How to Manage Sponsor and Exhibitor Expectations Around Virtual Events

Sponsorship for virtual events

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The dramatic shift to virtual events has created all sorts of challenges for planners. From rethinking agenda design and dealing with new technology to finding interesting ways to keep people engaged.  The new virtual event environment has also made the whole process of securing sponsors and exhibitors a lot more difficult – both in terms of providing value and managing expectations.

It’s important that your sponsors and exhibitors understand that even if your event is now taking place in a virtual setting – there are still plenty of opportunities for them to invest, be creative and get the same kind of return they get from in-person events.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key things you need to do to get the buy-in you need from these important stakeholders:

1) Understand What They Want

Virtual events are different to in-person and hybrid events. It’s an obvious statement but one that is worth bearing in mind when discussing opportunities with potential sponsors or exhibitors.  You need to understand why they want to be associated with your virtual event.

For example, there is a big difference between running a virtual event that has a goal of drawing in new delegates as opposed to producing a virtual town hall meeting that provides updates to existing clients. Why would your sponsor and exhibitors want to be in front of your delegates? Do they understand who your delegates are likely to be? Once you understand that, you can move onto what success would look like for them. Listen to them closely because at the end of the event they will judge you on whether they succeeded in getting a strong ROI.

Whilst delegates at in-person events can easily step past exhibitors or sponsors that are of no interest to them, it’s not the same when in a virtual environment. The delegates have no choice and that is why getting the promotion just right is super important. Whilst a sponsor may want lots of exposure, if it is too much the delegates will just turn off.

2) Understand the Event Tech  

The next step is to understand what you can deliver. This is massively different to what you would like to deliver. Failure to be clear on this will be a problem.

All event tech platforms are different. Some are more advanced than others, some have better data security then others and some will be more user friendly than others. And this is isn’t just about delegates being able to use the platform, it is also about how user friendly it is for sponsors or exhibitors to upload their content, book meetings and so on.

On-demand webinar: Choosing a Virtual Event Platform – getting it right!

You may be using an event tech stack that you have stitched together. That is fine as long as you know what it does and if there are any gaps. You cannot offer a sponsor or exhibitor proposal for a virtual event without a clear understanding of what the tech you have chosen will do. Here is an example of a useful guide from Eventsforce which outlines exactly how their virtual event platform can be used by sponsors and exhibitors.

3) Pitch Your Proposal

When you know what your sponsor and exhibitors would like and what your platform can offer, you can get down to offering a deal. This is the point at which the magic happens. This is the point at which you need to put on your creative and commercial hat. Keep in mind that you want your sponsors and exhibitors to benefit but you don’t want to deluge your delegates with too much promotion.

Some virtual event platforms like Eventsforce VCD can help with revenue generation around your virtual events by offering sponsors and exhibitors value in different ways.  You can create tiered packages with different branding, networking, thought leadership and exhibiting opportunities, whilst giving you all the control and insights you need as an event organiser.

Have a look at your programme, which sessions work better for certain sponsors? Think of the subjects being discussed. For example, a session on new developments in hybrid events would be a good opportunity for a provider of a web streaming service. For exhibitors, take a look at your event data and match exhibitors with delegates who have expressed interest in certain products and services. This information usually comes from the data registration collection. Get as personalised as possible. It will help both delegates and exhibitors.

4) Communicate Clearly

When your proposal has been accepted and the agreement is signed, the hard work really begins. You have to make the most of your relationship and that means staying in touch and being on hand to deal with any questions.

You also need to be able to prompt your exhibitor or sponsor into playing their part too. For example, they will need to send you their information for you to upload to ensure they become visible to your delegates. Or maybe they can upload it themselves. Whatever the method, you need to ensure that the task is done.

In addition, provide them with dates of any pre-networking or invitations to meet delegates outside of your virtual event. Make sure they don’t miss out on these and other similar opportunities.

Just be easy to deal with and answer their questions on time. You don’t want to be the planner that was only interested until they signed and then walked away. With virtual events you can never do too much ‘hand holding’, it’s just not possible.

5) Come Up with New Ideas

Event tech doesn’t stand still and neither does the creative thinking of event planners. As nothing is static, keep thinking about what you could offer. Are there new features on the platform? Have you now introduced a session or speaker that your sponsor would like to be seen alongside? Are there opportunities for them to sponsor your on-demand content post-event? What is the extra value you can offer? Don’t be shy. Clients can only say no after all but often they will be more impressed with your proactive thinking and that will make you stand out from other events that they sponsor.

Encourage them to provide specific offers for your delegates or ask them to reveal something that no one has seen yet. Churning out the same material as is already on their website is not terribly exciting. Even talking through these ideas of how they present their content and brand could enable you to co-create a new opportunity. Keep the ideas topped up and really manage your relationship with them.

6) Provide the Analytics on Time

When you pitched your proposal, you should have discussed analytics and data that you would provide. It’s important you do this as it will be the basis of their expectations both during and after the event. After all, data is precious to sponsors and exhibitors and it’s likely to have been a key factor in them deciding to work with you. It also helps them decide whether they should invest in your event(s) the next time round.

Be clear on when the data is needed. For example, real-time data on ad engagement will help you assess important performance metrics such as impressions and click-through rates and you can share them with sponsors, exhibitors and stakeholders.

For post event data, whatever you promised you need to deliver. And it needs to be dealt with quickly. If not, the data holds less value. It’s a fundamental part of any agreement but one that can be easily overlooked. How many downloads were made by delegates for further information, how many session attendees were there, how many questions were asked? Detailed data and analytics enables you to fully understand what was good for delegates and what wasn’t. It’s invaluable to you, your sponsors and your exhibitors.

Again, some virtual event platforms like Eventsforce offer analytics dashboards which allow organisers to create the kind of post-event reports sponsors and exhibitors want. And of course, you can monitor important real-time engagement data, including number of leads, meetings, page views per exhibitor and more.

Manage expectations by letting sponsors and exhibitors know in what format the analytics will be delivered and in what timescale. And if you don’t know the answers, then get in touch with the event tech providers. But that really needs to be done before you pitch your proposal, not after.

7) Review the Relationship

In any business relationship, there are likely to be some bumps in the road along the way. Even when you have a great relationship with a sponsor or exhibitor, there will always be things that irritate. It’s just the way life is. And when you factor in new people coming in wanting to shake things up, your relationship can come under stress.

But, ultimately the best way of dealing with this is to listen. Listen and take action where you can. However, you always need to be honest. Can you do what is being asked? Were you at fault or was there more that your client could have done? Remember, a good relationship is a two-way street.

If the relationship really isn’t working, it may be time to walk away. However, if the little bumps can be worked out maybe you have a relationship for many future events. The important point is that you schedule a time to go through it. If you ignore a review, those little issues will become a lot bigger because they haven’t been addressed.

Conclusion – Sit in Their Seat

Virtual events are a great sales enablement tool and that’s why they appeal to sponsors and exhibitors. If you put yourself in the shoes of the sponsors and exhibitors and look at your delivery from their perspective, you will be able to see where they are coming from. Only then will you be able to effectively manage their expectations. This is no different to walking through a ‘delegate experience’ which you do already. What is the ‘sponsor or exhibitor’ experience?

Virtual event content also has to be created in such a way that sponsors and exhibitors add to the value for the delegate experience. Enabling sponsors and exhibitors to get involved in your virtual event can result in revenue generation and accelerated sales pipelines, no matter what else is happening in the world. Get that right and they will be forming a line to be involved in your next virtual event.


Running virtual events? Need to deliver more value to exhibitors and sponsors? Learn more about Eventsforce VCD or see our virtual exhibitor/sponsor guide.