Sponsorship Best Practices for Associations and Membership Organizations
When it comes to reaching a highly specialized target audience, nothing offers a better opportunity than professional associations and membership organizations. Brands targeting these audiences have little opportunity to get face to face with these people in meaningful ways. While your association has the opportunity to sell sponsorships for your conferences and events, it goes beyond that. Yes, your member events and conferences present the opportunity to reach audiences on a local, national and even international level.
However, having a group of like-minded professionals all in one place provides a “sitting duck” marketing opportunity very few companies would want to pass up. So, while holding events does provide you with an opportunity to snag sponsorship dollars, you can leverage your audience in order to get some exceptional funding from brands eager to engage this audience in many other ways. Here are some sponsorship best practices for association and membership organizations to help you get top marketing dollars to improve your member experience.
The Power of Sponsorship
The definition of sponsorship is that of a marketing discipline and it is one of the most powerful tools within the marketing spectrum. Sponsorship allows the property (the one making the sale) to connect the brand (or sponsor) to their target audience in meaningful, targeted and interactive ways.
Know the Value of Your Audience
Industry audiences are already segmented which makes finding sponsors easier. If you bring a group of 1,000 hairdressers to a conference, you will have a long list of vendors “dying” to throw marketing dollars your way. Every industry has its own list of brands that provide products and services. This makes prospecting a little easier. The trick is to be able to prove the value of your audience, their numbers and their desires so you can sell sponsorship opportunities to the right brands.
So, using the hairdresser example, your prospects know you will be bringing them hairdressers. However, if you find out more detailed information by running a survey, prospects can begin to formulate ways they can engage their audience and see the value in what your audience offers such as:
- Percentage of owner/operators (decision-makers)
- Level of education (up and comers)
- Percentage who operate a storefront versus those who operate from home
- List of most common services provided
- List of common pain points
- Recruitment and retention challenges
- Percentage of most popular services provided
- List of most requested services a salon doesn’t offer
- Preferred brands and coming purchases
The more detail you can provide, the better equipped you will be to justify sponsorship prices and come up with unique sponsorship opportunities. And this goes far beyond partners for your events. Because of how specialized your audience is, you can charge a premium for access to your members. And you will find sponsors because these brands know they won’t get a more targeted marketing opportunity anywhere else.
Know the Value of Your Assets
Sponsorship valuation is a complex topic but an important one when we look at association audiences. Because your members provide such a targeted audience, a good place to look for pricing for your sponsorship opportunities is industry publications. How much do they charge for a full-page ad? How much do they charge for digital ads? You can also look at industry conferences, seminars and events. How many people do they say will attend? How does this measure up with your member list? How much is a booth? How much are their packages? What does each level offer? Partnership, presenting rights, naming rights, etc.? The industry will provide you with good averages to help you put a fair price on your properties and access to your members.
Understanding Sponsor Objectives
Before you can come up with unique sponsorship properties, you need to understand the most common sponsor objectives. What you learn from your sponsors might not be what you were expecting.
Really, when it comes to successful sponsorship opportunities, your goal should be to help sponsors meet theirs. This might take some customization and outside-the-box thinking to create assets that are unexpected. And by the way, sponsorships should be less intrusive to your members. They don’t want to feel they are being overexposed to marketing tactics as the price for joining your association. That is a big turn off for people who are already bombarded by marketers every day. It boils down to creativity, customization and engaging communication opportunities for all involved.
Sponsorship is More Than Just Events
When you can provide access to your specialized group, brands get excited at the idea of reaching them. Your basic sponsorship opportunities include:
- Social/digital media
- Networking events
- Lunch and learns
- Educational opportunities
- Annual or quarterly product launches
- Discount programs for services such as insurance
Your members provide a goldmine of leads for sponsors, who want the opportunity to get in front of your members on varying levels. How they engage your members is only limited by what you are willing to sell them, and your combined creativity. You can use sponsorship opportunities to improve what you offer members and become responsive to requests based on membership requests. For example, perhaps people have complained that there are not enough social events so you can approach sponsors to see if they would help fund seasonal parties. Members might find that there are not enough professional resources so you might find a sponsor to fund an online members-only library.
Ask Your Members What They Want
You are in a position to find out what your members really want. Your surveys do not only provide more details for your member segments but also can tap into their needs. Each profession will have its own pain points and challenges and you can use sponsorships to help resolve these issues for your members.
Ongoing surveys allow you to remain more responsive to member needs and then leverage those needs to create activations that will really resonate with them. Your sponsors can provide vital services and experiential marketing opportunities that make membership worthwhile.
Surveys might ask:
- What are your greatest business challenges?
- Where do you feel you can offer more to your clients/patients?
- Where do you feel your practice/company needs to invest more?
- What are your main business objectives for the next year? The next five years?
- What is your main challenge in retaining talent at your practice/firm/company?
If you focus on your list of sponsorship prospects, you can fine-tune your survey, or even offer to send a sponsor’s survey out to your members. From there, you can allow sponsors to get more creative with their activations and design them to meet the needs of their audience.
Keep Ideas Coming with a Sponsor Summit
Associations would do well to invest in a sponsor summit annually if possible. Sponsors love getting invited to these events as it provides them with a way to get their two cents worth in without facing a hard sell to get them to buy anything. Instead, your sponsor summit is designed to spend a few hours with people interested in your members. You can include an industry speaker, offer a meal, the opportunity to network, some thought leadership Q & As and some group work to get the creative juices flowing.
As long as you throw at least one annual event for the industry and your members, you will find sponsors are excited to be included as an insider. While it does take an investment on your part, if you’ve been doing the sponsorship thing right, you will soon see it is worth it.
Associations and membership organizations offer a direct line to a highly specialized audience. This provides you with an exclusive audience that will help you attract sponsorship dollars and inspired activations for your members.