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The coronavirus has dramatically changed the way associations run live workshops and events. It’s also changed how they get them sponsored.

Moving to a 100 percent virtual environment is a great safety precaution, but it doesn't come without its challenges. This is especially true when it comes to meeting revenue goals.

Has the process of landing new sponsorships changed in these turbulent times? What are other associations doing right now to land sponsorships for their virtual events, especially now that many big conferences have turned into virtual events?

Inbound marketing strategies are still essential.

"We still get a lot of our sponsorships through our prospectus," said Tina Wilson, the program manager for the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity.

The prospectus can be downloaded directly from their website, and it provides all sorts of opportunities for partners to sponsor, including AHDI's 202 Virtual Conference called Breaking Boundaries.

They ended up with multiple sponsors, including 3M Health Information Systems. 

Sponsorship options included being a virtual exhibitor. The benefit? Sponsors can create a 2-minute video segment, displayed on a virtual exhibitor tab, which included a poll to capture customer leads.

For those partners who upgraded further to be a full conference sponsor, AHDI added a massive amount of benefits, including:

  • sponsor recognition on the AHDI website for a year, 
  • vendor recognition on a pre-conference email (sent to at least 20,000 prospects), 
  • a first-come, first-served exclusive session option,
  • 15% discount off conference registration for the sponsor's employees

Third-party organizations can do the work for you.

While researching how the Association for Talent Development landed sponsorships for their virtual conference, Unleash Potential, I got in contact with an organization that handles sponsorships on their behalf.

"We've had a tremendous amount of success positioning sponsorships in the virtual event world," says Ben Lenyard, SVP of Sales, Media & Events of MCI-Group.

MCI is one of the world's leading providers of strategic engagement and activation solutions and has driven innovation in the meetings, events, associations, and congress industries. They support associations through exponential growth, including marketing and landing sponsorships for the associations they support. For example, with ATD, this includes retargeting ads through Google AdSense. 

Extend sponsorship beyond conference-only sponsorships.

Based on my research, most associations have to reframe and reposition the value of sponsorship.

It may not be enough to offer conference-only sponsorships anymore given that virtual conferences don't seem to have the same perceived value as in-person conferences.

In an interview with Forbes, Bob Liodice, the chief executive officer at the Association of National Advertisers, talked about how he believes brands have an opportunity to deepen customer loyalty. 

"There are a number of great examples from around the world where brands are doing just that and focusing in on the needs of people,” he said.

How can associations help their existing sponsors deepen customer loyalty (and retain sponsorship for their association?)

Bruce Rosenthal and Dan Kowitz, co-conveners of the Partnership Professionals Network, found that one strategy by working with an association representing nurses to turn a corporate sponsor into a year-long partner. They're doing this through a series of projects, including creating materials and resources to support nurses.

Associations are still landing sponsors despite the challenges. The truth is it's harder now to find and retain sponsorships and partners for events. But companies still want to sponsor events; they only need the right association to sponsor.

Michael Rincon
Post by Michael Rincon
September 9, 2020
Michael Rincon is a freelance writer, podcast host, and the founder of Michael's Business English. He has a passion and curiosity for finding out the truth as well as helping others achieve success in their career and business goals.