How to Launch a 360 Sponsor Engagement Strategy
5 min read • December 4, 2020
Chances are, your association’s sponsor engagement model revolves around your annual events. And those annual events are likely physical, in person conferences. You might have an entire stewardship and corporate partnership model, spending months nurturing 1:1 relationships with sponsors so that when the time comes, they will be ready and willing to support your annual event. Maybe you offer various packages for promoting your sponsors in exchange for their promotion of the larger event, creating scalable solutions that work for everyone. And likely, you offer sponsors the opportunity to engage with your event attendees directly during the event via dedicated promotional collateral, sponsored or hosted conference sessions, or a table in a common area.
What happened when Covid-19 hit? Did you cancel everything, fearing there was no hope? Smart membership associations took a digital-first approach, shifting their experiences – and sponsor programs – online. Savvy associations know that Covid-19 didn’t introduce an isolated, one-time need to switch to digital. It might have triggered change for some organizations, but it’s clear that digital-first is here to stay. It’s time to take a new approach and leave the hard link between sponsors and in-person events behind.
Consider how you might engage with sponsors year round using digital-first tactics to extend the impact and value of your sponsor experiences. Yes, sponsor engagement will always be a core component of your events strategy, but consider what programs and activities (both in-person and virtual) you might offer to bring value to sponsors and members all year long.
Here are a few core components of a 360 sponsor engagement strategy:
The majority of your 360 sponsor offer will be digital.
You don’t need a futurist to tell you that behaviors that were once physical are quickly becoming digital. Members may enjoy the occasional in-person networking hour or learning session. But the majority of their extracurricular professional development happens online - even more so as audiences expand to include the younger generation. Your association, your sponsors and your members will benefit from developing rich digital experiences to help members grow professionally while engaging with your sponsors. Online membership resources might not be as highly regarded as an annual event for example, but by offering great content in diverse formats, you can prove their value and your value to members.
Events are a small piece of the sponsor
Your year-round approach to sponsor engagement will feature involvement with your annual event, but there are four quarters in a year, and each quarter must feel equally valuable and actionable from the sponsor perspective. If your event is in Q1, your Q1 sponsor activities may not change at all. They revolve around promoting your event while your sponsors play the classic roles in your communications and promotional strategies. Q2 - 4 sponsor activities should build on the momentum from your annual event, but still offer individual value. Perhaps you offer your sponsors the chance to host an online webinar, blog post or digital learning module to build on the thought leadership shared at your annual event. The more opportunities you give them to get in front of your membership base, the more value they’ll get. At the same time, your members will be getting additional value, which keeps them engaged in the association. It also increases the likelihood they will endorse you and refer others to you, ultimately growing the membership.
Diverse content rooted in thought leadership is a core component of your offer.
Sponsors want face time with your membership. It’s an opportunity to showcase their offers, and nurture relationships. But you can’t just let them have the stage and run with it. It is important that they deliver content and perspectives that bring authentic, deep value to your members. Overly promotional content will feel heavy handed and inauthentic. Your association must enforce high standards to ensure sponsor content meets your thought leadership expectations. No matter the content type - hosted webinars, content promoted across association marketing channels and social media, learning modules, in-person or digital conference sessions and round tables, or networking events - your sponsored programs must deliver thought leadership, not thinly veiled sales pitches. When executed correctly a program like this is a win for everyone. Your members get more educational and inspirational resources and your sponsors get the opportunity to regularly and authentically engage your member base.
A 360 sponsor engagement strategy benefits sponsors, members, and your internal operations.
With a 360 sponsor engagement strategy, everyone benefits. Sponsors have the opportunity for authentic native engagement with your community on an ongoing basis. They have the ability to become not just a vendor, but thought leaders positively impacting an industry. They can establish a reputation for being innovative market leaders. Even if your events draw hundreds of attendees, the proportion of members attending will still only be a part of your whole membership base. A 360 sponsor engagement strategy offers the opportunity to gain exposure to your full community, beyond registered event attendees, on a consistent, ongoing basis.
Your members get regular and diverse thought leadership perspectives. They’ll get a variety of content and resources from various industry players, helping to enhance the overall benefit of your membership offering. And if they are getting more out of your network, they will tell others about it, growing referrals and new memberships.
There are also lots of benefits for you as an organization. Not only are there more opportunities for your audience to engage, but those opportunities will be varied and diverse, and perhaps bolder, as companies often have big budgets. These new experiences will enhance your reputation as an innovative and entrepreneurial organization. Operationally, you can create more digital experiences without carrying the load internally (sponsors do it for you!). It is easier to collect data such as watch numbers and click through rates, so you can monitor efficacy and know where to focus. And ultimately it allows you to create better, ongoing relationships with sponsors.
So think 360, and get your sponsorship strategy working for you year round. If you’re not sure where to start, Hum is here to help. We offer a suite of fully turnkey new revenue generating services. 360 sponsor engagement is where our team really shines.
If you’d like to learn more, reach out to get the conversation started.