August 24, 2020
Looking back a year from now, what will you think about your association’s ability to adapt to pandemic conditions? Will you proudly recall how your association embraced this opportunity to rethink your non-dues revenue strategy? Or, will you kick yourself for missing this opportunity?
The pandemic has exposed how risky it is to rely upon an annual event for a major portion of your non-dues revenue. But you now have the opportunity to rethink your relationship with corporate revenue partners—your sponsors and exhibitors—and work with them to find new ways of generating non-dues revenue.
Depending on your industry, your sponsors and exhibitors—as well as their marketing budgets—may be hurting too. You can’t take their support for granted as other organizations with conferences, expos, publications, and webinars are hungry for a piece of those remaining budgets.
Don’t start making plans for virtual events without involving your sponsors and exhibitors. Talk to them about their virtual event experiences elsewhere. What effective options are they seeing? How can you collaborate on providing value to them in a way that aligns with your event goals?
Discuss their marketing goals. How can you help them achieve those goals at this event—and throughout the year? Don’t just think about one event. Sponsors and exhibitors have marketing needs year-round, not only during the few days of your event. Think about a year-round relationship and customized packages with different price points for sponsors and exhibitors.
Invite loyal sponsors and exhibitors to participate in a corporate advisory group that brainstorms ideas for future partnership opportunities.
Sponsors and exhibitors are looking for relationships—relationships that turn into leads. But how can they do this in a virtual event environment? This is new territory for everyone so nobody really knows.
Your association needs to know. You have to figure it out so you can help them solve this problem. Your sponsor and exhibitor marketing materials must be clear about the value they’ll receive at your event—and/or throughout the year. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology attempts to do this on their, Why Invest page for sponsors.
Help sponsors and exhibitors get the maximum return on their investment by showing them how to prepare for and participate in your virtual event. Take the marketing agency approach. Sponsor/exhibitor revenue and loyalty is worth taking your time to coach them on how to:
Before the event, schedule post-event conversations with sponsors and exhibitors. You want them to know that you take their feedback seriously.
Your corporate partners much rather teach than sell. They have valuable expertise to share, but many associations stick to outdated policies that prohibit sponsors and exhibitors from contributing educational content or participating in other ways. What a mistake.
Virtual events offer numerous revenue-generating opportunities:
If your industry, for example, a medical profession, has strict rules about mixing educational and sponsor content, clearly segregate the two, but don’t miss out on opportunities to provide a thought leadership platform for sponsors.
Sponsors can increase brand awareness by paying for:
Virtual exhibit halls can stay open 24/7 during your event so remind attendees to check in when they have time. Consider keeping exhibits open after the event too. Encourage attendees to return, watch videos, download content marketing resources, and request meetings.
Unlike in-person events, virtual events provide lots of data. What type of behavioral and demographic data would be of interest to your sponsors? You can measure attendee interaction with sessions, activities, exhibitors, and sponsors as well as their clicks and downloads before, during, and after the event.
Your annual event is just one opportunity for sponsors to create brand awareness, nurture leads, and share expertise. Create customized sponsorship packages that include content marketing and thought leadership opportunities throughout the year, for example:
How can you connect corporate partners with members and others in your industry? In the old days, a directory did the trick. But what year-round approach could be sustainable and effective now? Look to Airbnb and similar platforms for inspiration. Can you connect revenue partners with customers like Airbnb connects homeowners with travelers?
The marketing budgets of your corporate partners have their limits so you must develop other non-dues revenue streams. Members and other professionals in your industry are a prime target audience for products and services, such as:
The pandemic isn’t just temporarily disrupting events, it’s permanently disrupting them. Because of the virtual event experience, attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors will think differently about in-person events. They’ll have different expectations for what they seek in their relationship with your association. You can’t go back to the old ways of doing things. It’s time to rethink and improve your non-dues revenue strategy.