Money & Business

The Case for a Sponsored Webinar

By / Jul 28, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Most associations are offering their members technology-enabled learning opportunities like webinars, but they can be expensive endeavors. That’s why, in an effort to lower costs, many organizations try to find a sponsor.

Technology has definitely infiltrated the sphere of learning. Evidences are everywhere, from libraries offering digital books and maker spaces to schools serving up virtual curriculum and Kindle eTextbooks.

Associations have also jumped on the tech-learning bandwagon. The Association Learning + Technology 2016 report found that a whopping 87.4 percent of respondents said that their associations use technology-enabled learning opportunities.

But here’s the rub: They’re not cheap.

“Depending on how long [they are] and how many people are involved, they’re fairly expensive,” said Michael McCormack, chief technology officer at the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB,) which has hosted webinars for about two years.

Maybe the steep cost comes as a surprise? But when you add up the components of a webinar—from the technical platform to the speakers, who might need to be trained–the price becomes less so. Plus, there are members’ expectations to manage as well.

“Basically [members] have an expectation level that rivals their live meetings,” said Philip Forte, president and CEO of Blue Sky eLearn. “If they’re paying, but even if they’re not, they want a well-managed, well-thought-out presentation.”

So, what’s an association to do? One way to cover the expensive overhead is by getting the webinars sponsored.

That’s what the American Pharmacists Association has done for more than a decade. APhA’s Access Project, a subsection of its learning department, puts out anywhere from 15 to 30 webinars each year—95 percent of which are fully funded.

“Our goal is to maintain a high level of educational content by distributing learning tools to keep everybody up to speed,” said Anthony Gary, APhA’s senior manager of education. “We want to make sure that we continue to have the resources to deliver high-quality products in pharmacy education.”

And there are a number of ways to do that. Over at ASCB, there’s been a series of five webinars on light microscopy, which is a trending topic for cell biologists. The group structured a business agreement with a company, who agreed to sponsor the entire series, with the proviso that ASCB would choose speakers for four of the webinars, allowing the sponsoring company to choose the speaker for the remaining one.

Gary said APhA has done webinars for so long that, in most cases, the association is no longer approaching sponsors, but rather sponsors are coming to them with ideas. And APhA uses a number of different sponsorship models, depending on what the sponsor needs. Some sponsors want a series of webinars, while others might want something more advanced like a customized website, coupled with a video.

Forte said that some forward-thinking associations are blending their live meetings with webinars. “You can almost see where the industry is going because frankly, there is going to be a shakeout,” Forte said. “More and more people are getting their knowledge and content through digital means. Organizations and associations [that aren’t embracing that] are going to struggle a bit.”

How does your association pay for its webinars? Is there room to push the envelope on what you do in technology-enabled learning? Please leave your comments below.

Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. More »

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