The Evolution of Sponsorships in the Event Industry

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Disruptions are often — by their very nature — bad. But sometimes, those disruptions have silver linings. The pandemic, for example, accelerated many innovations needed to adapt the event industry to meet evolving needs of its customers. 

But those adaptations weren’t always smooth and seamless. Events have always relied on sponsorships to generate a portion of their revenue, and sponsors benefit from the exposure. When events transitioned to fully virtual platforms, event organizers initially tried to replicate physical sponsorships in the digital world, recreating booths virtually. But hoping people would visit your Zoom room proved to be an ineffective model.

Event organizers — and companies who regularly provided sponsorships at events — had to reconsider their approach. Now event technology companies and organizers are switching up digital sponsorships completely. 

The over-the-top (OTT) advertising space is making its way into future events and sponsorships. The industry’s moving to a model similar to TV or social media, where users see sponsored stories, sessions and posts. The engagement itself has been sponsored, going far beyond brand awareness or a logo on a name tag. 

And what might the future bring with ads and sponsorships within the event industry? Plenty more innovation, whether the events are in person or hybrid. Maybe we’ll see a 10-second advertisement prior to a session starting — or a quick ad in between sessions.

The entire sponsorship role, value, and opportunity will transform in 2022.

The value of sponsorships

Event sponsorships can make or break an event — and 37% of event professionals struggled to provide value for sponsors even before 2020. The challenge remains in designing event experiences that can drive value for their sponsors. 

Event sponsors provide funds or other support in exchange for:

  • Access to attendee data
  • Discounted event tickets
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Speaking opportunities at the event

Events benefit from sponsors as well, gaining credibility, additional resources or perks, and financial resources. But whereas in the past, a sponsor might set up a booth, hang banners throughout an event space, or be prominently featured on an event’s sponsors webpage, the evolution of events from purely in-person to hybrid or virtual means the sponsor experiences must evolve, too.

Creating unique sponsor experiences

One strategy gaining a foothold in the event industry — and which sponsors have begun to use — is OTT ads. These ads deliver content directly to viewers via video content. Streaming, with its trifecta of sight, sound, and motion, creates an effective connection between brands and audiences.

A valuable component of mixed media, event organizers can leverage OTT video to engage and move potential and current customers through the entire funnel. It enables marketers to meet their goals thanks to its ability to scale, measure, and provide data-driven insights.

Events can use OTT content delivery on any device streaming content via the internet: mobile devices and personal computers, smart or connected TVs, streaming devices and event tech platforms. 

Best practices for sponsored OTT video content

If sponsors opt to use OTT ads, they should consider the following recommendations, which include:

  • Formatting video for multiple devices
  • Sticking to a 30-second or less view time (15 to 30 seconds is generally the sweet spot for non-skippable content)
  • Leveraging specifics about the audience to inform the content and deliver relevant, personalized experiences. Consider the day of the week, time of day, location(s), weather, and even behavioral signals to drive the approach of OTT content

Innovative event sponsorship ideas

OTT/streaming offers one strategy for sponsors to reach and engage virtual, hybrid, and in-person event attendees. Even if the traditional sponsor approaches are geared toward in-person attendees, making even minor tweaks can yield benefits for everyone.

For example, because sponsors want to connect with event participants, which helps cultivate leads and generate more brand awareness, one option might be to offer sponsors the chance to endow an event scholarship. Perhaps this scholarship covers attendance only — but what if it also included a 30- or 60-minute conversation with someone from the organization? A 30-day software trial? Another exclusive offering? 

Invite sponsors to create pre-recorded videos shown prior to in-person speakers and virtual event broadcasts. Create a sponsor lounge where an organization’s members can conference in from offsite to meet with in-person or virtual attendees. 

Increase the amount of sponsored content. Invite sponsors to moderate discussion panels or conversations either in-person or on the virtual platform. Suggest they upload a session on their company’s YouTube channel. Record or live-stream demos and share them virtually. If your event offers different sponsorship tiers, allow sponsors at certain tier levels only to live-stream their demos and host live Q&A sessions.

Who doesn’t love prizes and swag? Sponsors can award prizes to active participants regardless of whether they’re in-person or virtual. Other options could include sponsorship website pages, virtual sponsor booths, in-app splash screens or sponsored offers, sponsored tracks or promo codes. Virtual and hybrid events could also include virtual exhibition halls — similar to in-person expo halls — where participants could browse virtual booths, clicking on each booth to “go” to a custom sponsor page where they could watch videos, interact in real-time with exhibitors, learn more about the company, book meetings, and more.

Sponsorship value will continue to grow and evolve. Event technology companies, event planners, and brands themselves are strategizing and experimenting with how best to leverage digital sponsorships. What we know is that the most effective sponsorships will offer the same reach — in both virtual and physical environments. Only our imaginations and creativity limit the possibilities.

Alon Alroy is the Co-Founder, CMO & CCO of Bizzabo.