The association business model is stressed, in particular the business model based on in-person meetings. Ninety percent of organizations will move to virtual events this year. Listen to this week’s episode to learn how to develop a new sponsorship inventory for virtual events to continue growing your non-dues revenue.
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Hello and welcome to JP Moery’s Association Hustle Podcast. President of The Moery Company, JP’s mission is to arm today’s associations with insight and strategy to thrive and a progressively complex and competitive business landscape. 21st century associations must move forward with a little bit of hustle and revenue development at their core.
Today I’m going to walk you through building a virtual meeting sponsorship program.
First, a little context. My friend Dean West at the Association Laboratory conducted a COVID Impact Study for Associations and here is what they found: the association business model is stressed, in particular the business model around meetings. Sixty-eight percent of association executives projected a decline in meeting revenue; the percentage of decline is estimated to be at 40%. Ninety percent of organizations will move to virtual or smaller events this year. Membership behavior is also changing with roughly 70% of association executives acknowledging that domestic travel reductions will occur and the number of the companies attending events will decline. Face-to-face meetings of volunteers will also be reduced with most moving to virtual platforms. Association executives are also aware of the fact that discretionary budget in their member companies will reduce and that’s going to have an effect on meetings, membership, and membership engagement in a lot of different areas. All of this is happening while simultaneously associations are shifting to virtual events, becoming more diversified with their sponsorship inventory, and developing new prospectuses and 2021 budgets.
I don’t know who we’re kidding here, there hasn’t been an association meeting face-to-face with a large number of attendees in months and I don’t see it happening for the rest 2020, do you? I mean, let’s be real. I know a number of you still have in-person events on your calendar. Maybe it’s for legal obligations or maybe you’re going through the due diligence process to see what’s possible. However, I don’t see it happening. So, how do you adapt? How do you change?
As I’ve mentioned in previous episodes leading up to this one, I believe that the virtual sponsorship component has some upside to it because we’ve been talking about the diversification of sponsorship inventory for a very long time. Virtual meetings provide us the opportunity to do just that. So, how do you develop this type of program? The development work falls into three areas:
1. A review of your association. 2. Industry analysis. 3. A system for direct sales and reporting. Direct sales will need to operate differently than what you may have been used to in the past because majority of your partners were in renewing their sponsorships fairly easily year after year. It’s going to be a different process once you develop this new program. You will have to sell the partnership all over again alongside new sponsorship inventory.
Have a clear understanding of your virtual event program, your event agenda, and the existing sponsor status of your organizations. Are you going to have to carry people over and convert them from your face-to-face meeting into a virtual opportunity? Get a real clear status check of where you are. Review your existing sponsorship sales and marketing process. This is, in effect, a relaunch.
Collect one year of sponsorship data including company participation, the revenue from each partner, and the type of sponsorship that they purchase from you. Did they partner with you for branding, thought leadership, or access to people? It’s important to know these things as you develop your new inventory. Then, conduct interviews with your education team and your meetings team about any barriers to virtual sponsorships and any opportunities that may be new as you convert to a virtual platform. Have a handful of conversations with your existing sponsors about the value they get from their existing partnerships with you and the expected return on investment. What do they think about your virtual offerings? One of the best benefits of a virtual sponsorship is data. Ask them what type of data they need from you. It’s really important to get an assessment from your association sponsors about how they see virtual sponsorships because, after all, they’re going to be the ones buying it. I think it’s important to know what they value from you most as you structure your virtual event sponsorship program. Compile what you learn and replicate it in a virtual format because your sponsors will become your business partners, if they’re not already.
Industry Analysis and Competitor Review
Take the time to examine existing virtual sponsorship models being used by other associations. We’re seeing groups that are using a hybrid model with a sponsorship program that is for an in-person meeting with a virtual component. There’s a lot of activity going on right now so it’s important to get an assessment, especially in your industry, of what other people are doing because I think you can learn a lot from the analysis. Compare the sponsorship pricing and the benefits from other associations and see what deliverables they’re providing to their sponsors. Get a sense of the meeting platforms that other associations are using. Different platforms offer a variety of different components and benefits that can be offered to a sponsor. We’re also collecting all of this information so that we can provide a better service to our clients.
Think about it this way: it’s like “back in the day” when would go to different hotels to see what components they offered and say, “Wow, if we did this over here, that would be a great sponsorship opportunity!” Or, “If we took this trip off site, we’d have an incredible experience and sponsors would want to be able to do that.” Same thing when it comes to virtual meeting platforms. Provide examples of virtual sponsorship programs to your colleagues and address the best practices that you’re seeing other organizations do. The industry analysis is an important part of creating your own programs. It allows you to collect information to share with your colleagues and get their buy in.
Sales and Reporting
The third piece of the puzzle is reporting and a direct sales methodology. Make sure to develop multiple scenarios for restructuring your sponsorship opportunities and inventory. This may include adding virtual meeting components, not only to the event, but to your annual partnership program. Your narrative should be one of listening to and providing opportunities for your partners whether it’s a virtual exhibit hall or face-to-face meetings. Then consider 30-day next step plan to educate and inform your sponsors. I love the idea of being able to do demonstrations of the meeting platform and the sponsorships so that your sponsors can see how to navigate these new opportunities. Doing so will establish a solid sales effort.
Your meetings and events team are under a lot of duress. They’re having to convert in-person events to online platforms. You may need help – or extra bandwidth – on the sales side. If they were involved in the sales process in the past, they are used to rolling out the same prospectus and getting 80% of the sponsors renewing year after year. This is, without a doubt, an invigorated relaunch program.
Conduct an internal review of your association. What’s possible? What were people buying before? Interview the sponsors.
Industry analysis. What are your competitors doing as it pertains to virtual sponsorships? Do you have an opportunity to differentiate? Compare sponsorship pricing for virtual compared to in-person events and what the differences are. Get a sense of what the price point might be. Develop virtual benefits for your sponsorships based on the meeting platform that you’re using.
Lastly, focus on reporting and direct sales. The narrative here will be different than before, it’s going to require educating your sponsors on how to best utilize the virtual event platforms.
I believe, over the long term, this is going to be a fantastic opportunity for you to diversify your plans. You can do this. This is an opportunity to create robust plans that will allow you to create a lot of value for your sponsors and build long term relationships as they become your business partners moving forward.
I hope this was helpful. I have a favor to ask you. Can you please share this podcast with a friend of yours in the association space? I sure would value that. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk next week on the Association Hustle.
We hope you enjoyed this edition of JP Moery’s Association Hustle Podcast. We’d love to connect with you. Check out our blog at moerycompany.com and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You can also connect with JP on LinkedIn and Twitter at @JPMoery, as well as The Moery’s Company’s Instagram and Facebook page. To purchase a copy of JP’s book, Association Hustle: Top Strategies for Association Growth, go to JPMoery.com.
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