ASAE Annual Meeting

10 Recommendations for Attracting More Virtual Event Sponsors

By Association Adviser staff • August 16, 2021

For many event organizers, in-person events might seem like an easier sell than online events. But not so fast! Virtual events offer broad visibility and in some cases, higher attendance rates due to the convenience of attending with having to travel.

Cedric Fellows
Cedric Fellows, Digital Summit

Plus, online event platforms can track attendee movements and interactions more precisely than in-person events can. When combined with the traditional company research your marketing team does to attract exhibitors and sponsors to an event, virtual events offer a compelling deal to businesses and organizations looking to expand their footprint. During ASAE’s 2021 Annual Meeting, Senior Director of Events for Digital Summit Cedric Fellows explained how associations can attract more sponsorships by clearly explaining their value and following 10 simple guidelines.

Set the Foundation for More Sponsorships: Show the Value of Virtual Events

Potential sponsors’ most common concerns about virtual events revolve around two key areas: attracting attendees and gaining sponsors. They’ll often ask why they should sponsor your event. Your answers might include:

  • Targeted marketing
  • Audience insights
  • Lead gen
  • Meeting sales goals
  • Business relationships to acquire
  • Improve consumer perception

But the most valuable reason is to help them drive sales. Improve the value of their sponsorship by ensuring that your virtual event will attract their target audience. If you’re not able to match their customer base with your event audience, they simply won’t be interested in your event, and that’s okay.

Next comes the what: What will they want? Thought leadership? Engagement with attendees? Space to launch a new product? This is the time to share more about the logistics of your online event and set moderate expectations about:

  • Attendee volume
  • Attendee interactions
  • Lead generation

Plan to reach out regularly to potential sponsors, in multiple ways, to convert them into confirmed sponsors. The marketing department is often the decision-maker about how to publicly represent a company, but inside sales sometimes influences event appearances, too.

Remember that the budget is always on the mind of the decision maker. And these decision-makers are constantly under pressure to show actual ROI from their marketing campaigns. Make sure you can offer metrics that will show their ROI in your event. Be prepared to offer measurable benefits in terms of the exposure they can get through your eent. Virtual events can often offer better opportunities for tracking attendee interactions, demographic data, and marketing data than in-person events. Show off the stats your past virtual events have collected about attendees.

An excellent audience suggestion was to do a little market and company research before talking with potential sponsors. Knowing a little about their business and offerings makes your appeal more personal. One attendee suggested using LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator for this purpose. Understand a potential sponsor/exhibitor’s business goals to present them with a sponsorship proposal that explicitly outlines how they can achieve their goals through your virtual event.

10 Recommendations for Attracting More Virtual Event Sponsors

Fellows offered 10 recommendations for attracting more sponsors to your next virtual event: 

  1. Define sponsor engagement. Is it a speaking opportunity, an exhibit space, just attending, or a mix?
  2. Price accordingly. What do you expect virtual turnout to be? How long is the event?
  3. Decide if sponsors get the attendee list or not. If they do, is it a complete list? Is it only leads they scan? Remember to follow local regulations and disclose to attendees how you’re using their info. 
  4. Partner early. Ask sponsors what they want from your event. Ask for what has worked for them at other events (to improve yours!) and what their concerns are. 

From an attendee: “We’ve actually started helping our clients strategize an always-on virtual marketplace strategy for ongoing sponsorships; it utilizes the true value of the tech platforms that don’t need to be held to the same standards as a traditional short-term event window.  An event sponsor told me “our company markets 365 days a year; a 3-day conference doesn’t help us.”

  1. Manage expectations. Virtual is not copy and paste of in-person events. Some in-person activities just don’t replicate well online, but some virtual activities are possible because they’re online. Offer ideas for engaging attendees. Share success stories of good exhibitors that new ones can try for themselves.
  2. Conduct sponsor training. Schedule training sessions in advance. Encourage exhibitors to attend. Set online behavior expectations and offer ideas for maximizing the platform’s features. 
  3. Offer gameday support. Deploy people from your organization to be online and available to help during the event. 
  4. Clarify speaking opportunities. Vet sponsored speakers before your event. Review their topic and presentation in advance to ensure it’s not salesy. Your attendees don’t want to be sold to when they’re expecting education.  
  5. Start small. You don’t have to move your biggest event online first. Test out a smaller workshop or regional event first. Learn from that event. 
  6. Research other events. Attend other virtual industry events to get a feel for what a successful, engaging online event looks and sounds like.

Avoid virtual event fatigue

Virtual events have been asked to carry a heavy burden for companies who want to generate leads and make sales as usual. Virtual events are a bit oversaturated right now. Understand that you’re going to need to get creative with virtual events and meet the needs of attendees and sponsors, not your needs.

About The Author

Cedric Fellows is the Senior Director of Event Sales for Naylor Association Solutions and the Digital Summit Event Series. Cedric’s event sponsorship and experiential event sales experience spans 18+ years in industry segments such as media and entertainment, consumer, high tech, retail, and automotive. Working for some of the largest tradeshow event organizers, Cedric has earned a solid track record of successfully managing high-level event sales teams. His leadership includes building/maintaining long-term partner relationships as well as creating innovative sponsorship packages that deliver measurable ROI for customer sponsors. Cedric resides in the San Francisco bay area with his wife Dr. Brenda Fellows.