-person sponsorship opportunity. At that price point, “we’ve been getting between 60 and 70 percent of existing sponsors to buy into it.”
Tom Myers, vice president of sales services for SmithBucklin, says it’s critical to manage partner expectations. “They must be made aware that it's not going to be an apples-to-apples comparison between the virtual metrics and the in-person metrics.”
However, there are ways to counter the idea that the quality of interaction during a virtual event might not be the same as in person. Event hosts can point to greater audience reach and the fact that event content and exhibit booths are accessible long after the live program ends—and post-event marketing messages from the host or a sponsor can push attendees back to those elements.
Lesson 8: In-Person and Virtual Meetings Can Thrive Side by Side
As the world goes back to in-person meetings, most organizations won’t use virtual events like they did in 2020 and 2021. However, to relegate virtual to simply delivering webinar sessions could leave a lot of sponsor and exhibitor money on the table.
For instance, asynchronous hybrid events (comprising an in-person version followed days or weeks later by a virtual version) would offer sponsors and exhibitors the best of both worlds: the quality of interaction they desire in person, plus the wide audience reach and attendee-profile and -behavior data that virtual provides. And unlike synchronous hybrid events, exhibitors and sponsors can focus fully on each audience while the planning and execution is less complicated.
“Doing the two versions at different times keeps you from cannibalizing your in-person audience,” Myers notes. “When we put a sponsorship package together for that, we want to make sure that partner understands that there are opportunities within the virtual component that they’ll want to add on, so they don’t miss out on that virtual audience.” In fact, that audience will include attendees from the in-person event who want to see educational and product-theater presentations they missed the first time around.
The Medical Group Management Association recently held its annual Medical Practice Excellence Leaders Conference as an asynchronous hybrid. The in-person event for about 1,200 attendees and 120 exhibitors ran in late October, while the virtual version—with additional time for marketing communications that could reference the happenings of the in-person event—drew more than 1,000 attendees in mid-November.
The asynchronous-hybrid format is proving effective enough that a show aimed at meeting and event planners is using it. The IBTM World 2021 show that brings planners together with hotels, destinations, and other suppliers took place in person from November 30 to December 2 in Barcelona. It was followed by a virtual version of the event held December 14 and 15, with much of the event dedicated to one-on-one appointments between buyers and sellers.