In the last few years, associations have seen the shortcomings of the traditional, event-centric approach to sponsorship with its bronze/silver/gold/platinum menu. As a result, many of them are getting serious about the potential revenue and member value opportunities in taking a different, year-round approach to sponsorship.
Ideas for a year-round approach to sponsorship that are worth stealing
One person who helped raised the level of conversation about sponsorship—and whose ideas we steal frequently—is Bruce Rosenthal, whose consultancy helps associations restructure their corporate partnership programs. Bruce is also the co-convener of the Partnership Professionals Network and frequent webinar speaker.
Create partnerships that convince companies to spend more of their marketing budget with your association
Bruce says companies want three things from their relationship with associations:
1. Thought leadership opportunities
2. Business development opportunities
3. Brand differentiation
Companies in your market are already creating these opportunities with their own content marketing efforts: webinars, blog posts, virtual events, reports, and speaking engagements. They might even compete with your content and education. They have to. They can’t rely on your two- to three-day events to fill their lead generation pipeline; they must market all year round.
Companies will gladly spend more money with your association if you help them meet each of those three needs throughout the year. If you don’t, they will find other places to invest their marketing dollars. So, here’s how you do it:
1. Create opportunities for sponsors to provide educational content to members. (thought leadership)
2. Provide sponsors with the contact information of the people who consume their content and the data related to that content consumption. (business development)
3. Limit the most valuable marketing opportunities to a select group of high-paying sponsors. (brand differentiation)
Find the sweet spot between member needs and sponsor expertise
Now, the question is: what kind of relationship do these companies want? They rather have a relationship than a series of transactions. Don’t assume they still want the same logo placements and advertisements you’ve always offered. Talk to prospective sponsors before offering them anything. You will find out they rather share expertise than sell.
But, first, make sure you know what information and education the different segments of your membership need right now. Also, identify all the physical and digital channels you can use to distribute that content. Be ready for new possibilities to emerge in your discussions with prospective sponsors. Be open to these new ideas—think of them as experiments.
Then, have conversations with potential corporate partners about their business and marketing goals and the expertise they can offer that aligns with the needs of your members and market.
Bruce wrote about the restructuring of the sponsorship program at the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN). AMSN created a Premier Partner program, a year-long collaboration with a select group of companies. Positioned as thought leaders, these sponsors delivered value to members via content, polls and surveys, focus groups, executive roundtables, research, and social media campaigns.
You have many options for sponsored thought leadership. Establish content guidelines up front to ensure sponsors don’t deliver sales pitches.
• Sponsors contribute blog posts and articles, reports, white papers, e-books, podcast episodes, video series, and newsletter sections.
• Sponsors serve as hosts, moderators, and facilitators of sessions, panels, discussion groups, idea swaps, Ask-Me-Anythings, hackathons, learning cohorts, and networking groups.
• Sponsors contribute to mini-courses, online courses, certificate programs, and webinars.
• See if sponsors have in-house training programs that can fill gaps in your curriculum.
If you have gaps in your educational content, identify experts in your vendor community who might be interested in sponsoring content in those areas. If policies out of your control prevent your association from accepting sponsor-produced content, ask sponsors to help subsidize the production of these resources by association staff or contractors.
Host a year-round content hub for sponsors and exhibitors
Earlier this year, an article by Tracy King, CEO and Chief Learning Strategist of InspirEd, led us to write one of our own about using your LMS as a year-round content hub for exhibitors. You can read about a real-life example in an Associations Now article about the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Knowledge Hub, which features sponsored (and vetted) content on a variety of topics of interest to APTA’s members and market.
Site visitors use this ‘one-stop shop’ to find information about topics, products, and services. Users must provide their contact information to download the content, creating leads for the sponsoring company. To keep your content hub interesting, you could feature a new theme every month or two—an exclusive opportunity for high-paying sponsors.
Bruce pointed out another advantage to this approach: “A lot of what we’re talking about is not just to meet the needs of sponsor companies, but to meet the needs of members. [Associations] need more information on more topics, and [they] often don’t have the bandwidth, the staff, or the money to produce all that content.” This approach allows sponsors to do some of the content production for you.
Strengthen revenue partnerships with data and attention
An advantage of sponsored digital content is the metrics you can provide sponsors as proof of their marketing ROI. You can’t tell sponsors how many people saw their logo or advertisement, but you can share data about their digital content’s performance, such as page views, time spent on site, number of leads, and conversion rate. Digital events provide valuable attendee metrics too.
In the Associations Now article, Jeff Schottland, CEO of Lead Marvels, said metrics also give your association (and sponsors) intel on what content and topics are resonating—information that can inform decisions about future content and programming.
You may have to change the terms of service for your virtual events and website if you are sharing attendee and visitor data. To maintain the trust of your members and market, be transparent about what happens with their email when they download something. Clue them in on the bigger picture: this sponsored content helps to fund the association programs and services they find so valuable.
The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) takes an agency approach to their corporate partners. AMSN assigns an account executive to each sponsor and uses a private project management website to track benefits, analytics, notes, and timelines. After one year of this new approach, AMSN sponsors are renewing their partnerships for a second year.
Make time in 2022 to discuss marketing goals with a handful of member companies. Experiment with new ways for them to meet the needs of your member while achieving their marketing goals. Sponsors can help your association expand its program capacity by providing valuable content and expertise to your members and market.