I’ve been speaking with a number of sponsors in different industries and what I’m learning is fascinating. In my discussions with sponsors – vendor and supplier members – within our industry associations, they’ve been very forthcoming with what they want.
They want to:
1) know how other members are working;
2) they want to learn more about their business;
3) they certainly want to network and meet people; and,
4) we are seeing increased interest in some of the government relations and advocacy programs associations are implementing.
In other words, they are starting to sound like “regular” members.
But, holy cow – we definitely treat them differently from the regular members. We typically put them in an exhibit hall booth. There are barriers to serving on a committee or the leadership of the organization – not to mention associations won’t allow them to speak during a program.
I actually believe this is very short-sighted because in many cases these suppliers and vendors have products and services that are absolutely essential for our members to do business. So why do we put up these barriers to access to the organization and our members?
Sponsors have been very forthcoming of what they want from their association relationship.
- First: They want to be a thought leader. They want speaking opportunities. You don’t want to rule someone out who may provide great content – just because they are a sponsor. It’s funny, I had a sponsor tell me once, “I’ve sponsored a number of events but have never been asked to speak. I have good content in these areas. And, on the flip side, the meetings where I’m not a sponsor, I’ve been signed on for a speaking role right away. It just seems weird to me.” I know some sponsors are struggling with this so let me give you a couple tips.
- Don’t rule someone out as a speaker just because they are a sponsor. So, start with your content and your programming. If the sponsor makes sense to be on that program or session – include them. Give them the opportunity. I bet you’ll get a great speaker.
- Ensure their opportunity is to provide great content and not to sell. Most good business people know when they are asked to speak somewhere – it’s not about selling something. They are there to share their perspective and their expertise.
- Secondly, many associations are offering these premier, high-level sponsorships, but ensure it’s worth the price. So, when someone signs on for a $75K to $150K sponsorship – they will be looking to present, cobrand, and seek face-to-face meetings with their most important prospects. They will also want to work with your staff to develop an annual marketing program and to craft the most effective opportunities for exposure. Ensure your sponsorship is worth the investment.
- And, third – sponsors want to access. Their #1 priority is to meet the very best prospects they can. And, that doesn’t necessarily happen in a booth. There are some great associations who are taking bold steps and creating an exhibit hall that is much more dynamic. They are facilitating one-on-one business meetings between vendors and buyers and it’s been a huge success. This approach generates increased energy at an event and people know why they are present. This is the way to go! Are you willing to provide this opportunity for a 6-figure sponsorship?
So the challenge ahead is in developing these kinds of relationships; so start planning now to provide your sponsors the opportunity for thought leadership – which, could also include the delivery of a white paper. Secondly – make that premium sponsorship worth the price tag by identifying a customized experience. And finally, give them real access – face-to-face meetings that you are facilitating. These strategies will make your association very valuable to them. Treat them like real members because that’s who they are.