by Alex Palmer | October 01, 2015

This month, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) is holding its International Convention & Expo in Indianapolis. With 6,000 attendees and an expansive trade show floor and education lineup, there is a lot happening, and to keep it all in order, the organization introduced a mobile app. It features general information about the convention; an up-to-date daily schedule of events with the ability to create a personal schedule each day; the ability to take notes during workshops and general sessions; speaker profiles; and details about the Expo Hall, including an exhibitor list (alphabetical and by category), floor map, and the ability for attendees to create a personal list of must-see booths.

But with all of that, it also had room for something else: sponsorships. The app itself is sponsored, with the logo of the contributing company appearing on the splash screen beneath the event logo. Within the app, is also included an acknowledgment page with links to a profile of each company. For any convention events or workshops that are sponsored, the app provides a note for those companies on each event page.


This year, the National Funeral
Directors Association sold sponsorships
in the app for its annual convention

"Our sponsors are valuable partners and, naturally, we acknowledge their support of our convention anywhere we can; our app is another opportunity for us to do that," says Jessica Koth, public relations manager for the NFDA.

The NFDA is not alone in its effort to embrace new technology to create new sponsorship opportunities. Whether using mobile apps, geo-fencing technology, livestreaming, or even drones, event planners are finding a growing number of tools in their arsenal for delivering targeted sponsor messages. This embrace of high-tech gadgets and platforms is not only creating new revenue streams for planners, it's also making meetings more fun and worthwhile for attendees.

Killer Apps
As the NFDA example shows, mobile apps offer ripe opportunities for sponsorships. While they provide all the information supplied by a traditional catalog, they also allow for interactivity, from hyperlinks to animation, that can help a sponsor's message stand out. "Gone are the days when a sponsor logo linking to a URL of their choice is enough," says Thomas Hallin, CEO and co-founder of ITM Mobile, which specializes in designing apps and technology for conferences and events. Instead, he says that sponsors want to increase their visibility and ROI while planners want it to be "easier to sell sponsorships and generate incremental non-dues revenues."

For these reasons, ITM Mobile has found success by offering optimized sponsor listings within event apps. This allows participants to directly access sponsor company profiles and contact information within the app, while also giving the sponsor the opportunity to include a banner image and links to its social media channels.

A mobile app offers distinct advantages that online ads don't. When designed well, they can serve as a much more efficient tool for navigating a large event space than either the event website or a bulky print program. "Given that access to the Internet from a mobile device wasn't always reliable in a convention center, a stand-alone app that could be accessed even without an Internet connection was a logical step," says Koth.

Of course, all this is contingent on the app being designed in such a way that attendees want to use it. Planners will want to work with a professional app developer (NFDA tapped mobile design firm Bluebridge) to ensure the tool is user-friendly and loaded with the information that attendees will want to access. In its first year of use, the NFDA app was deemed useful by 83.9 percent of attendees surveyed in a post-event questionnaire -- just a notch below the 88.2 percent who said they found the printed program useful.

When designing an event app to help make it more appealing to sponsors, planners will also want to develop it to ensure that attendees will want to keep it on their smartphone long after the event itself. That may be to look up an exhibitor's contact information or to review notes taken during one of the workshops or to download handouts.

"This gives sponsors exposure beyond the event and reminds members of the support a particular company has lent to the association," says Koth.

"Planners are also interested in new ways to engage with participants on their mobile devices before the event while they also promote downloading of the app," adds Hallin.

Engaging Audiences
New-media sponsorships create unique opportunities to engage attendees in other ways as well. For example, when Oracle held the event COLLABORATE: Technology and Applications Forum, the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG), a knowledge-sharing group for Oracle Applications users saw the event as a prime opportunity to expand its membership.

The company reached out to event services firm Meeting Expectations to help it devise a way to present the benefits of membership while creating sponsorship opportunities and boosting social networking activities around Oracle's booth. The solution they came to: RadioOAUG, an online radio station broadcast from the booth.


At Oracle's last user conference
the company ran a sponsored online
radio station from the show floor

OAUG and Meeting Expectations set up a fully equipped radio booth where interviews were livestreamed and recorded, allowing the group to create immediate, timely, actionable content for the attendees at COLLABORATE and for the larger OAUG audience. They also created an online landing page that outlined all of the recorded sessions and pushed the livestream to various conference hallways while attendees were transitioning between session rooms.

"It was fantastic to see partners leave the show with a real takeaway," says Christine Hilgert, CMP, senior vice president of Meeting Expectations. "Many sponsors repurposed portions of the interviews and posted them to their own company websites and social media outlets."

To give the event an added audience, the OAUG staff hosted "Name That Tune" contests with prizes and live musical performances, complete with sponsor commercials throughout. In the end, almost 1,900 attendees visited the booth, and 16 sponsored segments were sold.

Meeting Expectations has run a number of other tech-focused sponsorship programs, such as "Daily Cash Giveaways" where a conference concierge tweets on behalf of an exhibitor to drive traffic to their booths, or giving exhibitors the option to upgrade their conference mobile app profile to include logos, links, press releases, and more.

"We've even hosted promotions via the mobile app activity feed and asked attendees to post photos of themselves to the feed conducting sponsor-oriented activities and challenges," says Hilgert. "We call these 'WigOUTs' -- random moments on the exhibit hall floor where we bring energy to a particular sponsor booth and then extend that moment into the app through social posts."