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Selling Sponsorships to Virtual and Hybrid Events in the Time of COVID

By: Justin Cheshire, Director of Marketing & Business Development, Cheshire AV | Oct 16, 2020


As a result of the onset of COVID-19, almost the entire meetings and live events industry has turned to holding virtual and hybrid events. This brings new challenges to those charged with selling sponsorships. While it may be easy to provide metrics for live events – especially for functions that have a history -- most organizations are in uncharted waters and don’t have any track record when it comes to the virtual world.

We spoke with Vanessa E. LaClair, CAE, CMP, Executive Director of Empire State Society of Association Executives (ESSAE) to get her input on strategies her association members have used successfully in obtaining underwriting for virtual and hybrid functions.

Over the months of the transition from live to virtual, online wear-out has become a real issue, and a drop in anticipated attendance is not uncommon. It is challenging for associations to provide fee-based content when so much content is being given away for free, and it becomes harder to attract paying attendees.

“Niche organizations, and those that provide education and certification points, aren’t necessarily seeing a dip,” Vanessa noted. She added, though, that when companies fall on hard times, professional development is one of the first areas to be cut, so attendees often have to pay on their own, and tend to be selective.

To counteract attendance erosion, “The online experience has to be taken up fifteen notches. The content has to be both relevant and engaging,” she asserted.

Options for sponsors to connect with the audience might include having a representative from the sponsoring organization give an opening address or an in-person message during the event. Alternatively, a video message may offer a more dynamic option. Because many of ESSAE’s underwriters are destinations, videos provide an exciting way to showcase the region’s assets.

In some cases, sponsors have partnered with Uber Eats, to have coupons, gift cards, or branded food and beverage products delivered to attendees or event VIPs.

Vanessa noted that sponsors tend to be more attracted to programs in which the organizers use more technically sophisticated platforms than a straight video conferencing application. Features such as breakout rooms, networking opportunities and enhanced messaging provide attractive features so sponsors are able to share messaging in a proactive manner.

From what she’s seen, annual and partnership packages generally have stronger appeal with underwriters than stand-alone events, segments of programs or sponsorship levels. Of course, this all depends on your partners and how they prefer to invest with your organization.

The important thing to remember, Vanessa pointed out, is that loyal sponsors are partners that want to support the organization.

“The best bet is to have a candid conversation with each sponsor. What do they need? It might be something entirely different from what is on your list. The key is to be flexible. And keep in mind that it’s a partnership, and as your partner, they’re an asset, as well as an expert in their field.”

She noted that some sponsors would find the opportunity to share their expertise a great return on their investment.



Justin AV-ator Cheshire AV
Justin Cheshire, Director of Marketing & Business Development, Cheshire AV
Director of Marketing & Business Development at Cheshire AV






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