Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

How to Deliver Value to Digital Event Sponsors

When the American College of Emergency Physicians had to flip its four-day educational event from in-person to online last year, among the many challenges they faced was how to deliver value to sponsors.

They began by fully embracing the online concept by rebranding the event as the “unconventional conference,” said ACEP Chief Development Officer Jodi Talia during a session at the Professional Convention Management Convening Leaders (PCMA CL) 2021 hybrid event. “We didn’t want to compromise the opportunity for connection and chance encounters,” she said. “We also wanted to preserve sponsor interaction” so sponsors also would get a good return on investment in the online event — and, of course, so ACEP could reach its goal of maintaining at least 30% of its exhibit and sponsorship revenue.

“We ended up transitioning about 77% of that revenue” that was committed for the in-person event, she said.

Here’s how they did it.

—Pricing to sell.
“We tried to keep [the price] the same [as for our in-person event], but provided additional value,” said Talia. “Think about what you can offer sponsors and exhibitors in terms of your digital and web presence beyond the event. That really helped.”

—Broadening the stakeholder definition of what they want to get out of an online environment. “Virtual meetings are not simply a lead-generation machine. I think that’s where people get a little stuck,” Talia said. “We have to help them think about the marketing insights they’re getting” by showing value through the data analytics provided by the platform.

—Breaking down the wall between sponsors/exhibitors and attendees. “We’ve really flipped the script to say that the value of exhibits is not necessarily the space — it’s the engagement, thought leadership, and education. We tell our exhibitors they need to find ways to integrate into the community that we’re creating to create those authentic connections. Don’t just have sales reps work the booth. Engage participants in quality conversations about how they can better serve their patients and leave them wanting more. Focus on their needs, not yours. That helps exhibitors better network on the platform — and draw people to the exhibit.”

ACEP also created space for sponsored sessions that not accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), in order to stay in compliance with the rules around pharmaceutical company participation in education. “There are creative ways to solve the problem of maintaining compliance,” Talia said.

—Engaging the core audience — wherever they are. Emergency physicians keep crazy hours even when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic. ACEP accommodated their schedules by holding educational sessions at night — and got up to 800 people attending those sessions. Offering sessions at different hours also helped grow the global audience — ACEP had participants from New Zealand to Thailand tuning into the event — as did working with the organizations thought leaders and ambassadors in different parts of the globe.

“The translatable best practice is to create a meeting that’s in step with your audience’s needs and lifestyles,” she said. ACEP did extensive pre-event surveying to align its offerings with attendee needs. 

—Adding in some fun. Emergency physicians also tend to be an artistic group, so ACEP held a virtual art exhibit area where the artwork was provided by the sponsor, and attendees also could submit their artwork to share. ACEP also held “connection events” that included everything from s’mores to storytelling. In the evenings, some attendees may be ready to unwind with a glass of wine, others are ready to engage in trivia, and some may want to make more of an emotional connection with others going through treating patients during a pandemic.

“We tried to come up with a lot of different things that met those different audience needs,” said Talia. One example was a sponsored and branded TikTok-style micro-education/competition. Sponsors could integrate some of their content, so they not only got branding and advertising, but also could provide some thought leadership in a fun format.

—Extending the sponsored poster session. “Talk about a happy sponsor!” They got more exposure to attendees, while attendees got a longer exposure to the micro-education it offered.

—Using gamification to drive engagement. ACEP pushed notifications telling attendees that there will be a surprise $50 Amazon gift card giveaway in one of the sponsored sessions, for example.

—Using the platform’s AI capabilities to serve individualized content. ACEP used tags to provide personalized content both in the educational channel and for its sponsored content, social events, and exhibition.

—Communicating, communicating, communicating. “You think you’re communicating a lot. You probably need to do more,” she said. “The number-one thing you can do for sponsors is to continue to work the relationship,” she said. If something isn’t working, work with them to build the next version. “Empathy goes a long way,” she said.


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