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How to deliver value for sponsors in a digital world

Each month the Virtual Events Institute (VEI) hosts a focus group, via video call, for event professionals to discuss and share their top challenges and ideas on organizing digital and hybrid events. Here’s an overview of what they had to say on the theme of sponsorship.

The Challenge

One of the big issues facing virtual event organizers is how to deliver value for exhibitors. Business events professional Tammy Port said sponsor customers were struggling to find value in the virtual trade show solution. A major problem is that attendees are not clicking on virtual booths, and networking and content are more popular. This means sponsors cannot see the ROI.

Solution Ideas

Incentivizing delegates? Anthony Smith, a co-founder of 3D-VR Live and project manager of ADB, said the trick was in the event planning, and making sure an event flows naturally so there isn’t a need to drive or incentivize people to engage with sponsors.

There needs to be an open comms line between delegates and exhibitors to encourage good interaction, with a very simple interface and navigational tools.

The group was wary of any sort of incentivization to tempt delegates to virtual exhibitor booths.

Ideas currently being explored by clients include AI matchmaking and tiered sponsorship where sponsors pay more to meet delegates, said Matthew Cibellis, principal of Cibellis Solutions and former director of programming at Education Week.

Paul MacDonald, the founder at Unity53, said some form of incentivization may be necessary at larger events where footfall to virtual booths is low, but pointed out that ‘disruptors’ have a different business model, with far fewer exhibitors.

Break out groups

Nelita Groppa, project manager at DXM Event Management, admitted that she has experienced some success by randomly allocating delegates to small breakout rooms to drive the conversation. However, she urged organizers to be careful on how they group delegates and described it as ‘conversational roulette’.

Gamification and the ‘help’ economy

Sponsors are interested in gamification, however, Larna Jackson, founder of Event Options, has found that while it’s good fun for delegates, it hasn’t generated much engagement or value for investors.

A few members of the focus group agreed that gamification could be enhanced by building a community and engaging ambassadors to drive it forward.

Paul Semanski, marketing lead at N-Gage Brand and CEO of ThoughtBlazers, wondered if a virtual scavenger hunt might work and if there was any mileage in sponsors developing avatars and delegates having to find them to get bonus points.

Macdonald pointed out that there has been a lot of traction gained in the ‘help’ economy and rewards could be related to helping someone in the industry, or charities could be involved.

Jackson said she had used a specialist platform to do a team treasure hunt where they had to help each other to get regards, which encouraged interaction.

She also cited an example of an event she has attended where delegates met in small groups beforehand and got to know each other, which made the rest of the event feel more welcoming to enter.

She suggested that a good thing would be for speakers to go into breakout rooms after their sessions and delegates can go there to extend the conversation.

New expectations

MacDonald concluded that while exhibitors are getting low returns compared to in-person events, comparisons should not be drawn and new expectations need to be set.

He added that you can get great returns from small communities and, even with low numbers, engagement is generally very high.

The legacy of the old huge trade show needs to be left behind.

VEI’s monthly focus groups are open to all [event planners?]. To get involved, email VEI’s content director Emma Hilditch.


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