In 2020, many companies found themselves taking their in-person conferences and events virtual. Netchex, a leading HR payroll software provider, had hosted their Netconnect user conference in-person in New Orleans since 2012 and, after a hiatus in 2019, needed to take their event online. 

Powered by Influitive’s Virtual EventHub, Netconnect 2020 was a free two-day conference packed with educational sessions, fun activities and connected HR professionals from around the world. Netchex had to pivot their attendee experience while re-imagining this for their sponsors, who were part of Netconnect for many years. Leveraging strong sponsor relations, Netchex covered their virtual event’s entire cost through sponsorships while delivering a smooth sponsor experience.  

We spoke with Katie Kennedy, Marketing Director at Netchex, to get her top tips for delivering an optimal virtual experience for event sponsors.

Get creative and maximize digital opportunities 

Netconnect had always involved a lot of cross-collaboration between Netchex and their sponsors. “Our main value proposition for our sponsors was the amount of interaction that we had with them, and it wasn’t just about the people that we’d drive to their booth,” said Kennedy. “We’d have our CEO shake hands with every sponsor attendee and host a big welcome dinner with them the night before the event. It was a culmination of months of planning.” 

Going virtual required Netchex to take a creative and holistic approach to their sponsorship packaging and promotional opportunities. Netchex maximized the branding opportunities in their virtual event hun to ensure sponsors felt well-represented. “For our title sponsor, it was almost hard to tell whether it was our event or theirs, which was the intent,” said Kennedy. “Their logo was on our event banner, they had a dedicated spot on our interactive event map, and they were a panelist on one of our most attended sessions.”   

Each sponsor had a dedicated channel for targeted promotion like booking demos, the ability for attendees to read and share content on their social networks, and an open forum for attendees to ask questions. Gamification also played a large role in Netconnect, so attendees could earn points for taking these actions and exchange them for Netchex swag and other monetary rewards. 

“We also offered a virtual scavenger hunt, hiding extra badges behind certain activities to make sure that attendees were accessing the sponsor booths,” added Kennedy. 

Outside of the virtual event hub, Netchex leveraged its strong social media presence to promote each sponsorship and any content the sponsor wanted to highlight. 

Make the sponsor planning process as immersive as possible

Every virtual event will come with a bit of a technical learning curve for both you, your attendees and your sponsors. “In a virtual event, it’s much easier for people to get lost in the shuffle because they can’t walk up to a help desk, and you don’t have all of your employees walking around in bright shirts engaging them and making sure that they know where they’re going,” said Kennedy. 

Once Netchex had most of their virtual event hub set up, they walked each sponsor through the floor plan and previewed the attendee experience. “That’s when the light bulb started going off for them, seeing how it would look and feel, and how they could take advantage of it,” said Kennedy. “There was a learning curve for everyone involved, but we navigated it together.” 

Virtual events are just one piece of a long-term sponsor strategy 

Most of Netchex’s sponsors are long-term partners or partners they had met in 2020 but have a clear 2020 roadmap with. Having a proven track record and a go-to-market plan built on collaboration is what Kennedy recommends for those looking to forge partnerships and make that investment ask of their sponsors. “You have to start small and build that relationship where a virtual event would not be a one-and-done thing,” she said. “Then when you’re looking for a financial investment, they know it’s worth their money.”