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Six Ways to Guarantee Your Event Sponsorship Program Fails

Compass measuring success and failure
In the last few months I have received solicitation emails and calls from various organizations wanting our company sponsor their conference. In each case their approach was such a turn off that it prompted me to write this post.

Here are six surefire ways that will ensure your sponsorship solicitation gets you nowhere:

1.  Know nothing about my business:

In two of the sponsoring offerings I received, it was very clear that the person soliciting my dollars had never even looked into what Greenfield Services does, and what kinds of audiences we might want exposure with.

[For the record, our focus includes the supply side of the meetings industry -- hotels, CVB's, and convention centers, and professional or trade associations].

Why would I want to fork over $10,000 to sponsor an opening reception for group of business people that doesn't even have a need for our services?  The proposal was so preposterous that a diminished my view of the Association, and of the executive initiating the communication. But you could improve your chances of attracting my attention if you build a case for your events, and your audience, and how it relates to my business and my goals.

2.  Send an email into the ether and don't follow up:

Assuming I even read your email (and that in itself is a gamble), if you don't follow up with me there is a near-zero chance I will pick up the phone or email you saying, "I'm in!"  Make that a 100% chance that I will not respond if I've never heard of your organization before, never attended one of your events or seen any connection between your audience and mine.
The remedy is simple: follow-up to make sure I received the information, and engage me in a conversation about what my business goals are, so we can see if there is a fit.

3.  Send a generic email or letter:

With all the tools available today that allow you to personalize communication, it is inexcusable to send a "dear marketer" email or letter. If it isn't accurately personalized I'll press “delete”.
Incidentally, if you are going to personalize, make sure your software addresses me properly.  A “Dear Doreen Ashton Wagner” opening won’t do.  You must know whether you should say “Dear Doreen” or a “Dear Ms. Ashton Wagner”.

4.  Contact me just once or give up easily:

Let's say your event draws my target audience and I'm somewhat interested, unless you court business I'm not likely to buy. It's not because I have a big ego, it’s that I get busy. Too many things/people are vying for my attention, and yes, I get sidetracked.

Most executives do. It's a documented trends that new business-to-business sales relationships require the seller (in this case the event sponsorship marketer) to reach out anywhere from 7 to 11 times for the prospect respond. Yet most sales reps give up by the third attempt.

5.  Don't build your case:

If you are just asking me to sponsor, and you don't articulate your event attendees’ purchasing power, or show me who else is sponsoring, I will not be interested.

Show me you are worth my hard earned cash. That means you need to know your attendees inside and out, including age, gender, position, purchasing power, decision-making process, etc. and show me testimonials of other sponsors and what they got out of your event.

6.  Contact me just a few months or weeks before the event:

This shows me your sponsorship program is just a cash grab. My budget is set a year in advance and while I try to plan for bit of extra money for unexpected opportunities, I rarely can divert big bucks unless I know it's coming. This means letting me know well in advance about your opportunity so I can make an educated decision.

For many organizations, event sponsorship revenues can make the difference between an "oh-hum" conference and a GREAT conference.

Selling sponsorship for your event requires advanced planning in a well thought out process. Ignore the basics and your efforts will be in vain.  Conversely, follow these best practices to attract and secure the highest quality relationships possible.

Profile your Delegates and Save on Member Frustration

Business man getting frustrated with his computer
Every year, associations that have a tradeshow (either as a stand-alone event or as a component of their conference) seek out sponsors and exhibitors.  Some are great at matching these suppliers to their delegate needs and requirements, some are not.  I am going to address those who do not.

I was recently at an industry conference and tradeshow, and as a delegate had the opportunity to hear some feedback from the professionals in the room.  They were extremely frustrated with the way they were inundated with emails in the two weeks leading up to the conference.

Here is an example:  A provincial, west-coast association was receiving invitations to stop by the booth of hotel properties and CVBs across Canada.  As much as this delegate understood the importance of supporting the tradeshow, as the contribution of the exhibitors and sponsors directly impacts conference fees, he did not understand why Sales Managers at these hotels/CVBs would ever consider sending him an email.  He will NEVER have potential for them, unless he changes organizations.  And, if he did, he would do his research at that time, not now.

As a result of this conversation, and a few others, I got to thinking about the supplier side of the business (such as myself).  I believe sponsors and exhibitors really should only be marketing to those who have immediate and/or future opportunities and interests.  But that will take some profiling of your members, which is not something we are provided with now.  When your next tradeshow is done, reach out via a survey campaign and uncover the following information:

  • Products and/or Services they are in need of NOW
  • Products and/or Services they are interested in for the future
  • Whether they are an influencer or decision-maker in the buying process
  • Confirm the format they would like to be contacted by suppliers/sponsors for the following year (i.e. by phone, by email, through social media channels such as LinkedIn, etc).

Maintain this information in your system.  Then, when it comes to sending out the conference/tradeshow attendee lists pre & post show, filter on those who selected the product/service type that matches the exhibitor/sponsor, and send them ONLY that list; or, house the information online and allow suppliers to filter it themselves.  Does it not make more sense to send them a list of pre-qualified contacts to place in their sales funnel, instead of sifting through hundreds or thousands of people to find the diamonds in the rough?

And how can you ensure your sponsors and exhibitors follow the new protocol?  In the final stages of your exhibit sales process, when they sign the contract, add in your terms and conditions a clause that requires them to only contact those delegates who visited them at their booth, or that have been spoken to at a session, or how have provided a profile that matches what they offer.  Take the high road and point out that a complaint from a delegate who receives marketing information by someone outside of their profile, could result in non-admittance of the exhibitor in the future.

For many show exhibitors, this will sound extreme, but this could help improve delegate satisfaction, and exhibitors will see value in a smaller, qualified, more manageable list.


The Permanent Campaign: Member Renewal Begins the Day They Join

Some of the tools to Market your content
You can always spot the associations that value their members the most. They’re the ones that kick off the member renewal process the day a new recruit joins.

But here’s the key: They don’t do it by launching a non-stop marketing blitz that only ends when the member renews, asks them to stop the cascade of outbound messaging, or quits in dismay. They make themselves a continuous, unique, irreplaceable presence in their members’ working lives by understanding why they joined and how they define an outstanding return on their membership investment.

Some day, I hope we’ll reach a point where every Canadian association can see itself in this picture. But we aren’t there yet. When Greenfield Services produced its 2012 Pulse Report, the survey results showed that:

  • 47.1% of respondents have no membership marketing plans in place.
  • Only 31.9% of associations retain more than 90% of their members through one renewal period.
  • 71% of associations begin the renewal process no more than three months before a membership expires. 

Most worrying of all, 52.1% of associations follow up with only one to three member touchpoints as renewal deadlines approached, when marketing practice calls for eight to 10 touchpoints to break through the clutter of competing media and priorities.

As the Pulse Report states: “In a relationship-based approach, the renewal effort begins the day a member joins, but it probably goes by a different name: with the right engagement strategy, members are so engaged and receive such visible value from their association that it would never enter their minds not to renew.”
Here are some of the elements that should be right at the centre of your membership renewal and retention plan:

  • Listening more than talking: Yes, associations need to be on their members’ radar, despite an unprecedented din of competing content. But how can you plan your next wave of communications if you don’t know what your different audiences need to hear? With a deep understanding of why the people in each of your membership segments decided to join, you can tailor programs, content, and messaging to their needs.
  • Reaching out monthly: Your members should hear from you 10 to 12 times per year, more often if one of their priority issues or topics has suddenly “gone critical” for your profession or industry.
  • Varying your touchpoints: Don’t use the same medium every time. A single touchpoint might be an email, a phone call, a text message, a direct mail letter or post card, a survey, a contest, a magazine ad, or social media messages. And you can select or alternate the contact members receive from staff, board members, volunteers, or other opinion leaders.
  • ALWAYS deliver more than they expect: Your members will see value if you offer it. Every touchpoint should delight them with a product, a service, or a piece of information that makes their day, or at least makes them stop and think. By relentlessly building value, you pull them into a closer relationship with their association, rather than pushing out a messaging campaign that quickly gets tired, then annoying.

We’ve also been talking about a step beyond that might be a focus for a future Pulse Report, and certainly for a future blog. The U.S. election was won with micro-targeting techniques that combined careful definition of different target audiences with a deep understanding of their demographics, interests, and consumer preferences. The techniques came out of the world of marketing, and could open up a whole new world of analysis for associations. We expect we’ll be pondering this point for the next little while. What do you think?

If you would like to receive a copy of our 2012 Pulse Report's Executive Summary, click here.  Or, for a list of member retention best practices, click here.


Member Renewal Marketing: Are You Cutting Through the Clutter?

Cutting with Scissors
Member retention is one of the biggest challenges facing Canadian associations, according to participants in Greenfield Services’ 2012 Pulse Report.

While about one-third of the association executives who completed the survey said their organizations renewed 90% of their new members for a second year, nearly one-fifth retained 80-89%, and another 10% retained 70-79%. Those numbers matter because, as any association knows, the member retention battle is never over: Carried over five years, a 20% annual attrition rate would leave an organization with only 32.75% of the members who signed up five years ago, while a 30% attrition rate would leave them with only 16.8%.

But what if associations could begin turning those numbers around by applying basic sales and marketing theory to one of their most important marketing moments?

Ask any account manager, and you’ll probably hear that it takes eight to 10 touchpoints to break through the clutter of competing media and priorities to deliver a message that requires a decision and action. Yet the Pulse Report revealed that more than half of associations limit themselves to one to three follow-ups as member renewal deadlines draw near. Another one-tenth of respondents either didn't know how many times their organizations followed up, or didn’t follow up at all.

We didn’t ask survey respondents why they were doing so little to make sure their members renewed. We suspect they might have scaled back by popular demand, after members complained about being overwhelmed by a continuous flow of renewal requests.

But the eight to 10 touchpoints don’t all have to be delivered the same way, and they shouldn't all be outbound, “push” messaging. A touchpoint can be an email, a phone call, a text message, or a direct mail letter or post card, a survey, a contest, or a social media message, and it can come from association staff, board members, volunteers, or other opinion leaders. A broader approach to member renewal means a more effective campaign that reminds members of the value they get back for their membership dollar—and delivers even more value along the way.

To receive your copy of the pulse report, email us at to request your copy.