Expos Don’t Work Well in a Virtual Environment

Virtual Expo Truths

Nearly every conference and trade show professional is searching for that perfect virtual platform or pricing model for replacing lost expo revenue. I’ve got bad news for you. Virtual expos will never be able to come close to replacing the revenue generated from your face-to-face expo. Here’s some of our learnings:

1. Corporate Booth

In the good ole days, companies would hire a booth builder to design, build and maintain their displays. In the virtual world, we ask exhibitors to build out a custom booth on the platform the show organizer selects. They need to do this for every virtual show they participate in. We’re seeing companies take one of three roads – 1) opt out of participating 2) sign-up and give it a minimal effort or 3) build a digital showroom on their turf and use the virtual platform as the doorway to their showroom.

2. Participation and ROI

In the early going, most shows are actualizing paid exhibitor participation in the 25% range. The average amount paid per exhibiting company varies by show, but is always considerably less. While virtual platform solution providers tout improved behavioral data on attendees, booth visits and downloads, the quality of those interactions is not ringing the bell like the face-to-face experience. Virtual expos are more like commoditized digital advertising offerings than they are immersive deal-making spaces.

3. Trusted Platform

In the February 2019 issue of Convene, I wrote about Why the Sustainability of the Trade-Show Business Model is in Question. Reflecting on these thoughts through a post-COVID lens makes it nearly impossible for a new virtual platform to be trusted by both buyers and sellers out of the gate. It will be interesting to see how virtual CES 2021 addresses these challenges!

Up Your Sponsorship Game

While these virtual expo predictions are sobering, conference organizers should be taking steps to diversify revenue by going all in with sponsorship. Next practices for creating your sponsorship program include:

  • Embrace the belief that a successful sponsor program will always have fewer, but bigger sponsors.
  • Create three sponsorship levels – Premier, Industry Champion, Collaborator
  • Limit the number of sponsors at the Premier level to 4 – 6. Cap the next level and 8 – 12. Increased exclusivity is a must.
  • Allow customized packages for the Premier level.
  • Create a one-page sell sheet.
  • Provide sponsor benefits that include:
    • Access – Passes to VIP events and/or the virtual experience
    • Content & Experience – speak at session, track sponsor, keynote sponsor, webinar, Q&A sessions, blog, podcast, etc.
    • Presence – virtual expo, demo room, branded feature area, lead capture, product showcase
    • Advance/Post Recognition – promotional and registration emails, website, social media
    • Recognition in Platform – video or banner ads, SWAG

Sponsor Success

Virtual sponsorship success is not going to be dependent on your platform, prospectus or sales skills. To make a short-term impact, you will need:

  1. Custom sponsorship packages that include thought leadership (speaking opportunity) inventory.
  2. Sponsor benefits that provide access to VIP segments and leadership.
  3. Sponsor benefits that go beyond the dates of the virtual event.
  4. Senior leadership who will leverage their relationships to open doors with major investors.
  5. Major investors who have high potential of renewal.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2020.

What has worked, or not worked, for you with your virtual expo or sponsorship offerings? 

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