9 Creative Ways to Integrate Sponsorships Into a Virtual Event

From games and giveaways to exclusive content, here’s how brands can incorporate their messaging into digital events and conferences.

Chipotle, the official restaurant partner for Teen Vogue's Virtual Prom, hosted an after-party with digital star David Dobrik via Instagram. The event included 10,000 free food giveaways, interactive games, and a $25,000 scholarship announcement.
Chipotle, the official restaurant partner for Teen Vogue's Virtual Prom, hosted an after-party with digital star David Dobrik via Instagram. The event included 10,000 free food giveaways, interactive games, and a $25,000 scholarship announcement.
Photo: Courtesy of Chipotle

Without an actual physical space to showcase sponsor branding and messaging, virtual events can pose a unique problem when it comes to monetization opportunities. But don't let a lack of IRL real estate deter you. Whether it’s an in-person or digital event, the philosophy behind sponsorship integration remains the same.

“It was important to us that our partners be integrated into the programming in a way that felt authentic and native, just like they would have been at the live event,” explained Lauren Murphy, vice president of brand innovation and strategy for Apartment Therapy, about the home decor site’s recent virtual event. "And we wanted our readers to feel like they were truly experiencing [the partner's] products.”

Much like a live, in-person event or conference, the sponsors of Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Experience at Home, which included Behr, Tuft & Needle, Chasing Paper, and Amazon Handmade, were featured prominently in the programming, with representatives from the brands joining panel discussions, as well as hosting how-to demos.

“Our approach was two-fold: Each brand received shoppable placement within the animated illustrated videos that brought the rooms to life on the site, and integration into Instagram programming that aligned with their products and brands throughout the weekend,” Murphy said. “Each partner segment leveraged designer and editorial expertise combined with the benefits of our partners’ products, providing a combination of inspiration and utility.”

Read on for more of Apartment Therapy’s sponsorship strategy, and other creative ways organizers are integrating branded messaging into their events:

1. Exclusive Content
In addition to an Amazon Handmade-sponsored IGTV panel discussion (which you can watch here), Apartment Therapy also created an Instagram Story series that profiled select “Makers” from the Amazon Handmade portfolio, offering the audience a behind-the-scenes look into their studios.

2. Workshops
Earlier this month, during the Create & Cultivate Money Moves Summit, which was sponsored by MasterCard, attendees were able to take part in a full day’s worth of programming including financial workshops, fireside chats, keynote speeches, mentor sessions, and more.

For the platform’s next virtual event, Digital Summer Camp on June 6, Create & Cultivate's CEO Jaclyn Johnson said she aimed to expand the opportunities for sponsors and partners. “We wanted to make sure we were creative in some new offerings, not only for our attendees but for our partners, which is why we decided to offer workshops throughout the day in addition to panels, networking, and mentorship our fans have come to love.”

Currently, the event lineup includes workshops such as “build your own Instagram-worthy floral arrangement” with East Olivia, “how to be a good plant parent” with The Sill, and “how to build a swoon-worthy charcuterie board” with Lady & Larder, plus others. Attendees will be able to purchase supplies from the presenting partners for the various workshops beforehand.

“Moving from in-person to virtual experiences poses the need to pivot across the board, not just with sponsors or partners. After the success of Money Moves, we wanted to ensure we kept bringing our community something new and exciting, so being able to incorporate partners while ideating new ways of interacting with the audience was key,” Johnson said.

3. Games and Prizes
During Apartment Therapy's Small/Cool Experience at Home, attendees were encouraged to screenshot and complete the event’s Small Space Bingo board, which included squares for small space struggles like “store shoes in the oven” and “shower too small for shaving,” as well as a sponsored square from Tuft & Needle, while Amazon Handmade was integrated into the event’s “Design Trivia” segment. Plus, attendees could enter for the chance to win Amazon Handmade and Tuft & Needle prize packages.

For Teen Vogue’s Virtual Prom, which took place on May 16, sponsor Axe hosted #bemyAXEdatecontest via Instagram. High school students could submit their most unique promposal videos using the hashtag for a chance to win an IG Live hangout with internet sensation Rickey Thompson. The winner and a friend also received VIP access to the prom event.

Plus, the prom’s official restaurant partner Chipotle hosted an after-party via Instagram. The event included 10,000 free food giveaways, interactive games, and a $25,000 scholarship announcement. The brand also enlisted DIY creator Sophie Parker to show teens how to create corsages and boutonnieres using Chipotle’s burrito foil.

4. Interactive Elements & Activities
Apartment Therapy commissioned muralist Liz Karamul to design a wall in her home using paint from exclusive paint partner Behr. First, attendees voted on the design and color scheme via Instagram Stories, and then the mural was revealed at the end of the weekend event. The site also hosted a guided meditation in partnership with Tuft & Needle, which took place on IG Live.

Create & Cultivate CEO Jaclyn Johnson chatted with Shay Mitchell, founder of travel luggage brand BÉIS. A discount code for the brand was included in the event's virtual swag bag.Create & Cultivate CEO Jaclyn Johnson chatted with Shay Mitchell, founder of travel luggage brand BÉIS. A discount code for the brand was included in the event's virtual swag bag.Photo: Courtesy of Create & Cultivate5. Goodie Bags and Swag
To encourage attendees to submit feedback on the Money Moves Summit, Create & Cultivate offered a virtual gift bag in exchange for completing a survey. The goodies were provided by sponsors, speakers, and panelists such as a discount code for Shay Mitchell’s brand BÉIS. Organizers plan to offer a similar swag bag for the Summer Camp event.

6. Pre-Event Incentives
On the flip side, organizers can also work with sponsors to build excitement for an event, sending attendees digital offerings or physical loot. For example, to promote its recent virtual prom, Jack in the Box sent registered attendees digital coupon codes they could use to buy flowers, dresses and tuxedos, and other prom necessities from various sponsors, such as 1-800-Flowers, LULU’S, Black Tux, Higher Education Skincare, and UberEats, before the event.

“We wanted to go a step further to make sure we gave some of the special moments that are part of the overall prom experience back to the students, such as picking out your dress or tux, purchasing flowers for your date, or getting your makeup done,” Adrienne Ingoldt, chief brand and experience officer at Jack in the Box, told BizBash. “We also utilized UberEats to deliver our fan-favorite tiny tacos to students, as the perfect prom snack.”

To begin each workshop, panel, or keynote speaker, Create & Cultivate played an upbeat introduction video that featured the event's sponsor, Mastercard, as well as the summit's logo.To begin each workshop, panel, or keynote speaker, Create & Cultivate played an upbeat introduction video that featured the event's sponsor, Mastercard, as well as the summit's logo.Photo: Courtesy of Create & Cultivate7. Pre-Roll Video & Backgrounds
During the Money Moves Summit, each workshop, panel, and keynote speaker session began with an introduction video that featured MasterCard. The virtual event’s backgrounds also included consistent branding across all sessions that included the financial company’s logo.

8. Q&A Sessions and VIP Rooms
For extra brand awareness, sponsors can also offer additional content or special features such as a live chat before, during, or after an event. “One thing we are doing with many of our programs is providing an ‘ask the expert’ session where attendees can participate in a deeper dive conversation,” said Peter Gentile, vice president of sales at Ovation, an experiential agency in Dedham, Mass.

9. Transitional Videos
Similar to ads running before a video on YouTube, sponsors can take advantage of the transitions between sessions or speakers with video messaging. But they should shy away from making it too much of a sales pitch. “Logos are good connection points that may lead to their website, but a meaningful video will do far more,” Gentile said. “I’d encourage sponsors… to lean into the challenges we are all facing, make the presentation authentic, and talk about how it’s helping this specific attendee base. The more real they can be the bigger impact they will have and the more they will connect with the audience.”

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