What are sponsors really looking for from your organisation? That would seem to be an easy question. The answer, obviously, is to gain exposure to our members and realise some tangible (i.e. financial) return on their sponsorship investment.
Association Executive Mark Levin explains how to designate business partnerships and apply sponsorship investments to your member organisation.
I would certainly agree with that, but I think we must look at the new environment in which we are seeking to keep our current sponsors and attract new ones. We keep hearing references to the “post-COVID” business environment but do we really know what post-COVID means? Does that mean that the pandemic is over, but we’ve got another flu on our hands and every year we’re going to go through something like this? Does it mean that we can’t expect more outbreaks on cruises, at conventions, and at other large gatherings? Nobody knows.
When we seek sponsorships in an uncertain environment, we have to present the value of the sponsorships in terms that are meaningful at several levels. We need to be prepared to answer questions about the return on their investment in a clear, informed, and positive manner.
To start with, there are a couple of questions we need to ask ourselves about sponsorship:
Let’s look at these questions as opportunities to focus our message to new and returning sponsors.
This question is the one that is most critical, because exposure to members is the starting point. Being exposed to members is just another marketing slogan − It doesn’t necessarily translate into value unless the sponsor does a lot of extra work and follow with the leads we promise them.
Remind your sponsors that through their sponsorships they become a part of the association’s brand. That is, we are “guilty by association” with the sponsor, and they are the same with us. Make that a positive. Sell it as benefit, not as a feature. Talk about the multiplier effect of having their name and yours linked.
Be creative in the types of sponsorship you offer in today’s world. Focus on the ability of sponsors to help advance your scientific or community service efforts (and those of your members). Talk about how the reach of your organisation can help the sponsor fulfill its commitment to being a positive corporate citizen. Tag lines such as “A Proud Corporate Sponsor of the XYZ Association Public Service Awards Programme” can help create an image that has real value for a sponsor.
The early signs of conference attendance after the pandemic are, for the most part, positive. But we all admit that there is no guarantee that this is the way things will be in the long term. Selling sponsorships based on attendance at conferences and events is somewhat tenuous.
We need to do our research to make the best case for our sponsorships. Talk about the referral value. Tie in social media and newsletter ads to event sponsorship. Promote the branding value of sponsoring educational programmes and even individual speakers. Offer video sponsorship options to reach non-attendees. Package more opportunities so there is less dependence on any one “exposure” avenue.
Set your sponsors up for successful interactions with your members by providing them with information to help target their (the sponsors’) messages. Share surveys of what your members see as their biggest professional or business challenges. Promote the idea of sponsors being “problem- solvers” for your members and let them use their creativity to tell members how their company can help.
Much the same way we need to have an effective Value Proposition for association membership, we should have a targeted value proposition for sponsors, too. Identify the core value of being a sponsor in your organisation and present it in the most concise and appealing way.
A value proposition can be customised by filling in the blanks of a template that was developed by British membership expert Sue Froggatt. Her template is straight-forward:
For (your target market) who want or need (the prime benefit or outcome they require or the problem that needs solving) sponsorship with our Association provides (the solution-the highest value your organisation offers). We provide this through (the list of ways they can gain that value).
So, in this case, you might have a value proposition that reads:
For companies who need the most-cost effective way to attract younger customers, sponsorship with our Association provides exclusive, multi-level interactions with our Young Professionals group. We provide this through corporate speaking opportunities, joint leadership meetings, and three-tiered marketing packages.
The important thing is to remember that a value proposition is a problem-solving statement for your sponsor’s needs, not for the organisation’s. Showing empathy for their desired outcomes is how we will gain new sponsorships and continue to build vital partnerships for our association.
About the Author
Mark Levin, CAE, CSP has more than 20 years of experience as an association executive and is also an internationally-known speaker and consultant to the non-profit and association community. He currently serves as Executive Vice President of the Chain Link Fence Manufacturers Institute, an international trade association, and as President of B.A.I., Inc., his speaking and consulting firm.
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