Planning8 Min Read

The Virtual Event Sponsorship Guidebook

In the global shift to virtual events, many organizers are left trying to save sponsor revenue and prove its value in the digital world. 

There is good news. The virtual landscape can potentially offer your sponsors MORE value, a better revenue model, and the potential to grow your long-term sponsorship offerings.

“More” sounds like a wild thought right now, but the move to virtual events opens up more opportunities than constraints. You have the potential to reach a larger audience than with live events — many event organizers have seen a 3-x increase in attendance since switching to virtual. Metrics are also more trackable, making it easier to measure ROI. This is a tremendous value that you shouldn’t discount. 

Another overlooked consideration is the fact that virtual events can happen in smaller, digestible content events delivered with more frequency over a longer stretch of time. Multiple touchpoints provide the opportunity to package groups of virtual events, creating more exposure for sponsors as each event can be individually targeted. Frequency and consistency are key elements to any marketing plan and should resonate with event sponsors.

If you’re having a tough time keeping sponsors from canceling, consider rolling out a loyalty program. Loyalty programs award points to sponsors and give them a first crack at the best opportunities and positioning. Long term, this is a great way to retain your sponsors as you make the “pivot to virtual,” and then back again once things open up. You might consider offering extra points — maybe double — for this year’s virtual event with the understanding that you’re creating a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship. Points can also be used for discounts, upgrades, or offsetting future event spends.

A client recently told us how her event app helped save her business. It provided multiple options to showcase her sponsors, which helped her generate revenue and better understand her ROI. Apps offer a number of tangible ways to highlight sponsors, and help everyone contextualize the value of sponsoring virtual and hybrid events. 

We’re all experiencing an advanced level of virtual event planning for the first time, so lean into it and have fun. Get creative with your sponsors and host a brainstorming session to make them part of the planning and ideation. By giving them some skin in the game, your sponsors will be more likely to commit to the very ideas they’ve helped craft, and continue to take ownership for future events. Read: repeatable revenue!

To get your creative juices flowing, here are some ideas and fun examples we’ve seen pop up across the virtual landscape.

Virtual Event Sponsorship: Pre-event

All the basics apply here, like putting sponsor logos on your landing pages, emails, and the event app. Here are a few pre-event sponsorship ideas we’ve seen that will set your event apart.

Send aggregated swag boxes: If there’s enough time before your event, and you can transition some of your in-person budget to the virtual experience, consider sending a swag box to each attendee’s home. It’s a great way to build excitement, and when done right, can include tools that will inspire engagement during your event. 

Sponsored speaker swag boxes: Along the same lines as the attendee swag boxes, offer sponsors the opportunity to send swag to your speakers. Recently, Socio hosted #EventHack2020 where each speaker received a custom deck of playing cards, logoed joggers, hand sanitizer, and other quarantine survival necessities. 

We’ve heard of other events sending boxes with selfie light rings, webinar microphones, and other items that every virtual event presenter needs.

VIP experiences: This is a great idea for your speakers, or a select group of attendees your sponsors really want to impress. Sponsors can send professional services like car washes, detailing, and window washes; or food deliveries, meal boxes, and even cases of wine. As the organizer, make sure and follow up with an email thanking your speakers and select attendees for their involvement in your event. 

Hosting a multi-day event? Invite multiple sponsors to delight your speakers and different segments of the attendee list. With virtual, you can easily collect data on individual attendees, better target your audience, and personalize your sponsorship message — definitely take advantage of the opportunity.

Social media callouts/sponsorships: This is a carryover from live events. At the moment, Twitter and other social media channels are seeing spikes in activity, before and during virtual events. It’s easy enough for event organizers to thank sponsors over social media while promoting their event. 

During the event, and if a sponsor also doubles as a speaker, make sure and share their quotes to position them as thought leaders. These quotes are frequently shared and picked up by  bloggers.  

Virtual Event Sponsorship: During the Event

Virtual cocktail receptions: They are all the rage right now, and for good reason. They offer a much-needed social function for attendees, and allow sponsors to have some fun too. 

We’ve heard of event planners sending cocktail party kits with all the necessities, and then a mixologist teaches attendees how to craft their own cocktails. This can be an exclusive sponsorship opportunity, or included in an aggregated swag box.

Sponsored dance parties: Depending on your industry, sponsored dance parties are a fun way to break things up and boost the mood. DJs would gladly sponsor your event for the exclusive exposure they’ll receive.

Recently, EventMB’s Managing the Virtual Experience event featured a songwriter who created a custom tune recapping the entire event. While it wasn’t sponsored, it would have been easy enough to have a new step and repeat banner with sponsor logos to replace the one the song writer used. Add in a shout out and Voilà — you have a new-world sponsorship that’s sure to go viral (at least it did for EventMB).

At a recent EventHack AMA, one of Socio’s event geniuses shared how he saw an organizer hire a band to write and play a song based on how attendees felt about the sponsoring company. It was a hit in more ways than one: attendees were able to dedicate thought to a particular brand and stay immersed throughout the exercise, and the song was widely shared by everyone involved.

Giveaways: This is an old-school play, but it can help create suspense and build excitement during your virtual event. Work with your sponsor on an awesome prize and blend it into your programming, like a talk show host. Ask attendees to turn on their cameras and pick names out of a hat (showing the whole thing, of course) to announce the winners. If your team is savvy enough to promote the winner to a panelist or speaker in the live stream, you can let that attendee share their excitement and thank the sponsor. This should create a “moment” for your sponsor, and inject some energy into your event. 

Mix it up and host a few giveaways throughout the event, and open it up to multiple sponsors to generate additional revenue and layer in more sponsor logos.

Sponsored entertainment: Breaking up the day with fun activities should always be a part of your agenda, so why not generate sponsorship revenue while you’re at it? Sponsors can host a band, cartoonist, DJ, celebrity keynote speaker — you can really get creative! Most importantly, don’t leave money on the table during these exciting moments.

Donations: Giving never goes out of style, and is especially on trend right now. Your virtual event has the opportunity to create an authentic moment where your organization, a sponsor, and the attendees all partner together to raise money for an important cause.

Your “giving sponsor” can present the organization or cause and pledge to match attendee donations. Announce the program at the beginning of the event and allow attendees to donate as the event continues. Include a sponsored giving bar that fills up as donations increase, and allow your sponsor to pop in with reminders during session transitions. At the end, make a grand announcement by inviting someone from the organization to present  the “check” live.

Commercials: From a production perspective, organizers need to fill the transition period between speakers and sessions. Commercials are a great way to break things up, and offer yet another sponsorship opportunity. Have a sponsor do a quick product demo, or simply have sponsor logos rotate on a carousel. The sky’s the limit when it comes to how you optimize this transition period.

Ice breakers: Boost engagement from the get-go by having sponsors lead ice breakers with videos, roundtables, or workshops. This should already be a part of your programming, so lean into it and turn it into a revenue stream.

Coffee session sponsorships: Between sessions, have a sponsor moderate a discussion or networking event. Keep it to thought leadership and nix any selling, presentations, or monologues. Have a few topics teed up that play to your moderator/sponsor’s area of expertise. As an added touch, have attendees pre-register for the event (lead generation) so the sponsor can have coffee and pastries delivered to their house.

Sponsored lunch breaks: Another fun idea we’ve been hearing about is the sponsored lunch break. Here’s how it works: A sponsor or organizer uses a service like Uber Eats to deliver a meal or coffee to their attendees’ homes. Organizers can offer a special code (the sponsor’s name?) for attendees to order on their own. You can be sure the attendee will remember that meal!

Programming for kids: There are a lot of working parents out there who feel like they’re holding down three jobs right now. If you’d like their undivided attention, help by giving their kids something thoughtful to do while mom and dad are with you. Sponsors can hire an artist, storyteller, musician, or any number of things to keep the kids entertained. Between sessions, the emcee can thank the sponsor and give attendees a peek at what the kids are up to.

Morning workout sessions: At this point, most people are sick of their workout routines and would welcome the chance to do something different. Have sponsors choose an activity like yoga, strength training, or any physical instruction that is easy to do over Zoom. Add a little extra to the sponsorship by sending a branded yoga mat or gifting some TRX bands that can be used in the session. Early sign-up for these sessions is also great for lead generation.

Branded photo booth: The virtual selfie is an interesting phenomenon that is becoming routine for all digital events. This is where the organizer asks everyone to turn on their cameras and take a screenshot of their computer showing all the other attendees’ faces, or to turn around and take a selfie with the virtual event happening in the background.

Add a monetized twist by posting a slide that includes your event branding and sponsor logo with an “insert yourself here” call-out. Ask attendees to take a selfie with that image in the background and post it on social using the event hashtag or a sponsored hashtag.

Sponsor visibility: Take a look at your slides, background, and other “surfaces” where you can include a sponsor logo. Maybe they’re listed on transition slides, on your green screen background, or a watermark on the live stream. You can also send stickers or other branded items to your speakers and ask them to display them in their virtual backgrounds.

“Rate My Room is another fun trend. Have all your speakers place special objects in their backgrounds and challenge attendees to find the objects (sponsored objects – of course) and share them on social media. This can also be gamified within an app to engage attendees and make the sessions more interactive.

Sponsor a Virtual AMA (Ask Me Anything): Have an industry leader that everyone looks up to? Host an AMA and invite a sponsor to run the session. The emcee can thank the sponsor for their support and all questions can come through a sponsored AMA section. As a follow-up, republish the content as a video asset or blog with the sponsor’s name. 

Here are a few ideas pulled from live events that are basic and shouldn’t need much explanation:

  • Mention in general session
  • Title or naming rights
  • Panelist or moderator slots (NO SELLING)
  • Whitepaper follow-up
  • Registration sponsor
  • “Podium sponsor”

Thought leadership

Many offline thought leadership ideas easily translate to a virtual environment. The one thing we highly recommend is that you help your speakers optimize their sound and lighting, and stage their home offices so they can really shine.

Also, being a speaker at a virtual event is a slightly different skill set. Speakers need to be able to run their own tech, switch slides, and roll with the technical glitches as they come up. Training your speakers on strategies to keep the audience engaged wouldn’t hurt either. 

While basic, here are some options to offer your sponsors. All of these options can be highlighted within the agenda.

Speaking positions:

  • Panel
  • Moderator
  • Subject matter presentations
  • Thought leadership TED Talks
  • Sponsored tracks (category ownership)

If you’re using an event app, you can segment attendees into special groups and make sessions, app icons, and other information available to only a select group. Segmentation allows you to customize sessions for your sponsors based on their target audience.

Smaller VIP sessions:

  • CEO roundtable
  • Celebrity meet & greet
  • Invitation-only forums
  • Crowdsourced learning or ideation
  • Mass Innovation Night

Gated content downloads: Another great way to showcase your sponsor’s expertise is to post their thought leadership pieces as a gated download in the event app. Using the right tags, forms will auto-fill with the attendee’s profile information, making the user experience ideal.

Using an Event App to Maximize Virtual Sponsorship

This one might seem obvious, but in a virtual setting there are several unique touch points that can turn into sponsorship opportunities. An event app can be your secret weapon to driving sponsorship revenue and value. Here are 15 more ways to keep (and maximize) your sponsorship revenue. 

Sponsor demo sessions: One of the best use cases of demo sessions came from one of our recent clients: Business Rules for Women. They got creative and added a virtual marketplace to their app where vendors could give live product demos — just like the QVC home shopping network. Attendees could tune in at any point during the event and interact face to face with vendors. To keep the excitement going all day, they promoted hourly giveaways.

The BRFW team made sure to set up all of their sponsor profiles in the app and link them to the virtual marketplace. They also offered a virtual swag bag with promo codes for special offers from each vendor. 

1:1 consultations with an expert: Is there a subject matter expert or consultant that would benefit your attendees? It could be a lawyer, financial advisor, architect, city planner — take a look at your industry and see who would be a good fit for an aggregated (or stand-alone) genius bar. This is great exposure for your sponsor, while also boosting attendee engagement. We saw one event that had a financial coach and virtual therapist that attendees could book time with directly from the app.

Sponsored Q&A: Most virtual events offer a Q&A session. Invite your sponsors to add their branding to the session. This gives in-app naming rights and live facetime for sponsors. If you host more than one Q&A session, mix it up with multiple sponsors or sell it as an exclusive to one sponsor.

Hosted networking lounge: This can be a special networking wall or an always-on Zoom feed that people can pop into between sessions to connect with others. Networking lounge hours can be listed in the app’s agenda section with a link back to their sponsor details and meeting buttons.

In-app sponsor page: With an icon on the home page, organizers can drive attendees to view their full sponsor list. Using the Sponsors/Exhibitors section, companies can customize any information they include on their profile. The Sponsors/Exhibitors section becomes a list that can internally link the Sponsor/Exhibitor to other areas of the app, like sponsored agenda sessions. Use photos and descriptions to bring their profile to life! Also, consider segmenting sponsorships by building more extensive profiles for your premiere sponsors and basic listings for lower-level sponsorships. Logo, description, contact information and more can be included. Sponsors can add an external link to their website, or even a special landing page to capture leads. 

Customizable CTA buttons: Boost sponsor engagement by including a call to action in the sponsor’s profile. Add customizable buttons for attendees to “Request a Follow-Up” or “Schedule a Meeting” with a sponsor. 

Don’t limit sponsorship ideas to meeting links, either. With a flexible platform, these links can lead to anything! A sponsor’s website, webinar, demo video…the options are endless. 🙌 

Banners: Look for an event app that allows you to place scrolling banner ads on the home page. Attendees will see them whenever they use the app, and the link can lead back to the sponsor’s website. Your app should be able to pass the user’s event app data to the URL so sponsors have visibility into the number of attendees that visited their site via an auto-populated lead gen form.

A Smart Feed banner can pull profiles from your “Sponsors” section into the banners, making it easier than ever to highlight sponsors. When users click the Smart Feed banner, they’ll go to the Sponsor’s profile in the app. 

Sponsored push notifications: Announcements allow for premier sponsor messaging, which can be sent to all attendees, or specific groups. Pre-schedule push notifications to go out at designated times, or send them on the fly, all on behalf of your sponsors. They can drive traffic to the sponsor’s website or link to their internal profile. ⚠️Caution, as with all apps, attendees can opt to turn off notifications for your event app. Don’t overwhelm them with too many sponsored notifications!

Session sponsors: Boost brand awareness by allowing sponsors to add their branding to individual sessions. It can be something fun, like the pancake breakfast example, or more straightforward like a keynote or panel discussion.

Sponsored Images: With images throughout the event, such as your cover image and event logo, this is a great spot to be creative and showcase your top sponsors! You can also incorporate your sponsor in your splash screen. A full ad is not recommended for a splash screen, but this is a great option for premium visibility as every attendee sees the splash screen when they open the app.

⭐️ Keep in mind, it’s a good idea to maintain some creative control over the design of splash screens. This helps ensure that your app look is cohesive and polished.

Sponsored wall posts: These in-app wall posts offer a more organic way to showcase sponsors since they’re mixed in with posts from attendees. Simply create a new account with the sponsor’s name and post!

Sponsor icon: Create a feature dedicated to your top-tier sponsor for even more visibility. A Web Link feature is easy to create, and you can link to their website or special landing page. Icons are customizable, so upload the sponsor’s logo for maximum exposure.

Sell more by segmenting your attendees by industry, category, or any number of breakouts that make sense for your demographic. Category sponsors can reap the benefits of exclusivity within their chosen segment.

Gamification sponsorship: Remember the analog passports that attendees would have sponsors stamp to win prizes? This is easy to recreate for a virtual event and a lot more fun digitally. The game’s name can include “sponsored by ‘sponsor,’” and you can even ask the sponsor if they’d like to provide the prize. After completing the challenge, attendees receive a code and enter it into the app to claim their points. 

With gamification, get creative and think big.

You can create sponsored challenges like answering trivia questions, completing online scavenger hunts, or visiting a sponsor’s website. This is a fun way to generate leads and encourage attendees to interact with and learn more about your sponsors. Organizers can even assign different numbers of points based on sponsorship tiers.

⚠️ Caution, keep these to a minimum. They’ll have more impact when used sparingly!

Sponsored Event Codes: If you’re using a gated privacy setting for your event app, use the sponsor’s name as the event code. This is a great option for a premium-level sponsorship.

Example of Sponsorship Tiers

While you can offer any of these options to sponsors “a la carte,” you may decide to provide different packages for your offerings, or “tiers.” Pricing will vary because the audience and value are different for each event. 

Gold 🥇

  • A dedicated, exclusive feature icon
  • Splash screen
  • Announcement (push notification) “from” sponsor
  • More links in their profile, such as a specific product page or social media
  • Everything in the Silver and Bronze tiers

Silver 🥈

  • Banner ad
  • Game challenge
  • Everything in the Bronze tier

Bronze 🥉

  • Profile in Sponsor feature with a link to sponsor’s website
  • Sponsored session
  • Titles (brought to you by “Sponsor”) and internal links to Sponsor profile

Oh hey, you’re still here? Thanks for sticking with this “manifesto” 😂. I hope you’ve come away with some great ideas about how to show your sponsors incredible value and protect your event revenue. As we continue to find new ideas, we’ll update this article and would love to hear what you’re doing that has been successful. The more we share ideas, the faster we can all adjust to this new normal. 

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Corey McCarthy
Corey McCarthy
Award-winning B2B and B2C marketing executive. Fueled by chocolate chip cookies. Signature catchphrases include "Watch this" and "I got you."