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How to Modernize Your Association’s Approach to Corporate Sponsorships

In an episode of the Member Engagement Show podcast we heard from a foremost expert on corporate partnerships about how the approach must change. Plus, we got the results of a survey revealing what corporate sponsors really think.  

In an episode of the Member Engagement Show podcast we heard from a foremost expert on corporate partnerships about how the approach must change. Plus, we got the results of a survey revealing what corporate sponsors really think.  

The Master of More Value  

The episode’s guest was Bruce Rosenthal, a strategic advisor and consultant to associations.  

Bruce helps his clients advance corporate partnerships and sponsorship programs, identify strategies to increase revenue and member value, create added value for each sponsor, and develop corporate partnership and sponsorship program implementation plans.  

Bruce is a brilliant mind for any association to follow if they’re looking to increase revenue and add more value for members.  

Things Have Changed  

Bruce says that even before the pandemic, we were seeing changes in how companies vetted association sponsorships  

He might offer the biggest exhibit booth in the hall and hear in response that it wouldn’t help the prospect much because it would take time away from other means of engaging members during the conference. Or he’d hear from sponsors that they didn’t need banner ads because, as longtime supporters, everybody already knew who they were. Organizations were already re-evaluating the value of sponsorships, the pandemic merely accelerated those trends. 

When associations had to cancel conventions and tell sponsors, “come back next year” or “we’ll refund your money and regroup after the pandemic,” some of those companies took that as their ticket to tiptoe out the door and look at other opportunities.   

You Don’t Want to Go Back to “Normal”  

Bruce hopes things don’t get back to normal. Because normal meant sponsorships that didn’t maximize the sponsors’ revenue potential or value to members.   

He saw that over the past decade, companies were observing dwindling return from sponsorships and moving on to other marketing channels that facilitated the year-round marketing they wanted.   

So now, when associations call up and say, “the big annual 3-day conference is coming up, how big a sponsorship do you want?” it’s an irrelevant pitch to companies looking at a full-year marketing picture.   

How to Meet the New Needs of Corporate Partners  

Bruce says to think of it like a restaurant. If you were repositioning post-pandemic, you’d ask where are customers going? Are more people interested in carry out? Do we need to expand our outdoor dining?   

Associations need to learn what corporations have been doing the last two years. The pandemic proved associations are not the sole source where companies can reach the people they want to talk to. They went to social media and webinars and created videos and built their own lead lists from an audience that was there 24/7.   

In order to compete, we need to be asking how associations can meet potential partner needs year-round and incorporate them into our webinars, publish their videos on our websites, co-publish newsletters and social posts, and provide our partners with lead lists.  

Creating a Product to Meet the Needs  

Bruce points out that when a company sponsors an association, it’s not out of philanthropy. That money is coming out of marketing budgets. 

The main value proposition associations have put out there is, if your company becomes a sponsor, our members will be eternally grateful and give you new business. They’ve realized they need more value than that.  

Bruce would like to see associations take on more of a marketing agency relationship. When a company goes to a marketing agency to launch a new product, the agency would have at least an hour and a half conversation to learn everything about the product, why it was created, who the competition is, who the ideal audience is. Then a custom marketing plan would be created within budget to achieve ROI.   

That’s a lot different than associations saying, “We have platinum gold, silver, and bronze sponsorships. Pick one so we can check off this box.”  


How You Can Make Your Association a Necessity  

You have the independence, credibility, and name recognition to be the highest value connector and aggregator.   

But you must move from merely selling a one-shot sponsorship to becoming a year-round business partner who includes your partners as members, educators, and content providers. Most associations don’t have the time, money, or expertise to meet the needs of every member every time.  

If members can get good information from the corporate partner, why not? Partner with those companies, bring them inside the tent, and put it all together under the Association’s umbrella. 

In the end, that makes finding great information easier for members, which increases your association’s value and usability to them.  

Listen to the full episode with Bruce here.

Beth Arritt

Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.

In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.