Sponsorship and Pricing Methods for Virtual Events: A Conversation with Dr. Michael Tatonetti

Transitioning an in-person event to a full digital experience has been difficult for associations, and many are finding themselves dipping into their reserves.

Despite such difficulties, associations are finding new and innovative ways to gain sponsors and attendees for their virtual events. Listen to key insights and best practices from Certified Pricing Professional, Dr. Michael Tatonetti, when you watch our live conversation.

In this 60-minute conversation, we discuss:

  • How to understand sponsor needs and tricks for building  sponsorship packages
  • The different ways your association can bring value to a sponsor
  • Pricing strategies for virtual events

Watch the Complete Conversation

Read the Complete Transcript

Michael Hoffman:

Hi, everyone. I'm Michael Hoffman, CEO at Gather Voices. I am just super excited to have Michael Tatonetti back with us for another edition of sponsorship and pricing methods for virtual events. We did a 30-minute one of these, what was it a couple weeks ago?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yup.

Michael Hoffman:

The video of that is actually on the Gather Voices website. I'm sure there are things that are in there that will not be in here. You should definitely check that out. I think we'll put a link in the chat to that discussion. Just that by way of introduction, my name is Michael Hoffman. Gather Voices is a software company that makes it easy to collect and create video from anyone anywhere in the world. We're working with associations to create more member engagement to help with virtual events as well as continuing education. If you haven't seen what Gather Voices looks like, I highly recommend taking a short demo. You will not be disappointed. Even if it's not something that you need or will use, you will know a dozen people that you want to call and tell about it. That's me. Michael is, I think, a really unique guest for this moment in the world which is when everything's going virtual. Michael, you're both a CAE, a certified association executive, working on virtual events like many of the people who are here with us today, but you're also a certified pricing professional. You come at it with thoughts around both attendee pricing and sponsorship pricing from a professional perspective like it's a discipline. It's not just like, "Let's pick a number." It's something that people study on the best way to do those things and you know about that as well. I think that's why we have so many people here today, to get that combination. Michael, will you tell us a little about your work, your day job, some of the other things that you're doing? Thanks for being here.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. First, thanks for having me again. It's great to be back with the Gather Voices team. Professionally, I work for a professional pricing society. I'm over certification education and strategy as well for the organization. Then, in addition to that, I'm a CAE, a CPP. I'm very involved with ASAE, GSAE down here in Georgia and do quite a bit of speaking and publishing around value pricing, all that good stuff in marketing for associations. Very glad to share today some more in-depth knowledge and specifically based off of questions that we got from the last session and also new questions for this one. I'm really excited to dive in.

Michael Hoffman:

Terrific. Terrific. Before we do, I want to just do a quick poll because I think it's very helpful to understand who's here with us today and then, also a little bit about people's positioning for each of these virtual events. Everyone, you should see a poll. Hopefully, you're seeing that. We're going to jump in. I think Michael talked about the last time in the recording that everybody's going to go and watch if they weren't there last time, we talked a lot about pricing for attendees. We're going to talk a little bit about that at the start. Then, I want to transition us to talking about sponsorships because I think the relative amounts that you see in sponsorship versus attendee pricing, actually, it's a really interesting question. In terms of overall revenue from events, is there a general breakdown between sponsorship revenue versus attendee revenue or is it just completely dependent on what type of event it is?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. I'm seeing a lot of variants honestly. It's hard to pinpoint and say, "Here's the magic number." But, in general, I would say that the majority ideally would be sponsor dollars. That's my perspective, but I've seen a lot.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I agree there as well in the sense that if you can maximize sponsor dollars, then you can also maximize attendance through really affordable ticket pricing, right?

Michael Tatonetti:

Right.

Michael Hoffman:

That's why we're going to talk about that. Okay. We have most of the poll in. I'll give you another five seconds here to answer the questions if you haven't done so already. Let me end the polling. I'm going to share the results, so you should be able to see results. We have about half folks from non-profits, corporate folks, probably some consultants and agency folks as well which is pretty typical, I would say, of our audiences here because of who we serve here at Gather Voices. We have about half are on the smaller end of organization, so $2 million and under. Probably, really resource trained to create these events without being able to have all the bells and whistles. That's something I think we should talk about as well, Michael, which is how do you maximize sponsor opportunities when you don't have the $50,000 platform that you're using to run events, for example? That's great. Then 90% almost of folks are going to have a virtual event in the next six months which is, of course, why they're here. Everyone, pretty much almost everyone says, "We are exploring new and innovative ways." I hope that that's true. I think that, sometimes, individuals are ready to try new things, but institutions have a hard time changing. But this is a time for it. This is the time when we need to be doing that. So, terrific. Thank you all for doing that. Pricing strategy is obviously really critical. I want to actually kick us off, Michael, with a question that we have from somebody.  

Denise Rocco-Zilber:

Hi. With so much online and being free, so many events being free, are you finding it harder to charge a price for your content? If you do charge a price for the content, are you finding a higher attendance to those events? Thank you.

Michael Hoffman:

All right. Let's jump into that, Michael. There is so much free stuff. Name a topic, and you can go find things. I think what's buried in this question a little bit is why do we go to events in the first place? It's not necessarily just about information, right?

Michael Tatonetti:

Right. I think that that's a broader question that I think we already answer as an industry which is why would anyone even pay for membership or certifications because it is mostly knowledge-based. I think the way that we typically answer that removing it just from virtual is that we're sourcing the best information. It's industry best practices. You know that it's good knowledge. It's current thought leadership from practitioners.

Michael Tatonetti:

I think we have to take that mentality into this. However, she is right in that you can't just pose the same thing. You have to speak to the value differentiators. Some of the things that I've seen that have worked well include offering maybe credits towards either a certification or a renewal of a certification, maybe offering some kind of a micro-credential around the training program. Even if it isn't a full-out certification, but it's some kind of a certificate which is different that just shows knowledge of best practices within an area for the industry. That's one way, but I think really speaking to sourcing the content the fact that it's going to be the best content, then moving beyond that as you're bringing up, Michael, which is you're coming for networking, is there opportunity to network in a virtual setting? That's where you have to be able to answer how you're doing that, but offering more above and beyond offering networking, roundtable discussions, you can use Breakouts within Zoom or whatever platform you're using to allow people to facilitate different conversations. To me, you have to be able to bring all that in, but, in general, yes, you can charge. Just because there's free content doesn't mean that you don't charge, but you have to be able to value sell what it is that you're providing.

Michael Hoffman:

Right. Value sell is saying, "Here's what you're really going to get out of this, and here's why you should care, and here's what it's going to do for you," not more transactional of like, "Here's some pieces of content that you could find elsewhere." I think there was part of that question was also could you get more people coming because you're charging. The sense that people value things that have a price on them more than they do the free things.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. That's true. We've seen variances in our own association with that. Some things are definitely more highly attended. Some are lower for paid and unpaid. We've seen a good variance. I think what it comes down to is our marketing calendar and again selling the value through marketing hitting on the pain points and saying, "Here's what you're going to get. Here's not only the transformation of what you might learn to do differently, but what else are you getting." Right now, people are craving within our profession. They're craving knowledge around how do we navigate COVID specific to our industry, so giving them that. They're craving community. We're tired of watching someone on Zoom. That's it all day. They want variance which is why doing sessions, but then breaking it up and having other opportunities. All of that matters, and all of that needs to be communicated well within why you're pricing and what are they getting from it. I think I might have shared this last time, but one thing that we did very differently for our upcoming fall conference was we added some additional credits. We extended how many hours of learning they're getting. Then, we assigned some credits for certification to things that they wouldn't normally get, but we did it in a way that's very valid that our board approved of and that keeps the credibility of the program. But in doing that, someone can basically earn their credits for the most part over the course of the week. It's kind of a, "Come on, if you've been thinking about this professional development, you're at home. You might have a little bit more flexibility to do some online training. Come, get it. Come, add another skill to your tool belt." Doing that rather than just saying come to conference, come learn, come sit in Zoom all day, what am I going to learn? I also think of ASAE next week. I'm going, but I'm going because I want to hear what are other people doing right now across not just pricing, but marketing communications and sponsorship and membership and education. I want to hear everything what are we doing. To me, that's where the value is, is keeping it very current and curating the best content which you don't always get when you Google. You can find good stuff, but you find everything. Not everything is good. Communicating that and giving that great content, to me, that matters a lot.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I think that's a great point. We have another question. Let's go to our second question which is also about pricing in terms of attendees.

Jeff Peters:

My name's Jeff Peters. I'm with the Moore Group. My question is if you begin a series of webinars or seminars with a zero price point, is it very difficult to convert the audience to a higher price point later?

Michael Hoffman:

That's a really good question that a lot of folks are facing. It's like COVID special or something, but we don't want to lock ourselves in. How are you thinking about that?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. To me, that comes down to positioning. What I would tell Jeff is if you're communicating that it's the same thing that's always been free and now you want to charge to bring in some revenue, you have to figure out how are you changing it up a bit and adding value, changing it through value that your people want and then communicating that value to justify the price that you're charging. One way that we did that, we hold free virtual summits. Those are free. There's five to 10 speakers. It's over one or two days, more TED Talk style. Now, for our conference, we made sure not to call our virtual conference a virtual summit because our attendees are used to hearing free virtual summits. We called it a virtual conference. We've also toyed with the idea of charging for webinars. We don't. Most associations do. Some do. Some don’t. But we've toyed with that as like micro learning and giving a partial credit towards maybe continuing education that's needed. I think the big thing is almost you have to rename it away. You have to be able to state what's different. Is there a credit attached? Is there a certificate that they get at the end? Then, you also have to look at the content. A lot of times, webinars can be sales pitches. If it's just kind of, "Hey, look at us as consultants or software providers, or whatever it is, we're great. Here's what we do that," there's nothing wrong with that, but that may not be something that you charge for. If that's what your partners are used to, then, you need to make sure that they're actually training in something relevant that people are willing to pay for and communicate that. The quick answer would be there has to be a pivot. Don't keep doing business as usual and add a price tag. In this climate, people will look at that and say, "It's unethical. It's greed," and that's not the perception that you want especially as a non-profit. Make sure that you're offering, you're growing it in some way that it's providing even more value, and you're charging because of that. When you do that, our members do care about our financial sustainability and they can justify possibly investing in something that's worth more, but if it's in the middle of like a 10-part series and you're at five, don't charge for six through 10. You have to finish that out, start a new series and upgrade it.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. That's really great points. Just to pull something out and lift up something that you said, the naming is such a big thing that's so easy to change, but people just don't even consider it sometimes. We don't want to do this conference virtually because we don't think we can deliver the same value virtually. Great. Call it something else, and deliver that virtually. Find the value, but don't feel like you can't do things and experiment. This is the time to do that, right?

Michael Tatonetti:

Oh, it absolutely is. Other things that we've done, some things we're not charging for, but we're adding into membership to make it more valuable, but we're starting to add quarterly book chats with authors from our industry, or we're adding a member-only career advice type of a series. What are the trends right now for your resume? What key words? What type of action items should you show that you were able to do as you're progressing in your career? We're not charging specifically for those, but there are new things that we're infusing into membership to retain members because of the current economy, but that adds value. We can say normally we might charge 40 bucks for that one-hour training. If membership is 400 for a whole year, that's a great value. Then, if we're adding five to 10 trainings a year, that's the value of your membership mixing anything else we've already done. Definitely renaming, branding appropriately, and speaking to the value of it, yes.

Michael Hoffman:

Something else you just said that was also about the time horizon of an in-person event, virtual event can be completely different that if you have something where people have to show up, that's one day or two days or three days, but online, you could have a series. You could have things that spread out that value in a different way.

Michael Tatonetti:

Absolutely. I think ASAE was already doing that well before all of this where they do their seminar series online. If you're looking for a marketing series that's maybe four sessions long over a few months, you can pay the bundle price if you want to buy them individually, and you just want one session you can, but absolutely. Then even playing with the actual virtual summit timeline, our event is normally two conference days and two pre-workshop days. We've expanded it to be two pre-workshop, two conference and then two post conference workshop days over two weeks. It's not back to back. We're giving lots of breaks. It's a lot of half days, but we stretched it over six conference days or event days over two weeks so that people feel connected. They can go do their work, but they really feel like they're getting something from it without the fatigue.

Michael Hoffman:

Right. Great. I want to remind everyone if you're in the chat where I'm getting really great stuff in the chat, but most of it's just coming to us panelists, you can actually say to all pals and attendees so you can create some discussion, there's a lot of people in the audience here who have as much or more background in this than we do and that are contributing really interesting things. So, I want you to do that. There's a question we have also in the Q&A. You can ask questions there as well. Question in the Q&A is about how important is it that the audience members know who else is attending and being able to connect with them. I think we touched on that which is these virtual events are not just about information because you don't go to a conference just for information. You go for the connection, the networking, the reunion, all of those things. That's really valuable. People pay for that. How did you bring that value up? How do you talk about that value, and ho how did you think about executing on that?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. No. That really matters. I can't say it enough that extremely matters. The community really, really is important right now. Some of the great practices that I'm seeing include having a mobile app where there's a directory so that you can connect with other people. You can private message them. That allows for networking beyond even the talks. What if I'm looking for a job with a certain company and someone from that company is attending, and I can make that connection and then move it to LinkedIn or move it offline? That matters. Another great thing that I've seen that everyone should be doing is definitely chat just like this. You want people to be able to engage and share. Share their takeaways. Those can almost become tweetables or captions for social media, if you will, to reinforce, so then your marketing team can kind of pull that and your attendees are almost doing the work for you, but allowing people to connect with each other and talk really matters. Another thing that we're doing... Again, we're doing these half-day event days. We're doing it Eastern time from about noon to 4:00. This way, no matter what coast you're on, it's okay because we also have some people in Europe attending although it's pretty late for them.

Michael Tatonetti:

But then, what we're doing outside of that is having some on-demand pre-loaded content. If you're Eastern time and you wake up in the morning and you want to log in and watch one or two of the on-demand sessions, you can and then you can chat with people and connect, or if you want to go into the chat room, the discussion area, you can and connect with people. Doing that, facilitating that, and showing people how it's done, we're creating a lot of videos, screen sharing and walking people through, here's how you access each thing so that they can watch it two or three weeks before the event and really know here's how I log in and get everything from this space virtually that I can.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. Those are great points and shouldn't be after thoughts. I think your point which I hadn't thought a lot about is when you travel to a place, everybody's in the same time zone. When everybody's virtual, and especially if you're global, you've got a serious challenge about you can't be 24 hours. The idea of teeing up content that's available for people who are outside your primary time zone, that's a really good thoughtful thing to do for the community. I want to jump to our next question which will also give us, I think, the transition to talking about sponsorship.

Chris O'Meara:

This is Chris O'Meara with Member Planet. I'm curious to know if the sponsorship element to your presentation will also cover managing exhibitors in a virtualized event. Furthermore, I wanted to know if I might be able to obtain a copy of the previous recording that you referred to in the registration here up. Thank you.

Michael Hoffman:

On the previous recording, yes. It's in the chat, but let's jump into that sponsorship question.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. For us, it's a little bit different. We are not doing anything live with our sponsors. Everything is pre-loaded, pre-recorded, on-demand. Then, we're directing them. Each sponsor has the choice of where to direct them to. Some of them are being directed to schedulers to maybe schedule a demo or a consultation. Some of them are being directed to landing pages with further content. What we're loading into our virtual experience is on-demand content from each person. That can include a demo of software. That can include a white paper for thought leadership, or a webinar, or a podcast. Then, we're also humanizing it by having a main point of contact. We don't want to just say, "Here's Gather Voices," for example. Contact them in general. We want to say, "Here's Michael Hoffman or whomever your contact is, and humanize it because you're not shaking hands. You're not connecting in real time like that."

Michael Tatonetti:

By having their photo, their email, their phone number, that gives a personal connection of who I'm committing to speaking with. A lot of our things are on demand. This way, it can be accessed. We're giving access three weeks before the event starts to everything. This is more technical, but part of that decision was I didn't want people logging in the day of the event and having issues. Then, we have 500 people reaching out to us, and we can't help everybody in time. Then, they can't access the content. By saying, "Go ahead, log in. We've got some welcome videos. We've got the on-demand content. We've got sponsored content. Make sure that your login is working. If you can watch this video you're good," that's something that we're doing. Then, they can start interacting and building out profiles. For us, managing the virtual hall for us is more making sure it all works, giving access to our sponsors in advance so they can log in and see how it looks and make sure it's linking up correctly and then following up from there, sending MarCom emails around if you didn't check out this, go check it out, it's available on demand. For about two to four weeks after, we'll be doing some follow-up of if you missed this session or missed this, go check it out just to drive some final traffic.

Michael Hoffman:

That makes a lot of sense. I want to just go back to sort of principles around sponsorship. Our experience at Gather Voices, we have a really interesting technology that people don't necessarily fully understand unless they see it. That's why everybody should get a demo at Gather Voices, but it's also why we go to conferences, to have discussions and meet people and talk to people. We've done a bunch of virtual conferences as a vendor or sponsor. We've had the both ends of the experience. One where you are in a virtual vendor booth and nobody comes. You're like, "What are we doing here? Nobody's here." I've heard that repeated many times. Then, we were in one recently with CadmiumCD which is a technology provider and consultant company. That was phenomenal. Not only did they arrange it in a way where a lot of people came to our virtual booth. The quality of the data is incredible. That's where your virtual event has a totally different advantage than your in-person event. You know not only everybody who came to your virtual booth, but everybody who looked the video, how many times they looked at the video, how many times they downloaded something and you get a real sense of who's really interested. Do you want to engage in conversation and the like? But let's just talk about the principles of building virtual sponsorship. I think you talked about this in the last discussion a little bit, but it's not a one-size-fits-all thing. What our needs are as a vendor is not the same as some other company's needs. How do you think about that, and how do you start if the folks here are starting to plan their virtual sponsorship? What's the starting point?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. The first thing is I do think that you need to customize everything as much as you can especially in virtual versus in-person. I think in person too, but even more in virtual, but the other thing is I do think you need some kind of a prospectus. You need a launching pad because if you don't, then, you're walking into a dark room and saying, "Whatever you want." Imagine the world. That's not going to get you to the end result quickly enough. I do think a prospectus matters and saying, "Here are some opportunities and what it could look like." The other reason that matters is in this climate, everyone is picking different software vendors for even running events and the talks and the sponsor hall. Your sponsors may not know what's capable. You just mentioned two different events that have two different capabilities. You might go into one assuming they have or don't have things. You need to be able to say, "Here's what we can do," but then have the conversation around now what matters to you. Where do you find value?

Michael Tatonetti:

When it comes to your sponsors, I think the best question is to find out how many leads are you looking for. Can we deliver that amount of quality leads? Then, how do we best capture those leads? What's the best carrot to dangle and say, "Hey, we might have a thousand people. We had a thousand people at our June, our free summit." That doesn't mean that all 1000 are interested in software or in consulting. That's okay. You don't want to talk to 1000 people and spam and waste time. But if there are 50 or 100 or 200 who really are looking at purchasing software for a certain need in the next year, that's who you want to talk to. There's lots of ways to do it, but I think the prospectus matters a lot. Then from there, segmenting, asking the question of, "What are you looking for?" That's a part of our registration page. I think it's a best practice for anyone's registration page, is ask them to check and almost opt in to the different segments of your sponsors. For us, our sponsors pretty much are consultants or software providers. We ask, "Check the following boxes if you're interested." Yes, I would love to hear from software providers and get some free information. Yes, I would love to hear from pricing consulting organizations and get some information. If they don't check anything, that's fine. Again, you're going to waste your time, but that allows us to clearly accept. Then, for like GDPR purposes, make sure that they're really kind of opting into us sharing the information. Then, that becomes a part of our prospectus which I keep referencing too so we could always look at that, but-

Michael Hoffman:

We're going to take a look at that in a minute and break it down. Yeah. That's the question. There's a question from Nina about data collection and laws. Obviously, you need just clear permissions to do that, but there's something that's underpinning what you just talked about that I think we need to just say plainly which is you need to ask people what they want. You're asking the sponsors what they want so that you can deliver it. You're asking the attendees what they want who can match that attendee interest with that sponsor interest. I think that's just it's so basic in a way. It's so overlooked so often, I think. It's unnecessarily really complicated to execute.

Michael Tatonetti:

Well, I mean really when you think about it, I think we look at sales as so slimy, but the reality is you're just asking consent. To me, that's the most respectful thing that you can do. There's always usually at least one kind of a solution that I'm looking for as an association executive. Right now, I can name a couple of things that we're interested in as an association. If somebody has it, great. I won't name names, but I got an email today for one event coming up from Omaha Steaks. I'm like, "I don't need that." That's not what I need as an association pro. I love steak. I'm at home. I can cook them. That's not what I'm looking for. 

Michael Hoffman:

I got the same

Michael Tatonetti:

You did? See. I'm not naming names because I love all my organizations. It's nothing negative, but it's the point of proper segmentation. If I tell my sponsors you're going to get the whole email list and I can, but if I do that, I can't properly sell, well, you're getting a thousand qualified leads. What I say is, "You're getting a thousand emails." What I would rather sell to sponsors is getting them 50, 100, 200, whatever, qualified leads. This is where the data matters, Michael, because like you said, what happens in a normal sponsor hall? They'll walk by your booth. They'll grab some of the free tchotchkes that they want. Then, they try to skirt before you can really talk to them, but those who are interested will stop and talk. The other cool thing about digital is not only can you track better analytics that you already mentioned of who clicked who watched, who downloaded, but you can also allow them to window shop safely. One thing that we also despise as attendees is having someone run up to it like think about the T-Mobile kiosk in the mall. I remember in the 2000s, they would like run up to you and be like, "Do you need a cell phone? Do you need to upgrade? I'm like, "I'm just here for a. I'm not even here for a cell phone. I'm good." You don't want that. Well, I do want, if I know I'm shopping for, let's say, a video, for a video-type software solution, then I want to be able to go through anyone who offers that at my own leisure without necessarily opting in, whether I did or not on registration, watch the demos. Look at the thought leadership. See who I connect with and maybe pick two or three that I want to talk to, then when I reach out, you know I'm a great lead. Our job as the association is to not only pair, but to consistently promote that free content that's available on-demand. One other thing that we're doing is we're creating an upgrade. It's not on this prospectus, but we're creating an upgrade where our sponsors can choose to have that on-demand content evergreen on our website for one year. Then, it's available publicly to everybody. Throughout the year, we'll include so many as a part of the package. It might be four pushes a year or one push a year where we email our entire email list and say, "Hey, here's a partner. If you're interested, check them out. Here's where you can check it out."

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. That's interesting, I think. You also have your social accounts. You have your email list. You have you can use to build sponsorship packages that are more valuable. I want to ask one more question. Then, I want to go... This is really exciting, I would say, to everyone. Michael's going to take their real prospectus and break it down for us, how they chose the things they chose. Before I get to that, there was a question. I always had this question. How do you get people... I mean you answered it somewhat, but getting people to sort of go to the virtual booth, I think you started with, "Hey, ask people what they want, and are they interested in certain things?" That's a great way to tee it up, but are you gamifying that? How are you thinking about that because in-person, what do they do in the in-person? They put the cocktail party in the same place as the booth. They hey put the food there. They put the drawing in there. They do that. What's the digital equivalent of that to give?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. There's a lot of things that you can do that translate well, definitely gamification. We were mapping that out this morning and talking about if they check in or if they take a selfie at a certain booth or talk, that counts as a point. They post it on social with a hashtag, things like that. You can absolutely do that. I think the other way, number one, is by segmenting properly. As attendees sign up and they opt in to what they want, we also have that data. Guess what I can do with that? I can download the emails, not only email them, but I can upload that to LinkedIn or Facebook and run targeted ads if I want to put ad spend behind that, targeting those people. I don't even have to do a look-alike audience. I can just target those people and say, "Hey, we can't wait to see you at this event. Don't forget to check this out." Maybe, it's a link where they log in to the sponsors or an evergreen page because we know that they want that. We can tell our sponsors, "Listen, as a part of your spend, we're directing traffic. We're doing these different things. We're going live. We're doing live videos. We're doing attendee tips on how we are directing them up to the event." The other thing is we're taking the opportunity. Again, this isn't about greed, but it is about creating value to still replicate sponsored events during the week as well. We do a diversity and inclusion panel. This will be our fifth year that we've done it for the pricing community at our event each fall. We have a sponsor who had been considering for a year or two sponsoring that. Now, they are because they said, "We want to have one of our... They have their own internal DEI initiative. They want to have someone from that initiative on the panel and then say, "This is brought to you by, like, we care about this," or doing some happy hours. We have sponsors who want to spend money on hosting a virtual happy hour with one of the keynote speakers, invite a couple of targeted people from certain companies, and have a private Q&A, send them a bottle of wine in advance and say, "Hey, join us for a drink. Join us for this private exclusive event." You can still do that and add on things. I wouldn't say make the booth so cheap and then the extra above and beyond so expensive that it looks greedy. Make it where it's maybe a slight add-on so that it makes sense, but then, you curate these personalized opportunities to get in front of the right people. To me, that's the most powerful thing when I as a potential sponsor can say, "I see a list of which companies are attending. I want you to invite people from these companies that we have not really touched base with yet to this private event they attend for free and we look good."

Michael Tatonetti:

That to me is a great- I love that. ... even better email and social media. That's the icing on the cake.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I love that idea. I'm thinking about as you're talking about this, it's like just thoughtful. What do people really want, and how do we facilitate that? Even if it's not what we normally did, and I think that's part of the win here is to get out of your head about what we did before or what we did in person and really think about what we can facilitate and make happen in this virtual world. It opens up all kinds of incredible possibilities. Well, I'm going to share my screen, Michael, because I want you to talk about this, your prospectus here. Walk us through this. What is this? How did you get to it, and how does this encompass the principles that you've been talking about?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. The first thing is this was really about putting something on the wall. We needed something to sit down with sponsors and say, "Hey, guys, here's what we're looking at. Here's some of the things that we can do," but again, being open to hearing like, "What else have you seen at other events that you're sponsoring? What would you like to do? How can we incorporate that?" Then, when you negotiate the key to me to valuable negotiations is as you add something, you either take something else away or of course the price goes up, or if they say, "We don't want to pay that. We want to pay this," great. We can take this off to make it match that. But what we-

Michael Hoffman:

not being rigid in whatever it is.

Michael Tatonetti:

Right. Yeah. Not saying, "Well, no. This is the platinum package." For platinum, real quick, and then I'll explain them, but you can see a yes for preview attending companies. They can see who's coming. Let's say that they don't care about that, but they want the two-minute keynote video advertisement instead of a one-minute breakout because they know everyone's in the keynote, okay, great. Then, we might knock off whatever a small portion or replace it with something else that's of similar value. What we did, we typically have four tiers. These are our tiers. This is specific for our fall virtual conference. What we did for the price at the bottom, I basically said, "Okay. If platinum, if that was 100%, I figured out what percentage of platinum were they paying." It was 40% less for gold, 64% less for silver, 76% less for bronze. This way, without sharing prices and price fixing, you can get an idea. If you plug in your number, that was kind of our drop off. It doesn't mean you have to do that. But previewing the attending companies, that's something people always want to know because then, especially for our field pricing is so small, they can pretty much go on LinkedIn and search for anyone in pricing at that company. There's probably five people and add them and take a stab in the dark and say, "We'll be at this if you're there. Join us." Video advertisements for that, if they want to do platinum, we're letting them do a two-minute commercial at the start of a keynote. This way, everybody sees it. It's pre-recorded. We've got it ready to go and queue up before the live keynote commences. Likewise, for gold, it's a one-minute, and it's during a breakout. Not everyone will be there. We're doing five concurrent breakout sessions at a time. You're probably going to have about 20% of the audience. It's of lower value. It's quicker compared to that platinum.

Michael Hoffman:

Got it. We'll just say where a lot of our clients are using Gather Voices for the creation of these pre-recorded video content which we do really well. We're seeing much more engagement around content that's more personal and less polished, less looking like an ad and more like, "Hey, I'm a member of this community. Here's what we do. Here's what we've learned. Here's why you should come and take a look at it."

Michael Tatonetti:

Yup. Absolutely. In fact, one thing I'll pivot from there real quick, one thing that we're doing differently this time is all the keynotes, every speaker. We've asked them to record a 60-second video. We just said do it on your cell phone. Do it horizontally so that it's unified, but we don't care if you're sitting in your office like this if you're out walking your dog. Just record a 60… Don’t make it polished. Don't get the lighting and all that. Keep it simple, but make it connect. Breakout demo tracks, that's where they can pre-record a 20-minute demo and include that in the on-demand content. That's in addition to maybe like a white paper or a podcast. Everybody that's a sponsor gets to plug something in for featured content, but they also get a video. Social media shout outs, how many do they get leading up to the events? They provide, of course, the copy image or video. Clickback link if they want to be able to track, et cetera. That matters. Don't just put, "I'll use Gather Voices again." Gathervoices.cohort.com. Use a backslash. Get a tracking ID or a Bitly so that you can say, "We had 300 people click this and go to your site." Now, what did they do? We may not know unless you have your Google analytics set up. You track that. We can't, but we know we got you clicks. That is valuable. Push notifications, that's for the app. During the event, how many times will we push out, "Hey, check out the booth. Check out the demo, schedule, whatever." It opens and directly links to whatever we're promoting. The featured content, again that goes in the app and in the conference area, but that can be your webinar podcast, white paper blog, opt-in, registration contact info, so everybody gets that. That's the, "Are you interested in software consulting," whatever other categories might be appropriate for your association.

Michael Hoffman:

Are you sharing all of that with folks or only which thing applies to their company?

Michael Tatonetti:

Only which applies to their company and only those who opted in. If I say, "I want software," all the software we'll get it." The other thing which is not noted here is we're delaying when they get it based on their tier. Platinum will get their emails, the week after the event. Gold, the following silver, the following bronze, the following. They're four weeks after the event. The idea is you're probably going to click and set up a demo and be most interested with whoever comes first. That's just sales. You want to be platinum if you want quick response.

Michael Hoffman:

That's really clever. I have not seen that before. Just so everybody understands what you just said which is that not only do you get more things in the higher tier, you get things faster in the higher tier. You are able to get information. Act on that information before the gold folks and those bronze suckers even know that it's happening. That's another benefit of encouraging people to be in that higher tier, right?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. Even again giving them what can they do with it, their marketing team will be familiar, but whoever is signing the sponsorship might be more biz development. They may not realize, "Oh, I can take the emails and again put them into ads and target them on YouTube, on Google, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, Twitter, wherever." We're feeding them here's all the things that you can do. You don't just send an email. Do something great. The logos and emails, of course, that's pretty traditional conference and workshop passes. We allow them to have some of their people attend the event included in the package so that they... The benefit there really is they want to see what their competitors are doing. They don't care necessarily about going to their colleague session. They want to go to the other sessions of their competitors, see what they're teaching, so they want to attend the event. They get some passes included. Again, then, we have the price. Now, again, we don't necessarily stick 100% to this. Right now, we've got, I think, three... Platinum and gold are five figures. Silver, I think, might be four. If that gives a kind of a loose idea, but I think we've got about three or four platinum. Maybe, four gold. Then, we're about five silver and maybe a couple bronze.

Michael Tatonetti:

We do less sponsors typically about 20, 25 at an event. We keep it more intimate, but we'll have a pretty good distribution across those, mostly platinum, gold, silver.

Michael Hoffman:

That's fantastic. If anybody has questions about this, please, go ahead and put them in the chat. There is a question in the chat around the app and how successful are these meeting apps. We're a big fan of Clowder which is both an app for events, but for year round with the idea of like, "Why are we just engaging our members at the event? We should be engaging our members all the time." An app's an easy way to do that. Why don't we combine those things in something, but did you see a lot of engagement in the app?

Michael Tatonetti:

Absolutely. We did something similar we went through our LMS. They provide apps. We did the same thing. We set up an evergreen year round and then an event specific. It's all single sign-on with the same login they would use when they sign up. They pay their membership portal, all of that. It keeps it really simple. It allows us that data to track when did they last log in, how active are they. One thing that I want to watch is about a month after the event, once a month, I want to poll how often are people still logging in. That will tell me do they find value in having 12-month access or does it taper off at one month or three months so that we know what to communicate and what value matters.

Michael Hoffman:

That's really great too. It's like you've got a lot of data. You got to use it. You got to look at it.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yes, exactly. The data is going to tell you what they value which talks were most attended, therefore, which topics looking at the responses, of course, of how do they rate them. All of that matters. It's all where you extract value and you know who to highlight. We have over 30 speakers. It doesn't mean that they're all going to get equal marketing play in the three months we have right now leading up to our October event. Some of them are going to get more than others because we know which companies and speakers do the best and get the best scores. It is what it is, but yeah. The app definitely helps. With year round with going back, it keeps everything kind of neat as time goes on. See. One thing is a lot of us are doing our first and maybe second virtual event this year, but think about five years from now, 10 years from now when you've done a dozen or maybe at least five. As you build it up, if you're giving lifetime access, let's say, which we basically are. We're saying one year, the keynotes come down after a year because we're hiring like Seth Godin and big names like that and we can't keep it up forever, but the breakouts were going to keep up forever. As a member, I can log in 10 years from now and through the app or by LMS, I can still access everything and go back. There's value in that. Even if it's not for me, what if I hire a new employee, and I say, "You're struggling with this and there was a great breakout on this, go log in, let's look at this, watch this as a part of your professional development."

Michael Hoffman:

That makes sense. We have a question about the price. I'll just try to answer that which is Michael's not putting the actual price in here because we don't want to be price fixing sponsorship for every conference in the world. It's really just how are these different price and tiers related to each other. If you had, let's say, $2500 platinum thing, gold would be 60% of that down the line. Hopefully that for folks. We always get questions around conference platforms. You can tell us what platform that you use if you're comfortable with that, but I think my broader question about that is how much does that matter. Can you be creative even with lower cost, more stripped down platforms to create value?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. First of all, I'm not sponsored by anybody. I'm not necessarily endorsing, but we've actually done a makeshift combination. Really quickly, what we're using is a mix of our LMS, Crowdcast and Zoom. That's all that we're using now. That's lower end for sure. We looked at the 50, $70,000 platforms. What we decided internally because we're in a tough time, we all are. We're in a recession. We're at a global pandemic. Things are shaky. When we looked at our budget and we said, "Okay. We need to pull off a fall event, we need the revenue and our members need training," they literally need to learn how to price during this because we train Apple. We train 3M. We train medical device companies, everything that we need to live. How do you price this? They care about not overpricing, not price gouging, being ethical. They need us. With that, we looked at we have this much money to spend. We made a decision internally. Do we want to spend it on software? We could have spent 70,000 on software or on keynote speakers. We chose to do keynote speakers. We've never done that. I might pay for one keynote speaker a year. That might be like $5000, 10,000. We don't hire like Shaquille O'Neal and all that. That's never been our flavor. But we did this time. We've hired four New York Times bestselling authors, big names because we wanted to give a very different value to our members from the best thought leaders we could find. With that, we made the choice because we can't jiggy a good keynote speaker, but we can finagle the tech.

Michael Hoffman:

Right. That's interesting. Your LMS is something that you already have. You already know how to. It already has a set of functionality around giving people content. That's already there. All the on demand, and I assume is there. Then you have Zoom for live things. You put stuff together. That's a great solution.

Michael Tatonetti:

The last takeaway I would say is pick what you're comfortable with. There is benefit to hiring for 70,000 but are you going to be comfortable with it? Is it another 20,000 for their consultants to run it? There's nothing wrong with that. Honestly, as we move forward, we'll probably go in that direction to make it easier on our team, but for this time, we said, "Pick what we're comfortable with. We already use Zoom and Crowdcast for everything in our LMS." It's already paid for. We have the internal manpower. We're hiring one consultant to help with production. That's it. Otherwise, internally, we were already trained to know what to do. That's how we chose.

Michael Hoffman:

Right. I just saw there was a little bit more to your slides. These were other things that you did. What's the treasure hunt game?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. The idea, they're similar to like if you were to go around and maybe get a sticker from certain booths or whatever and you have to talk to them, the idea that different vendors will have passwords or passcodes. You put it together, so as you talk with or maybe do a live chat. Now, the thing again is we're trying not to make it force where it's like, "Give me the passcode. I'm not really interested." It might be you go into their area... We're deciding this now actually. It might not be that you talk to them and schedule a call and waste their time. It might be just by going in when you open the white paper the first page of the PFD has it or whatever. This way, you're engaging. If you're interested, you might look at it. If you're not, you carry on. But again, it helps drive traffic. A combination of maybe 10 of our sponsors out of 20 can each pay $1000 to have a keyword in their area so that you know that you're driving even more traffic. If they're interested, they're more likely than to engage with it in schedule. Again, a thousand extra bucks is not that much for them. If they're spending 10, $20,000 or more, again, we kind of keep the additional minimal, so it's an easy no-brainer way to say, "Yup. Throw that in or flip it out." If they don't want something, say, "Well, we can swap it for this so you still get value, and we keep the revenue coming in." One other interesting thing that I'll say very quickly, my president and sponsorship person today gave a report at a staff meeting this morning. They said that, as of today, our sponsor dollars for our fall event are the exact same as what they were a year ago. They're continuing to go up. We haven't even finished signing. We've actually increased most of our sponsorship packages because we've really dialed in on the value, and most people get so comfortable doing the same thing. It's hard to change it for the in-person events. Now is the time to experiment and change it up and play with it.

Michael Hoffman:

I love that. You think about being able to drive the same revenue. There's so many associations that have given up on that. But you can drive value here that's different if you are creative and not even creative. It's also looking at what's working elsewhere. This is why this is so valuable, Michael. That thing about having keywords buried in different vendor things that people have to hunt for, brilliant, and not really hard to execute.

Michael Hoffman:

It's not a big complicated thing that your team has to really figure out. It's a pretty easy thing to just put in there, right?

Michael Tatonetti:

Yup. Absolutely. Absolutely. But again, I think bottom line is just talk. Have a starting place, but talk to your sponsor. See what they want, what they're interested in, and don't be afraid to innovate. Right now is the time to try it out. If anything, you'll probably have trends. One person will say, "I want to try this." At the event someone else will say, "Why won't we offer that? We want that as a part of our package." Then, you get into a bit of a bidding war especially if only one person can do it like in person, Wi-Fi, things like that or lanyards or sending a sponsor tote bag to every attendee. Have a partnership, but ultimately deliver leads. That's what they care about. Just deliver the leads. They'll pay you for that.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. That's really great. Michael, this is really helpful. I think if I'm to just give one piece of advice that's connected to everything you've said is that this is a new muscle that we need to develop. This is not going away, that the future of events is going to be hybrid, virtual, those things, but these opportunities for sponsorship are not going anywhere. This is permanent new revenue. That's going to be a net positive in the end of the day, but your teams that have been doing these in-person events have to pivot, have to learn, have to get comfortable with this stuff, have to not let great be the enemy of the good, need to be experimenting, all of those things. That's a culture thing that starts at the top really and isn't available in all the organizations out there, but clearly, in yours, that's part of the culture.

Michael Tatonetti:

Absolutely.

Michael Hoffman:

That's great. As we wrap up, I just want to do a couple of housekeeping things. The ASAE Annual Conference is coming. I know some people who are on are coming to that. We have a virtual booth. We are actually giving away a standing desk which seems to be the most appropriate giveaway possible at this moment when everybody's working at home, but Michael, you're also a speaker at the ASAE Annual. Tell everybody about what your session is going to be there.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. I'll be obviously coming on Monday from Eastern time. So, according to their schedule, 11:45 to 12:05, Five Steps to Value Creation for Virtual Events. That one, I'm actually breaking down like here's the five steps that we went through for attendees and sponsors. It's going to be very practical. It's literally a meeting agenda you can then go work with your association on to flush all this out. Feel free to join me there Monday at ASAE. Then, I'll be by your booth because I want this standing desk.

Michael Hoffman:

You are welcome to come. One of the things we're going to be talking about ASAE and then we're talking about a lot now because it's brand new is that Gather Voices has partnered with Higher Logic which runs many or most of the association private communities to add video into those communities. It's super cool. In the chat, I think Ailis or Chad will post a link so that you can learn more about that. Michael, this is how folks can connect to me if they want to learn more about Gather Voices, if they want to suggest another person for a conversation series, if they want to make sure they're getting the recording whatever it is, but people can contact you as well. You're helping organizations with some of this stuff.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. I've gotten permission from my association to help others. You can find me on LinkedIn. I'm actually pretty active there, or if you'd like me to help with training for your team or just do a strategy session with your board or your leadership team, I am available to do that as well and help out. But, otherwise, feel free to add me on LinkedIn. I just love being connected everybody and seeing great content. Feel free to send me a request, and I'd be happy to hang out there. I usually post any of these talks I'm doing or good content, so you can check it out there to find even more.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I want to just make a pitch for this which is, and I've been in this situation so many times, the staff wants to be creative about the event. They want to do new things in sponsorship. They want to whatever. The board or the leadership just not listening to them. That's where you bring in, Michael. Michael says, "I'm a certified pricing professional," and maybe you're taking the ideas that the staff already has helping them present it in a certain way, adding some other elements that maybe they haven't thought of, but being listened to in a completely different way, right? Absolutely. Typically, I do a little bit of market research, focus groups, all that. We really have data-driven decision making around value and what to say for marketing sales communications and setting the right price. Yeah. But I love doing it. I'm available and just to chat. So, whatever anybody needs, I'm here for our community.

Michael Hoffman:

Excellent. Excellent. I think Alice, if you could post the link to the Higher Logic community voices, that would be great. I see the link to our virtual conference stuff. Michael, just thank you again. This was great. I can't believe the first time we did this, we did it in 30 minutes. 30 minutes was just gone. I'm glad we were able to add this hour. I definitely encourage everyone to go back and watch that 30 minutes. Everyone who signed up here will get an email with a link to the recording of this. You'll have access to everything. Again, Michael, thank you so much.

Michael Tatonetti:

Yeah. Thank you, guys, for having me and you guys be good, be safe out there.

Michael Hoffman:

Excellent. All right. Everyone, have a terrific day. Thank you all again for joining us.

Michael Tatonetti:

All right. Bye, guys.

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