A Peek Into Some of the Latest Association Sponsorship Trends

Based on the findings of a recent state of association sponsorship survey, one expert takes a deeper look at some of the latest trends in the industry.

As reported earlier this week, more associations are reporting increased revenue from sponsorships.

But the news that nearly 40 percent more associations saw an increase in this type of revenue in 2013 compared to 2011 was not terribly surprising to sponsorship expert Pamela Strother, a principal at Sponsorship Specialists.

After the recession, when many associations saw membership dues and meetings revenue drop, it became increasingly imperative for them to diversify and develop more customized and well-crafted sponsorship programs, she said. And as the IEG study demonstrates, “more and more associations are getting serious about that.”

Along with added revenue, there are some additional trends popping up in the association sponsorship space, according to Strother.

For example, these relationships have changed in their level of seriousness and longevity over the last decade or so.

“I would describe marriage then and dating today,” Strother said. Roughly 10 years ago, “a company would identify an association through some research, through meetings with CEOs and getting an understanding of associations, and they would commit to a sponsorship that was much more about branding, onsite visibility, bringing their folks in to interact, or sponsoring a reception.”

By supplying that one-on-one time, associations could pretty much count on brand loyalty, Strother added. And some associations are probably still reaping the brand royalty benefits of some of those relationships, but in terms of beginning new partnerships today, there’s more of an immediate need for the marketing director to demonstrate a return on investment.

It’s like short-term dating, Strother said. And it’s especially apparent among companies that have been disrupted by advances in technology—i.e., those in the education or publishing industries.

“These companies may come on board with a really sizable sponsorship because they’re launching a new product, or a new product upgrade, but they don’t need to come back next year,” Strother said. “They captured your audience this year right when it mattered.”

More tailored and customized programs also means higher demands on staff. According to the IEG study, associations are feeling the need for more staff support and resources given the increased demand for sponsorships. About a quarter of respondents do not have a full-time staff person dedicated to selling or supporting sponsorships, while most associations (41 percent) reported having at least two to three staff  dedicated to this job.

These new types of relationships with sponsors are going deeper into the programmatic work of the association and involve stakeholders from all areas of the association, Strother said.

“The communications director, education director, conventions director, those are really critical leaders that the in-house sponsorship staff have to have conversations with because the benefits are going to be implemented at the programmatic level,” she said. “And that’s a demand on staff across the board.”

In addition, associations are breaking ground with new sponsored products and programs. Some of the most popular types of new programs are coeducational opportunities, particularly those that include online seminars or webinars, Strother said.

“That concept isn’t new, but for a lot of associations, allowing [sponsors] to have that space within the association is new,” Strother said. “And I can tell you that many of them still have a wall up around that space.”

What trends have you seen in the association sponsorship space? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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