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Keeping Sponsor Dollars Flowing During an Uncertain Year

Here’s how Changemaker Jaclyn Kelly helped to reimagine sponsorships for the Radiological Society of North America’s virtual event.

MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.

Jaclyn Kelly

Director, Corporate Relations 
Radiological Society of North America 

For a creative reimagining of corporate sponsorships during the Covid-19 crisis

It’s one thing for a 1,000-person event to pivot to a virtual meeting. It’s quite another when the live event draws 50,000 professional and supplier attendees, as is the case for the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting. RSNA is a large ship to turn, and among the leaders at the helm in 2020 was Jaclyn Kelly, director, corporate relations, whose department handles, among other things, sponsorship sales. 

In the spring, when RSNA made the decision to go fully virtual for its 106th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting in November, Kelly led the pivot of its extensive menu of sponsorship opportunities. 

The change process started with communication. Kelly and her team talked to sponsors about what was most meaningful from the live event; they found thought leadership to be at the top of the list. At the in-person show, then, sponsors could have experts lead “lunch and learn” events, corporate symposia, and hands-on vendor workshops, or host shorter but more promotional “showcase theater” sessions to present new products or innovations.

Kelly worked with Freeman, RSNA’s online-event platform provider, to reimagine those offerings and more, making sure that sponsor events had a chance to shine among a packed schedule with 360 sessions. Her notable successes included a new offering called “Featured Demonstrations” that gave exhibitors an opportunity to recreate in-booth presentations/demonstrations. They featured a pre-recorded presentation followed by a live Q&A session, which gave sponsors “a unique and impactful opportunity to film in a hospital and show their equipment in use in a way that’s different than they can do in person.”

Remarkably, when it was over, sponsorship revenues were only slightly less in 2020 than for past conferences—a huge success in a year of uncertainly, when the number of exhibitors went from about 700 to less than 250. 

Customer Service 

“I think the biggest lesson I learned was the importance of communication with your partners,” she says. “You need to make sure you understand what they need and that you’re keeping them informed. And your partners need to know that you’re there to support them.” Kelly says her team reached out to suppliers throughout the year, asking how they were doing and what they needed from RSNA, and continuing right through the virtual experience. Sponsors “knew they could call and they would get a response,” Kelly says. “They felt so much more comfortable during the live event, knowing that our team was there to support them.”

Leading the Team

While there are plenty of “what ifs” for a traditional in-person event, few were ready for the uncertainties of the pandemic year. Kelly worked to help her team “be okay with working in the gray, not really knowing what’s ahead.” She let people know that it was all right to keep innovating even when outcomes weren’t clear. “We’re going to try things and we’re going to see how they work. Maybe we’ll pivot, or maybe we’ll sunset something.”

Spare Time

In addition to her work on the virtual event, Kelly also helped lead an effort to create an industry RSNA hub where radiological specialists and suppliers could share information on Covid-related resources and developments for the RSNA community.

View the full list of 2021 Changemakers


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