Much like Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) had to prove to his sports star, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding) in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, exhibit and sponsorship managers are having to show their organizations (and their clients – exhibitors and sponsors) the “money” or value in a virtual world.

Unfortunately, as the past few tumultuous COVID-19 months have shown us, many traditional “go-to” sponsorships and standard exhibit booths have mostly evaporated. While understandable, organizers have been merely scrambling to keep up with the changes in an uncertain and ever-changing landscape.

As time has passed, many exhibiting and sponsoring companies have become less willing to accept “skipping” a year and rolling their event funds (aka marketing dollars) forward.

So why are attitudes changing?

These companies are also navigating economic uncertainty, so they are anxious to find meaningful opportunities to interact with their clients and prospects. In the 2018 Marketing Spend Decision report by CEIR, 68% of marketers said they paired exhibiting with one or more digital marketing channels. By not offering engagement via your event (whatever format it may become), you have removed one of their top-spend marketing tactics.

Events Budgets in a COVID World

As budgets get re-rewritten and re-written many times this year, companies will look diligently at every investment. Marketing is often the first dollar cut or reallocated to the most effective efforts to generate sales. If your event is not happening or not creating revenue opportunities – you will be cut. Can you hear it…Show me the money. Louder Jerry. SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Cut? Wait—What?

Yes, events activities (regardless of format and your long-standing tradition to attend) will be scrutinized to see what performed well. Even over the past few months, the comfort level of exhibitors and companies willing to forgive low event performance due to the pandemic’s unprecedented nature is waning.

So, what can you do?

Double Down on Virtual Events

Many have quickly worked to solve the event’s content component and left the commerce component to languish, assuming exhibitors and sponsors would be forgiving. Virtual events that work to create environments using proven event technology can drive value and revenue-generating engagement. That said, it is once again a dual responsibility of the show organizer to provide the tools and virtual venues and the exhibitor to market and participate in this new format.

But hasn’t it always been a dual responsibility?

Yes. However, in the virtual world, we are now asking exhibitors (who let’s face it never read) to participate (and excel) in a format they most likely never have before. Now you have even more added pressure to deliver value so you will remain part of the 2021 budget mix, you have to motivate and educate a group to do something completely new.

So, before you update your resume, let’s talk about a few tactics that will help you.

Call the Right People

One shift I see occurring is that events are often categorized as a marketing expense for businesses of all sizes. If a company has a marketing team member or entire office dedicated to marketing, they greatly influence how their dollars are spent. Marketing investment is often directly tied to sales and performance. Building a relationship with the marketing contact at your exhibiting and sponsoring companies will go a long way, particularly in this uncertain time. CALL THEM. Ask them about their goals? What are they looking to achieve with their exhibiting and sponsoring? How has that changed because of the pandemic? What do they want to do differently? Do they want to modify their exhibiting/sponsoring mix?

If it is a smaller company or one that is family-run, do the same thing with your contact or company owner. These conversations will help you retain the customer over both the long and short term. It will be a lot harder to drop you from the mix if you build a relationship to work mutually towards both goals in mind.

Educate. Educate. Educate.

If you were to drop most professionals off at the front door of a convention center, they likely could navigate your event from collecting a badge to finding a session or the exhibit hall. In the virtual world, every experience is likely different.

While it was true pre-pandemic and even more true now, educating ALL your constituents about your virtual or hybrid experience is REQUIRED. Screenshots, videos, webinars, and emails during each step leading up to, during and after your events are some of the best ways to meet your audience’s needs. As early virtual events have highlighted, even tech savvy users have struggled to understand how to engage and interact. They are eager to consume not only education on the how to, but the ability to partake in the virtual world if possible.

For exhibitors and sponsors especially, understanding your virtual event’s capability, features and functionality to generate leads and revenue makes education more important and required of show organizers.

Want to learn more on how to best prepare your exhibitors and sponsors for the virtual world?

Join me, Rich Vallaster, Director of Clients Relations at Personify and The Trade Show Wonk, and my special guest, Marlys Arnold, Author of Build a Better Trade Show Image and Virtual Event Host & Concierge at the Exhibit Marketers Café, as we share how you can help your exhibitors and sponsors rethink and retool to succeed at your virtual events. Tips include:

  • Connecting with attendees pre-, during and post-event (both you and your exhibitors/sponsors) to create a robust conversation
  • Having essential behind-the-scenes support to guide both attendees and exhibitors/sponsors through the experience
  • Educating exhibitors/sponsors on how to engage and interact with a virtual audience
  • Implementing creative ideas to get attendees excited and involved

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