What Do Your Sponsors Really Want?

As many associations are looking to shore up nondues revenue, a new survey reveals sponsors want to be back at in-person meetings. Experts say mixing in-person events with year-round content options will lead to more productive relationships between sponsors and associations.

Prior to the pandemic, association events—and the sponsors they brought—were a mainstay of nondues revenue. While sponsors gave virtual a try, many had lackluster results—making them wary of such offerings.

And now “State of Sponsorship Engagement [PDF],” a new survey by the Partnership Professionals Network and Dynamic Benchmarking, reveals just how eager sponsors are to return to live events: 81 percent of respondents want to sponsor in-person meetings.

Part of the appetite for face-to-face meetings is related to nostalgic memories of past conferences, along with the realities of what virtual conferences were like, said Dan Kowitz, CEO of JSB Partnership Consultants and co-convener of PPN.

“What companies will say is, ‘If we were live, and I had a product theater, people would stand around and talk, and you might get some leads and conversation right afterward,’” Kowitz said. “People aren’t hanging around virtually to do that.”

While sponsors want in-person meetings, the reality is that they are coming back slowly, with attendance often lower than pre-pandemic levels. “If they used to sponsor a meeting at $50,000, and they decide to test the waters and come back at $50,000,” said Kowitz. “And if you have half the attendance [as pre-pandemic], I guarantee you they’re not going to be happy and asking for money back.”

Use a Year-Round Strategy

Kowitz said the best strategy is giving sponsors a good return on investment. Only 21 percent of sponsors surveyed said they are achieving their objective most of the time. That means associations need to do a better job understanding what sponsors want to achieve and tailoring packages to those needs. Offer more than conference sponsorship, even if that seems to be high on the sponsor’s wish list.

“When you start your conversation, say, ‘Look, we market 365 days a year in our association to our members,’” Kowitz said. “’You market 365 days a year. If we can have a conversation around your goals and objectives, I think there are many points in the year where we can make your relationship to and with the members come to life.’”

That way, if event numbers don’t reach pre-pandemic levels, sponsors aren’t left feeling dissatisfied. “If you package other ways to reach members during the course of the year for your top spenders, that’s where they’re not going to be quite as concerned if the meeting is down,” Kowitz said.

Though, he added that giving sponsors some of what they want will be helpful. “Since companies are itching to get back to in person, the more that we can have in person this year, the more we’ll see spends come back and go up in those areas.”

Mix in Content Targeted Marketing

One area where sponsors are clamoring for more is content. Seventy percent want to be considered thought leaders and educate members. “Sponsors want to be in the conversation, not sponsor the conversation,” Kowitz said.

However, associations should have standards for content to assure it is valuable to members, not a sales pitch. Many sponsors have been creating content themselves and are looking outside of associations to share it, said Bruce Rosenthal, principal of Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC, and co-convener of the PPN. He noted, they might not come back to associations if they find other avenues to share content.

“It is a competitive environment,” he said. “Companies have choices, and as part of that, companies are looking for value.”

When offering value, Rosenthal suggested targeted marketing. He gave the example of a webinar an association hosts that 300 people attend. Rather than marketing to all 300 people, find out which attendees sponsors are most interested in—such as a specific title who live in a certain region of the country—and send only to those people.

“The association can say, ‘There are 25 attendees that meet that profile,’” Rosenthal said. “Then the company can say, ‘Can we send those 25 a white paper on this topic?’ Those 25 people could be more valuable than the 300 people in an in-person session.”

Rosenthal noted that organizations who have policies not to give out registrant info could send emails on behalf of the sponsor. Targeting also makes it more likely that the information is valuable to the recipients.

“This avoids the problem many associations have of people complaining to the CEO, ‘Why am I getting all these emails? I don’t have anything to do with this product,’” Rosenthal said. “By doing that targeting, it’s much more member beneficial.”

What are your sponsors telling you they want more of in 2022? Share in the comments.

(relif/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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