Should Associations Revisit Sponsorship? Maybe
Although U.S. reports 3% GDP growth in the first quarter, financial news out of Europe is not encouraging. Companies especially maintain a watchful and wary eye on expenditures. Some Associations report single digit revenue growth, others show no year over year increase. Yes, Associations are facing stiff headwinds as they aggressively secure existing revenue, and, work diligently to grow new revenue. Before the great Recession Sponsor Revenue was more reliable, but not anymore. It makes sense for CEO’s to revisit the strategy and definition of Sponsor programs.
Sponsors similar to members and prospects face smaller corporate budgets and immense pressure to deliver ROI. However, there is one key factor Associations need to be mindful of; In hard times membership and sponsorship both are on the chopping block. There is a way to reposition and strengthen Associations to drive renewals and new members. The good news? There is an innovative way to reposition and grow Association Sponsor revenues too!
Strategic Review of Sponsor Programs
One Association Executive recently bemoaned, “Sponsor revenues aren’t nearly what they once were and we’re losing money.” Clearly a time to reassess the strategy and be prospective.
The three step Assessment model works as effectively for Sponsors as it does for renewals and new member recruitment:
Data Driven Strategies. What were sponsor revenues from 2006 through 2008? What were sponsor revenues 2009 through 2011? Which companies participated pre recession and which no longer participate? What changed in the Company Sponsor evaluation process pre and post recession? What are the Sponsor’s business objectives post recession versus pre recession? Does your Association work with a C Level Executive or are you working with the Marketing Department? What program or attendance dynamics at your Association events changed pre and post recession? What are your Association’s competitors doing differently now versus pre- recession? Does your Association utilize post event Sponsor Surveys? If so, what are the takeaways? In meeting with CEO or C Level executives, what message do they convey?
Core Connections. All of the Data will inform Associations and uncover opportunities including the need to build allies in the C Suite of Sponsors as much as you do members and prospects. In addition, Associations could realize that Sponsors are most interested in being partners and supporting an industry key to their business success. This is the NEW Core Connection and requires a new strategy; instead of the Sponsor Program, Associations reposition to a Corporate Partner Program. This is a transition allowing these companies to fully partner with your Association.
Corporate Partner Engagement. As Corporate Partners, C Level executives will be able to interact on equal footing. Associations may consider creating a Corporate Partner Advisory Council and provide these investors a seat at the table. If they perceive an ability to impact the direction of the Association and they perceive a welcoming community, the strategic transition is complete. Sponsors are a thing of the past, Corporate Partners achieve the same status as members, they are part of the fabric of the larger Community.
Should Associations Revisit Sponsorship? Maybe.
It was an “ah ha” moment for one Association. Suffering considerable sponsor revenue losses, the staff engaged Sponsors directly. What was learned? The Sponsor wanted a strong industry but indicated that one of the first cuts is in the Sponsor area. Consequently it was the Sponsor who helped the Association see a new path. This particular Association drives over $1 million annually in Corporate Partner Revenues.
In a booming economy Sponsor revenue was more reliable, but that is no longer the reality. Uncertain times require a new look at how Association’s drive revenues. Although some argue that hard work is the best growth strategy, working smarter could hold the key to a brighter future. In this instance, a strategic shift to a Corporate Partner program is the smarter strategy to grow and maintain an important Association revenue stream.