December 4, 2018
Advertising revenue has plummeted for everyone—except Google and Facebook—over the last decade. As a result, associations have had to find new ways to generate non-dues revenue. While you’re dealing with the revenue challenge, you must also continue developing and publishing high-quality content for your members and others in your professional community. But, creating content is a challenge when you have limited time and money.
Meanwhile, your sponsors are looking for marketing opportunities beyond advertising. They’re seeking brand awareness and a better return on their marketing investment than advertising has traditionally provided. Many of them already understand the value of content marketing—that is, publishing content that helps them educate, establish trust, and deepen relationships with their prospects and clients. They would love the opportunity to provide this same value to your audience.
A solution to both the non-dues revenue challenge and the content creation challenge is sponsored content. As an ASAE article stated, sponsored content can “transform sponsors into thought leaders and generate non-dues revenue as a result.”
Sponsored content is the same as “branded content” or “native content.” It’s called “native” because the content looks native to the environment in which it appears. Sponsored content on your blog or website looks like any other content on your blog or website, except it’s developed and labeled differently.
Your revenue partners have expertise to share: educational information, how-to advice, opinion on industry issues, and innovation stories. They can provide content on evergreen topics that will remain relevant and provide long-term value for readers. Sponsored content is appealing to revenue partners because it can help them reach a larger audience than they would with an event sponsorship, and can potentially result in a bigger ROI.
Articles and blog posts are the most common type of sponsored content, for example, this article on ASAE’s Associations Now website. The article is clearly labeled as sponsored content. Underneath the title, the byline says, “Sponsored Content from Associations Now Brand Connection and Business Events Canada.”
At the end of the byline, a clickable “What’s This” icon explains what “sponsored content” means:
“Associations Now Brand Connection provides opportunities for advertisers to connect with the Associations Now audience. All content is paid for by the advertiser. The Associations Now editorial staff is not involved in creating this content.”
In this case, Business Events Canada wrote an article describing the tactics Canadian cities are using to attract life science association meetings. Below the article, a footer provides a call-to-action with links to the sponsor’s landing page:
“This article is brought to you by Business Events Canada. Learn more about planning your next life science event in Canada, or reach out directly to receive our knowledge maps, designed to help you determine exactly which city is the best fit for your meeting content."
Sponsored content isn’t limited to articles and blog posts. You can also work with revenue partners to produce sponsored content in the following formats:
Everyone understands advertising, but many of your prospective sponsors may not be familiar with sponsored content. You may have to educate some of them about sponsored content’s benefits.
Help potential sponsors understand your audience by finding out what type of audience data matters to them. AMS reports can make this job easier for you because they can provide the demographic and engagement data sponsors need about your members, subscribers, and website visitors.
Talk to them about your audience’s interests and needs. What topics are popular on your website, in emails and newsletters, and at educational events? What topics do members self-report as their top interests?
Only choose sponsors who understand and respect the authority and trust you’ve established with your audience. Your association is providing them a valuable platform. By giving their content equal treatment, you’re passing your brand equity onto them. Don’t underprice that opportunity.
Make sure sponsors understand the difference between promotional content and editorial content. They’ll have their opportunity to provide a call-to-action in the footer of the article, but the article itself must not promote their products or services. The article must provide informational or educational value. Hold sponsors to the same editorial quality as your regular content. Reserve the right to review and edit or reject their content if it doesn’t meet your editorial standards.
Help sponsors make the best of this marketing opportunity. Provide guidance on their call-to-action. For example, suggest they link to a unique landing page where they can capture readers’ email addresses with an additional lead magnet. An ASAE article, How to Transform Your Sponsors Into Thought Leaders, provides advice on working with content sponsors.
You could also include social promotion in your agreement. For example, you could agree to promote their sponsored post on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn a specific number of times within a specific time period. You could also agree to repurpose a blog post as a print magazine article and/or newsletter item.
To keep your readers’ trust, always label sponsored content so it’s clear to the reader that it’s not editorial content. They must understand where they’re going if they click on the link in the sponsored content’s call-to-action footer.
Like advertising, plan to show the ROI of their sponsored content investment to your revenue partners. Any resulting traffic and activity on their landing page is only part of the story. Many people will read their article but not click their call-to-action. Provide content sponsors with data about page traffic and other metrics that show how many people read their content.
Sponsored content helps your association meet two perennial challenges: content creation and non-dues revenue. For more non-dues revenue ideas, read our white paper on increasing non-dues revenue by creating valuable programs based on member data.