Why virtual sponsorship is valuable

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most events have been hosted entirely virtually. Companies looking to achieve their marketing objectives by means of events sponsorship have now been faced with the question of whether or not to invest in virtual events.

Virtual Booth Image

The major challenge that we have observed is that many companies expect the same outcome from their virtual event sponsorship as from an in-person meeting. We often hear that while in-person conferences offer possibilities for networking and casual talks, the virtual format is difficult and less efficient in this respect. At our in-person meetings, for example, exhibition booths with big banners are placed in the hall, right next to the catering area. Participants have enough time to walk around and strike a spontaneous conversation with sponsors during the breaks. The virtual format, however, is different. Participants usually attend virtual conferences from their home, often juggling work and family duties. They are more selective about the kind of content they access and prefer to schedule their interactions.

At first glance, this focused approach to attending virtual conferences may not seem as beneficial for sponsors. At the same time, however, there are several ways in which virtual meetings can lend themselves well to providing opportunities for sponsors.

🌎 Wider reach

The number of participants at virtual conferences is normally much higher than at in-person meetings due to them being more affordable and more accessible. The sponsors’ brands could therefore reach wider and more diverse audiences.

💸 Lower cost

Similar to the registration fees, the cost of virtual sponsorship is lower. In addition, companies save on the usual costs associated with sponsoring or exhibiting at a conference such as travel and accommodation for staff, booth design and set-up and shipping. With all this budget left unused, companies have the opportunity to invest in producing content that is relevant and engaging for participants.

📣 More diverse advertising formats

Sponsoring a virtual conference also means making use of all digital content formats available in the virtual venue – banners, videos, flyers, white papers, polls and webinars can all be used to further engage with participants. Digital booths give participants the opportunity to access at the time that is suitable for them, browse material, chat with booth staff, or have a video call to quickly get the answer of a pressing question about the company’s products they are using.

🗓 Extended exposure of branded material

Participants are generally given access to our virtual venues for an average of 4 weeks. In this way, sponsors get extended exposure for their brands and products and have the option to follow up with participants after the end of the meeting is over.

📈 Campaign insights

Contrary to physical conferences, measuring the success of your marketing efforts and the ROI of your sponsorship is much easier at virtual meetings. The built-in tools of the virtual conference software we use provide valuable insights on the performance of your individual marketing campaigns and help you assess your approach in the future.

Virtual sponsorship is a relatively new concept and one that many companies are still hesitant about. With all of EMBL’s events staying virtual until the end of 2021 and the possibility of hosting hybrid events once we go back on-site, it is now clear that virtual sponsorship is here to stay. It is therefore important to understand that it not only offers opportunities for companies to reach their target audiences in times where face-to-face interaction is limited but it also helps them stay connected with the scientific community.

Interested in supporting an EMBL conference as a virtual sponsor? Get in touch with us at sponsorship@embl.de!

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Michelle

Meet Michelle, the Digital Strategy Officer in the EMBL-EBI Training team. She works with our European Commission funded projects such as BioExcel and CINECA. She is responsible for the social media and content for these projects along with organising scientific courses and conferences. Michelle has just returned back to the UK after spending 6 months with her family in Qatar due to the pandemic.

Michelle Mendonca, Digital Strategy Officer at EMBL-EBI

EMBL-EBI start date: August 2018
Number of organised events at EMBL-EBI: 12

What is your favourite place in Hinxton area?
The little nature walks spread across campus are my favourite. It is always refreshing to be able to take a break from work and be surrounded by greenery and beautiful flowers.

What is the first thing you do before a course starts and the first thing you do after a course finishes? 
The first thing I do before I start a course is making sure I am well organised and I have everything I need to get started. The first thing I do after a course is finished, is to congratulate everyone on the team and have a long nap.

What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course? 
I think one of the big differences for me is not to physically see if the delegates are finding everything alright. However, I do think virtual courses have opened up a whole new avenue for inclusivity and accessibility which means we get to reach a lot more people and that is always great.

You’ve been working from home for 13 months now; how have you adapted your role during this time? 
Adapting to the new role was challenging at first and it took a while to find a new routine and way of working. I am working on developing better ways of communication to maintain my interactions with colleagues.

PHOTO: Michelle in Qatar

If you weren’t a Digital Strategy Officer what would you be? 
I would be doing something in the creative or entrepreneurship field. So probably a YouTuber or a cafe owner in an alternate universe.

If you were a superhero what power would you like to have? 
I love the Marvel series and recently watched WandaVision. So my superpower would be moving objects with the mind like Scarlet Witch from the show.

What is your favourite movie? 
I don’t have a favourite movie but I am a big Bollywood fan, especially all the movies from the 90s and early 2000s.

Upcoming events that Michelle is organising:
EMBO Workshop: Advances and Challenges in Biomolecular Simulations , 18 – 21 October 2021, virtual.

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Diah

You’ve just got to meet Diah. She is one bright star whose sparkle shines when she speaks, and you’ll end up smiling every time you talk to her. She joined the Course and Conference Office in 2012, then moved to her home country of Indonesia in 2018 before re-joining EMBL in 2020 (yes, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic!). We are very happy she is back and can’t wait for you to meet her.

Diah Yulianti, Course and Conference Officer

At EMBL since: 2012 — 2018 and re-joined in 2020.
Number of organised conferences/courses: 29 conferences and 22 courses.

Favourite place in Heidelberg:
Königstuhl. The view of Heidelberg especially during sunset is so beautiful. And EMBL. It is not because I work there but the place itself and the forest and farm around it are so pretty in all seasons.

What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual conference or course?
The learning curve in mastering different platforms and software as well as a different workflow was pretty steep. It is a challenging but also very exciting process — both rewarding and humbling at the same time.

How have you adapted your role during the pandemic?
I  try to stay connected with people as much as possible. I like to keep an open mind, be mindful and creative — even more than before!

What do you miss most about life before the pandemic?
Like everyone else, I miss meeting and talking to people in person. I am a very extroverted person so it was very difficult for me when we had to start working from home. I am used to it now. I also miss playing badminton with the team!

What have you been up to during these difficult times? 
I walk a lot. Also trying new recipes — I love cooking!

If you weren’t a Course and Conference Officer, what would you be?
I was a high school teacher for quite some time. If I were not in Europe, working for a high-level international research institute, interacting with people from all over the world, I would probably be back teaching. It is a very different world but the teaching gene runs in the family. In an alternative world, I would own a small shop selling vegetables, flowers or candy😊.

What is the strangest thing that has ever happened in a conference?
Oh one time at a conference, the keynote speaker had just started her talk when the fire alarm went off. We had to herd 300 participants out of the building to the meeting point near the woods!

If you were a superhero, what power would you like to have?
I’d like to have the power to fly, to lift off the ground by myself freely and ride the air currents — it must be so cool.

Which series have you been binge-watching that we should also definitely watch?
I just finished The Queen’s Gambit and Dark. Really good!

Which are your favourite books?
My all-time favourite books are The Glass Palace, Shantaram and of course Harry Potter!

Upcoming events Diah is organising or co-organising:

EMBO Practical Course: Measuring Translational Dynamics by Ribosome Profiling, 17 – 25 May 2021, virtual.

EMBO Workshop: Predicting Evolution, 14 – 16 Jun 2021, virtual.

EMBO Workshop: The Mobile Genome: Genetic and Physiological Impacts of Transposable Elements, 29 Aug – 1 Sep 2021, virtual

 

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Jane

PHOTO: Jane Reynolds

Today’s interview is with EMBL-EBI’s Jane Reynolds. Jane is one of the event organisers in the team, and joined in December 2020. Jane’s focus is on the on-site and virtual training courses.

At EMBL since: December 2020
Number of organised courses: 1

 Favourite place in Hinxton area? Having joined EMBL-EBI just before Christmas, I haven’t been able to explore Hinxton yet. I did enjoy a virtual tour of the conference centre though, which gave me an insight of where the course dinners take place.

What is the first thing you do before a course starts and the first thing you do after a course finishes? Before an event starts, I remind myself of the hard work and preparation that’s already been done and that the best thing I can do from here on in is be present and ready to deal with anything that might arise. After an event finished? Well, it sounds a bit dull but I usually make a quick list of things that could be improved (as well as those that went really well). Particularly working in new formats, it’s often only by running an event that you notice the small changes that can be made to improve the experiences of delegates or speakers. I like to capture these while they are fresh in my mind.

What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course? One of the major changes has been how big chunks of work have shifted closer to the start date of an event; for example, delegates tend to sign up later to online events than in-person events, even if they are advertised for the same length of time as usual, so the timeframe for dealing with the administration related to this is shorter.  The work definitely has a different rhythm to it and the tools and systems have changed but the reason we’re doing it is the same.  Remembering this has helped me to adapt.  Although I have to say I am really looking forward to meeting delegates (and my new colleagues!) in person when the time comes.

You’ve been working from home since you started your role at EMBL-EBI; how has this been for you? As well as working from home, I’ve been lucky enough to start a new role in the past year, and it’s been an interesting (hopefully once-in-a-lifetime!) experience.  Luckily the Training Team at EMBL-EBI have been wonderful in sharing their knowledge with me and given me a very warm virtual welcome.

If you weren’t a EMBL-EBI events organisers what would you be? Probably a teacher of some kind.  Before I started working in events and engagement, I worked as an English Language Assistant, which I really enjoyed, so ideally I’d combine teaching and travel.

PHOTO: weekend city break in Copenhagen May 2020

What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course? My birthday is in July and in my past jobs this has been the busiest time – either at Graduation events or summer events – so I have often spent it working, but never in an office!  I’ve been organising table plans in Liverpool Cathedral, at a Massive Attack concert in a disused train depot or hosting tours of new exhibitions…one of my favourite things about working in events is that there is rarely a dull moment!

If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?  I love learning languages but it’s hard to find the time…so definitely the ability to speak and understand different languages without having to learn verb tables!

What is your favourite TV show? Like everyone I’ve watched a lot more TV than usual over the past year, but The Sopranos – which has stood up to a rewatch or two – remains my favourite.

Upcoming events that Jane is organising: Cancer genomics 2021 – virtual 

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Why do we charge registration fees for virtual events?

“Why do you charge registration fees for virtual events? You are not flying speakers in, there are no accommodation or catering costs. You are not printing any conference material!” Yes, you are absolutely right! All of these are valid points in the world of virtual training. And yet we are still charging registration fees. Why?

As a non-profit organisation and with training being one of its five missions, EMBL sets its fees at the lowest possible level to just cover the costs of the events program. These are:

Staff

It sounds incredible, but virtual events turned out to be more time-intensive and demanding in terms of staff support than we thought. We are now busy scheduling test runs with speakers, populating virtual platforms, coordinating the timely and high-quality delivery of pre-recorded talks, providing technical support and trouble shooting – all things we didn’t have to do for onsite events, or previously had support with from our onsite service staff. In the past year, our team has even grown in order to be able to deliver the 31 virtual courses and conferences that took place in 2020.

Behind the Scenes at the EMBL Conference: Transcription and Chromatin (27 – 29 August 2020). Previously only one conference officer was the main coordinator of an onsite meeting. Now there are always two people onsite, splitting the tasks of monitoring and communication with the participants, speakers and audio-visual technicians.
Software

Unfortunately, virtual events cannot be run solely on Zoom. That would have made everything much easier, but attending a conference or course is so much more than listening to the talk. Participants look for interaction, networking options and avid peer exchange. So our courses’ and conferences’ programmes incorporate a range of networking and knowledge-exchange sessions such as meet-the speakers, bar mixers, pub quizzes, speed networking and poster sessions. In order to meet these requirements we make use of paid solutions which offer all these benefits and are easy to navigate for the users.

Training

New software means new set up in terms of design and maintenance, and to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible during the events our staff require appropriate and sufficient training to be able to operate it.

Sponsorship

With all our events turning virtual, income from sponsorship has decreased accordingly. Normally at a conference you would see several companies exhibiting in the Advanced Training Centre foyer, but with the meetings taking place entirely online, there has not been as much interest in virtual sponsorship. While we are being creative with what we can offer our sponsors, they also miss the face-to-face interaction with our participants.

Marketing

While the onsite costs have decreased, getting the word out still requires the same amount of budget (if not more!). How do we make sure you hear about us and the virtual meetings we are organising? How do we stand out from the other virtual events that are currently out there? Would you hear about our meeting if we used the traditional channels as before? In most cases, we have had to add on to our marketing channels and campaigns to increase awareness about our virtual programme.

Fellowships

EMBL offers various types of fellowships to support scientists to attend our events. An advantage of the virtual format is that with lower registration fees and no travel to cover, the funds stretch much further.  We are finding that we are able assist more applicants than ever before to attend entirely free of charge.

 

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