Sponsors – It’s a Partnership. How Much is it Worth?

handshake sponsorThe answer is, “somewhere between zero and a lot”. If your industry or profession is an important market for a prospective partner and the potential upside of future sales is substantial, then a partnership with your association could be very valuable.

There are only two reasons why a sponsor wants to partner with your association.

  1. Because aligning their brand with yours increases their visibility or perceived value
  2. Because your members make or influence the buying decisions for their products or services

I was talking to a large software company last week about a partnership with one of our client associations. They were brutally upfront about our value in the second category. They have a 70% penetration rate in our industry so the likelihood of selling meaningful new volume to our members is very low. However, their marketing director noted, “We see value in an association with your association”.

How Do You Assess Value?

So let’s talk about the first reason why a sponsor would partner with you. Do you have a winning value proposition for your prospective partners to align their brand with yours?

  • It depends on 2 elements: does your association’s brand offer something that they need, and is your brand well-known in the sector they want to influence?

If your brand offers credibility, professionalism and community engagement, that could be very appealing to a prospective sponsor. However, your brand must be widely recognized in your sector for this to be of value. If you have a strong brand and high visibility you have the potential for a very strong SVP.

And what about the second reason? Do you have a winning value proposition for your prospective partners to sell their products or services to your members?

  • It depends on 3 elements: number of members, current penetration rate, and the value of a single sale.

If your prospective partner has a keen interest in increasing penetration in your industry or profession, a low penetration rate and a high price point per unit, you have the potential for a very strong sponsor value proposition (SVP). That is assuming that their product or service is a good fit for your members. Even if your membership is not huge, a partnership with your association could be very productive.

How Do You Pitch Your Association’s Value to a Sponsor?

Even if you have an awesome SVP, you still must make a successful pitch to your prospective partner. You have a lot of competition. There’s a line-up of associations in front of you; asking for the same thing.

First, make sure you’re talking to the right people. Second, make sure your sponsor value proposition (SVP) aligns with their objectives.

So who do you need to talk to?

For sponsor dollars, the marketing director usually controls the budget. He/she must be convinced that your offering is better value than the alternatives. The marketing director’s decision will be influenced by the opinion of the business development/sales director that has accountability for sales in your sector.

The sales director is your gateway to the marketing budget. If they’re not convinced that your offering will drive sales, you’re going nowhere fast. Your success with them depends on you helping them to hit their objectives.

What are their objectives and how can you help?

First, you need to ask. To pitch your offering successfully, you need to understand what they’re trying to achieve and position your sponsor offering to help them accomplish their goals. But don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. If there isn’t a fit, then be honest and move on. If you see a fit, then show them a customized package and explain how it fits with their objectives.

How do you know if you got it right?

Ask. After each activation, get their views on how well it worked and find out how you can help them fine tune it.

In summary, remember 2 things.

  1. Ask, and Listen. Talk to them to find out what their marketing objectives are and figure out how you can work with them to accomplish their objectives.
  2. Then, Deliver. Customize a partner package that will meet their needs, then deliver on what you promised. When the SVP delivery is complete, ask for their feedback.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Event Planning, Sponsor Value Proposition, Sponsorship, Successful Conferences, Tradeshows

The Secrets to Tradeshow Success

Choosing the key to success from hanging keys concept for aspiraA tradeshow is a series of beginnings. Every moment—from the second the doors open until the very end —is a moment where your exhibitors could be making a positive impact on potential customers. If all goes well, these crucial contacts will launch mutually profitable relationships that will last for years. On the other hand, if the impression your exhibitors create is not so positive, they’ve missed the opportunity and may not come back. Here are some ideas to help your exhibitors to ensure that they have a profitable experience.

Increase leads and sales – Business cards are still a great source of information about people. Many companies also incorporate a lead retrieval scanner.  To tap into that source, exhibitors do their best to get contact information from the people that visit their booths. But how about a more engaged approach? I once saw an exhibitor with a high-end bottle of Scotch at their booth as a prize for the business card draw. I couldn’t believe the number of inquisitive folks that came to their booth inquiring about the draw. The physical prize was much more compelling than words. This not only allowed the exhibitor to explain the process but also enabled them to share information about their products. That’s one of the best ways to make connections on the show floor. This approach helps attendees to get excited and engaged. They’re more than willing to drop their business cards or submit to a scan of their badge.

Booth staff – Numerous times we have seen people manning booths on their cell phones or chatting amongst themselves. What does that say to the tradeshow attendees; “I am not interested in your business!” That’s the perception. It’s imperative to explain to exhibitors that they must train their booth staff. They need to engage the attendees to get optimum results. Also, an over-staffed booth might be a deterrent. No one wants to go to a booth if they see five people standing inside a 10’ x 10’ booth, ready to pounce. It’s intimidating and uncomfortable.

Booth décor – Help exhibitors to understand that their booth space is their home for the duration of the tradeshow and they should try to be the best host in the neighborhood. Encourage them to create a clean, warm and friendly environment for the attendees to step into. A cool, branded attire will also make their team stand out, both in the booth and as they walk the floor.

These are only a few of many ways to garner success for your tradeshow. If you want to learn more, check out our VIMEO channel for webinars on this topic. The bottom line is, work with your exhibitors to help them succeed. It requires creativity, clear communication, and tech savviness.

If you’d like to talk to one of Zzeem’s tradeshow professionals and/or find out how we can help, click here.

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Filed under Association Management, Association Management Issues, Event Planning, Successful Conferences, Tradeshows

How To Attract More Exhibitors To Your Trade Show

Trade show concept.In today’s trade show world, exhibitors are questioning the ROI (Return on Investment) of participating in trade shows. What’s the problem?  Here’s what going on.

  • Many trade shows are faltering and this taints the value of the successful trade shows
  • It’s difficult for exhibitors to quantify the value of lead generation at a trade show
  • It’s expensive. The cost of exhibiting is much higher than just the cost of a booth
  • Booth staff have to work at odd times (weekends, evenings, etc.)
  • It’s the same show every single year; same old thing

Many trade show hosts are focused more on generating revenue from their exhibitors, through booth sales and sponsorships, then they are delivering value and returns back to their exhibitors.  This in turn makes exhibitors and sponsors feel neglected.

Others feel that simply making more calls or increasing the frequency of their email blasts/social media posts will be the magic elixir.  It’s much more than a numbers game.  It’s about delivering a compelling and demonstrable ROI to exhibitors and sponsors.

Here are our tips for success:

Tip 1 – Work WITH exhibitors to achieve goals

  1. Ask Questions, LISTEN, and deliver – What are their goals? How can you help them achieve them?  By asking, listening, and helping, you have a much better chance of making the sale.
  2. Partner with them – Make them feel they have ownership in the show.
  3. Collect and share attendee data. Use your registration system to collect useful data about attendees.  What buying decisions do they make or influences?
  4. Testimonials – Collect quotes and/or videos from exhibitors. What value did they get from exhibiting at the show?

Tip 2 – Focus on attracting qualified buyers to your show

  1. Give your exhibitors discount codes to send to their contacts/sales leads.
  2. Partner with other shows to cross-promote each others’ events.
  3. Source a list of qualified buyers and invite them personally to the show.
  4. Look at offering special shuttles to pick-up VIP buyers and offer other incentives to entice them to come to the show.
  5. Make a list of the top 20 to 30 qualified buyer companies, and make a personal visit to them to find out what their goals are for your show. Share this with your exhibitors – existing and potential.
  6. Testimonials – Collect quotes and/or video from attendees. What value did they get from attending the show?

Tip 3 – Convert pre-registrants into actual onsite attendees

  1. Starting 4 weeks before the show, inform them why they must NOT miss the show.
  2. Profile exhibitors and floor demos.
    1. Who is showing a NEW product?
    2. Who are NEW exhibitors?
    3. What are the on-floor demos?
  3. Offer incentives to attend. If they show up, they will receive further discounts from selected exhibitors, on future association events, or any other incentives.
  4. Make scheduled appointments at the show between exhibitors and buyers. That will help ensure that they commit to the show.

Tip 4 – Have exhibitor demos on the show floor

  1. Give a select few some extra space to perform “in-booth” / hands-on experiences in their booth at scheduled times (multiple times over multiple days if needed).
  2. Create a demonstration area where multiple exhibitors can come together to produce a group demo where all the pieces come together.

Tip 5 – Offer an Exhibitor Concierge

  1. A single point of contact to help exhibitors achieve their ROI.
  2. Help them plan their booth.
  3. Help them train their booth staff.
  4. Offer helpful tips on exhibiting.

Tip 6 – Create a pre-recorded webinar

  1. Provide tips for success at the show.

Tip 7 – Keep It Fresh

  1. Change it up every show.
  2. Reward large space and long-term exhibitors with prime space or first choice of location.
  3. See what new technology can be used in booths and on your show floor.
  4. Go back to old ideas that can be re-used. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it won’t work again.

All these tips, or even just some of them, will help start the process of gaining new exhibitors, new attendees and putting life back into your show.   If you can do only one thing – PLEASE LISTEN!

Are you looking to take your show to the next level?   Contact Erik Naar to learn how we can help!

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Filed under Association Management, Association Management Issues, Event Planning, High Performance Organization, Sponsor Value Proposition, Sponsorship, Successful Conferences, Tradeshows

Failing Fast, Hard and Often – How to use strategic risk strategies to succeed

FailChange is critical. It’s also risky. There are 4 inescapable facts to keep in mind.

  1. We cannot succeed without regular, meaningful change
  2. Some changes will fail
  3. Some changes will fail at first but become successful over time
  4. There will always be a vocal contingent of opposition

There are some changes that are simply essential. You have to do them on an ongoing basis.


Don’t keep serving the same meal. No matter how good it is, people will tire of it. Even if your event is awesome in every way, it will die if you don’t keep it fresh. Also, don’t forget to keep your event price current. Make sure you know your costs and that your price at least ensures break-even.

Member Programs

Keep ahead of the curve. The content, format and delivery of your member programs must continuously position your association as the leader in your sector. Take a chance on radical new ideas for content. Borrow ideas that are working in other industries and professions.

Member Discount Partners

These are the companies you partner with to deliver their services to your members at a special member price. Are your partners working with you to deliver great value to your members? Or not? It’s better to have one great partner that values their relationship with you than many who deliver sporadic, inattentive service to your members. If a member is disappointed with their first call to a partner, they’re not likely to continue down the list. They’ll just assume the whole program is of no value.


As your industry or profession evolves, it’s important to ensure your membership categories are keeping up with the changes in your sector. Are they still relevant or do they need revisions? It’s also critical to increase member prices on a regular basis. Remember, your costs go up every year. If membership prices do not go up by at least the cost of living each year, you’ll be forced to make a large price increase down the road.

Tips for Pricing

  1. Communicate increases well in advance
  2. Use association leaders as advocates
  3. Keep increases regular, to keep them small

Tips for Member Categories

  1. Keep it simple: No more than 3 categories
  2. Do market research in advance: Where is there potential confusion? Who will be impacted?
  3. Get feedback
  4. Communicate, communicate, remind

 Managing the Opposition

There will always be opposition to change and often the most vocal opponents are long-term, highly influential members. Sometimes they fear losing the comfort of a known quantity. Sometimes they resent the dismantling of a program or event that they helped initiate years ago. How do you deal with the opponents?

  1. Bring them inside the tent. Invite them to be on a task force or committee that’s driving change. If they feel they have input to the future, they are more likely to want to be part of it.
  1. Keep communication open. Don’t hide from the opposition. Keep the lines of communication positive and open and build relationships on common ground.
  2. Nothing works better than success. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every successful change weakens the opposition to change.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Event Planning, High Performance Organization, Issues Management, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition, Successful Conferences

Performance Metrics for Associations – Are You Driving Blind?

CautionWe’re way behind but we’re getting better.

Our sector is way behind the for-profit world, but we’re getting better. We know from our annual survey of Canadian membership associations, that the vast majority of Canadian associations do not track and manage the basic metrics of their business. Until recently, even the concept of managing a membership organization as a business was a foreign concept. However, this is starting to change.

Most Canadian associations are now on board with the fact that they are running a business, and that they must operate as a business to be sustainable. Some Canadian associations are starting to track the most basic performance metrics such as the new member attraction rate and the member retention rate. But we have some distance to go. One of the biggest impediments is weak membership database software (or worse, Excel spreadsheets!) that do not record the data that is needed to calculate the performance metrics.

Why does it matter?

Metrics tell us where we are now. Tracking them over time tells us where we are headed. Are we moving forward? Are we on a sustainable path? Without this information we are driving blind.

The basics – what must we track?

We need to track metrics in four areas:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Strategic objectives
  3. Member value
  4. Financial status

Sustainability; the key metrics

  1. New member attraction rate. This tells you how well you’re doing in terms of bringing new members on board. This should be at least 10%. If it’s not, you need to have a retention rate of more than 90% just to keep membership at the current level.
  2. Current member retention rate. This tells you how well you’re doing in terms of holding on to your existing members. This should be at least 90%. If it’s not, you need to have a new member attraction rate of more than 10% just to keep membership at the current level.
  3. Member satisfaction rate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this needs to be at least 85% to keep the membership organization sustainable. You need a regular member survey to assess this. To keep it simple, consider asking this one question as part of the renewal process.

Strategic objectives; the key metrics

Our annual survey of Canadian membership associations tells us that almost all associations have a documented strategic plan. This has improved dramatically over the past 5 years and that’s great. Now we need to ensure we track our progress. This is the metric we need to track.

  1. Milestones status

Your strategic plan should show multi-year (3-5 year) objectives with milestones, and dates, that your association must hit in order to be on track to achieve your strategic objectives. At every board meeting, or at least quarterly, report on where you are in meeting these milestones.

Member value; the key metrics

  1. Member Engagement in association programs. You’re investing precious resources to deliver member value. This includes events, professional development initiatives, knowledge products, member-only discount offerings and other member services. How many members are engaged in taking advantage of these services? This is what you need to track.
    • Set targets for member engagement in each program and track them year-over-year.
  2. Government/stakeholder relations. For many associations, this service is the heart of the member value proposition. Track your impact. What have you accomplished against the base case of what would have happened if you were not doing anything? Your impact is not only whether or not you’ve achieved you GR/SR objectives, but what has/has not happened as a result of your efforts. You may not have accomplished your objectives (yet), but you have at least ensured that the dial has not moved backward. What value has been achieved? Even if decision-makers have not chosen to heed your counsel, your members are aware of what they need to do to prepare themselves for coming events. This is what you need to track.
    • % of members on GR/SR committees. How engaged are your members in the volunteer work your staff needs to support your GR/SR program?
    • Open rate on GR/SR information bulletins. Do your members care? Are they listening?
    • Meeting requests/call-ins. How often do decision-makers contact your association for input?
    • Influence/progress against base case. What would have happened if your association was not engaged with decision-makers?

Financial reporting; the key metrics

  1. Balance Sheet. How many months of operating expenses are covered by your net surplus? Report on this separately by both liquid and illiquid assets. Your net surplus should cover at least 12 months of operating expenses.
  2. Income statement. For each monthly statement, show where you are against budget and against last year at the same time.

Next Steps

  1. Figure out how to collect the data you need to report and track these metrics.
  2. Establish a regular reporting format and schedule to keep your management team and board informed.

Want more information and the details of how to calculate your performance metrics? Check out our webinar on this topic.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Benchmark Survey, Member Value Proposition, Sponsor Value Proposition

Association Trends – What’s Happening in Europe?

Dutch DelegationBy Asif Ahmed, Manager at Zzeem

Zzeem recently hosted an European-Canadian summit to exchange views on how associations and Association Management Companies (AMCs) operate across Canada and abroad. The 10-member delegation represented various Dutch associations and AMCs. There seemed to be a lot of similarities and differences between Europe and Canada not only in the way associations are run but also in what members perceive as value.

Current research demonstrates that networking is the major reason why people become members of an association in North America. Similarly, it stands true for the Dutch too. One member of the delegation noted that “an opportunity to meet peers and socialize” is the reason why people join an association and go to events. It’s the member to member interaction that everyone is looking for whether it be in Europe or North America. The other similarity that I observed was the fact that their members are looking for smaller, more intimate events where there are more opportunities to talk to the attendees as opposed to the big conferences with umpteen education sessions where people are busy trying to catch the next session.

One of the associations in the Netherlands has had huge success in achieving record attendance at their events by making them free for members to attend. The story doesn’t end there. They have gone a step further by penalizing the no-shows. Yes you read it right! They charge 30 Euros (CAN $45) as they consider it to be disrespectful to register and not show up at the event.

In The Netherlands, they have incorporated XDP which stands for Xperience Design Project.

The next generation of conferences are evolving as multidisciplinary, experiential marketing platforms to better personalize the learning and networking options for attendees. They’re also a hell of a lot more fun.

— Greg Oates

This is fairly a new phenomenon for the North American market. So what is XDP? It is an event built specifically for leaders who plan, design, execute, and support association events and want to:

  • Attract and invite the right people to their events
  • Create positive experiences for the audience before, during, and after the event
  • Keep attendees engaged and, most importantly, coming back

Young Professionals Network (YPN) is yet another growing trend that all parties are experiencing with respect to the structure of their associations. The Europeans have made great strides to empower the younger members by letting them have their own Board and budget for events, which is laudable. However, the challenge they’re facing is the transition for the young professionals to move over to engagement in the ‘regular’ association (for a lack of a better word) once they have crossed 40.

At the end of the day, it was a very meaningful exchange and my regret is that we didn’t get a chance to record the audio of the conversation. Nonetheless, I am happy that they left with some sweet memories – of the mutual learning and the Timbits that we ordered.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Governance, High Performance Organization, Leadership, Member Education, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition, Volunteer Engagement

Even Associations Experience the “Seven Year Itch”

Seven Year ItchThe “Seven Year Itch” is more than just a romantic notion made famous by Hollywood, where partners take stock of their relationship and decide whether it’s working or it’s time to find something new and “better”.

This also happens to associations and their association management partners.

After all, association management is like any other relationship. In the beginning, each partner is excited and looks forward to a great future together. However, after a time, the “honeymoon period” comes to an end; reality sets in and both parties realize neither one is perfect.

It is at this point that both parties must address any challenges or concerns that arise – real or perceived – in a timely, open way. Otherwise, one or both run the risk of becoming resentful and dissatisfied. These negative feelings can further fester and negatively impact the relationship.

Communication is key to managing the “itch”! – 4 tips

  1.  The moment you think you have an issue – big or small, address it right away.
  2. Keep all conversations open, honest and constructive with solutions and measures of future success identified.
  3. Coordinate quarterly “touchpoint” meetings with the association’s leadership and the association management executives to discuss the relationship. This is when you both highlight what works and where improvements can be made.
  4. Once a year, conduct a more in-depth annual review that includes board and staff feedback prior to your discussion.

Don’t be intimidated by the “Seven Year Itch”.

I am aware of many associations who periodically evaluate their management services and/or conduct an RFP process to compare other services and fees – often around the seven-year timeframe. This is healthy and is a great opportunity for each partner to assess the current and future relationship. It represents a new stage in your relationship, where both of you have the opportunity to build upon what you have accomplished together.

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