Re-Imagining Event Sponsorships – Taking a strategic, campaign-based approach 

<< Case Studies & White Papers | September 13, 2022

By Phil Stanley

Senior Strategist, InVision Communications
September 2022

For too long, corporate event sponsors and exhibitors were viewed primarily as sources of revenue. And event sponsors, in turn, viewed their attendees as commodities.

The result: inadequate sponsorship value, lackluster exhibit hall attendance, short dwell times, and not enough decision-makers walking the floor.

Now that IRL experiences are back in full-swing, we need to establish the “new normal” for our sponsors and exhibitors — a new normal that treats our sponsor partners as partners, and places the needs and behaviors of the evolved B2B buyer at the heart of sponsorship strategy.

The keys to success:

  • Weaving sponsors into a cohesive, overarching story
  • Taking ownership of how sponsors and exhibitors show up at events:
    –   Leveraging new content delivery opportunities and guidelines
    –   Driving meaningful moments of interaction – 1:1 and 1:few
    –   Deriving insights from customer data to optimize messaging for smaller, more focused audiences
  • Building a discovery process for messaging and activation that involves the sponsor, sponsorship sales, and the event team working collaboratively
  • The result will be greater value for sponsors, a curated experience for attendees, and a higher return on experience (ROE).

The problems with off-the-shelf sponsorships

The existing event sponsorship and exhibitor model is based on pre-packaged tiered opportunities. This has made it hard for sponsors to customize their event presence in a way that delivers maximum value to their business, the event attendees… Or to the brand hosting the event.

In early 2020, the tiered sponsor format already felt misaligned with the needs of B2B buyers. B2B buyers were showing up at events already in the sales funnel, whether your sponsors or exhibitors realized it or not. The typical B2B buyer had already researched sponsors’ products and services, and the number of brand touchpoints necessary to make a purchase was already increasing, from 17 to 27, according to a 2021 Forrester study.

As the pandemic progressed, event marketers quickly pivoted to virtual and instinctively tried replicating in-person sponsorships in digital environments. Sponsors were offered the same tier formats, branding opportunities, and collateral, plus “virtual hospitality” opportunities. But sponsoring brands quickly learned that attendees did not have the attention span (or often, the interest) to spend hours on virtual trade show floors or engaging with sponsor representatives. The hoped-for qualified leads did not materialize, and sponsors have, for the most part, moved on from any virtual event investments.

Now, two-plus years later, event attendees are arriving at revitalized IRL experiences expecting that event sponsors already know who they are, what they want, and how to communicate with them. Sponsors are now again investing in your event, with an expectation that they will get more bang for the buck from their booth, floor activation, or sponsorship.

To meet this expectation, all brands – both sponsoring brands and the hosts of proprietary events – would be well-served by taking another look at your attendee personas, and exploring where they are today after two-plus years of pandemic and interruption (see InVision Communications blog post, Getting Personal with Micro-personas).

How do we make this happen?

At InVision, we are working with our clients to build the new sponsorship model, focused on the collaborative development of sponsorship opportunities — opportunities that serve the objectives of both the event owner and the sponsors.

It is a model built on integration of the event host’s message and solution ecosystem with the sponsor’s offering, brought to life through unbiased thought leadership opportunities.

Brands should start with a discovery process that involves the prospective sponsor, sponsorship sales lead, and the event team. This conversation helps ensure the experience design offered in the expo and individual sponsor space considers the sponsors’ needs and brand presentation. And it should focus on meeting the attendees’ desire for a cohesive experience — free of the dreaded and disjointed collection of logos.

Collaborating closely with the sponsor does not, of course, mean the sponsor gets whatever they want. But it does mean that focus remains on the attendees’ and the sponsor’s business needs. This results in a higher rate of return. According to a 2022 WARC report on sponsorship effectiveness, 44% of marketing executives said it is the least understood channel in terms of ROI. The key is aligning goals and objectives during discovery and mapping to relevant KPIs.

Virtual, hybrid and campaign-thinking

But what about virtual and hybrid?

The second half of 2022 into 2023 promises to be a time of radical experimentation as we try to define what a hybrid event is, what and how much content is synchronous, and the staffing and budget levels needed to support in-person and virtual. Other event marketers are walking away from the concept of “hybrid events,” but will still offer digital content channels to support attendees who are still able (or comfortable), with the return to IRL experiences.

Now that eventgoers have evolved their expectations of virtual and hybrid events — and shown an inclination to engage in them — the next step is unlocking opportunities for effective sponsorships in those formats.

Campaign thinking will let us do just that.

Campaigns could look like four weeks of pre-event audience generation, three in-person event days, and post-event digital engagement that could be 10 weeks or more. In theory, the value of a hybrid sponsorship should exceed the individual values of virtual or in-person opportunities alone. In practice, we still need to develop the metrics that will enable us to understand and report attendee sentiment and behavioral changes driven by attendance at hybrid events.

Our approach

InVision Communications has partnered with Event Marketing Partners (EMP), to bring clients a trusted partner to support the development of all facets of the new sponsorship model and ensure the success of your event. EMP has created a niche in B2B IT conference sponsorship strategy and sales. They have a proven track record working with brands as large as AT&T, HPE, and Intel, as well growth brands such as Commvault and Yext, on developing and executing a sponsorship strategy. EMP services work in concert with the messaging, experience design and creative services that clients have trusted InVision with to create their events.

Together, InVision and EMP offers  a comprehensive sponsorship strategy that works across live, virtual, and hybrid formats — and importantly, a strategy that is focused at once on the host brand’s business requirements and the sponsors’ and exhibitors’ needs.

Our approach to sponsorships has seven pillars:

  1. Brand Goals and Objectives – Start with an analysis of the event host’s brand, business, financial, and event goals. Define sponsorship and exhibitor objectives and how they fit into the overall event plan.
  2. Consultative Approach – Think “beyond the booth” regarding sponsorship value creation.
  3. Brand Platform – Reposition the event, not as an individual timebound experience but as an enduring platform that invites sponsors to align with your brand and realize more value through thought leadership, networking, and lead generation.
  4. Building the Pipeline – Identify prospective sponsors by assessing business partner tiers. Based on these tiers, develop unique selling propositions that best align sponsor needs with the host’s opportunities.
  5. Sponsor Feedback – Review previous post-event sponsor surveys to understand how sponsorship narratives can leverage recent successes and alleviate past problems.
  6. Competitive Analysis – Leverage EMP’s database of more than 75 IT customer conference sponsorships to identify competitive insights and pricing strategies.
  7. Event Trends – Examine the corporate events landscape to understand trends, uncover opportunities, and apply the insights that feel most relevant.

Event marketers have an opportunity to re-invent sponsorship to drive value and revenue, both for themselves and their partners. They can make the most of that opportunity by placing a higher value on their sponsor relationships, educating their sponsors more fully, and enabling them to show up in a way that more closely aligns with new B2B buyers.

Phil Stanley
Senior Strategist

Phil Stanley is a Senior Strategist focused on the B2B space. He is adept at listening and consulting with his clients to understand their aspirations, goals, and objectives to create unique experiences. Phil is responsible for translating market conditions into insights, recommendations, and positive outcomes for clients. He has worked with brands such as Intel, Nvidia, Microsoft and IBM.

At InVision, we deliver strategic programs based on data, insights, and a clear understanding of today’s B2B buyer’s needs. Reach out to your InVision Communications account director, or email Phil Stanley at to learn how InVision and Event Marketing Partners can help clarify your sponsorship objectives, build an enduring sponsorship platform, and drive revenue for you and your sponsors alike.