Kick Off Your Q3 2023 by Learning the Top 5 Findings from Corporate Sponsor Interviews

“Findings from Interviews with 100 Corporate Sponsors that Can Help Associations Improve their Sponsorship Program Success” was the title of an Expert Series that  Bruce Rosenthal presented for Non Dues-A-Palooza.

In this “Kick Off Your Q3 2023” article, Bruce has identified the top five findings from these interviews; Lori Zoss Kraska adds her valuable insights.

#1. Why companies sponsor associations

(Bruce) Interviews with corporate sponsors going back well over a decade indicate that most companies – regardless of what the company sells and regardless of the type of trade or professional association – have some combination of these three reasons for sponsoring:

  • Business development
  • Brand differentiation
  • Thought leadership

(Lori) Along with the core reasons for sponsorship Bruce mentioned above, companies also have an interest in sponsorship to support strategic initiatives like corporate social responsibility (CSR), talent recruitment, and regulatory advocacy. There’s also great interest in corporate sponsor executives serving on advisory committees and facilitating industry related educational programming.

#2. Why companies do not sponsor associations

(Bruce) Quotes from sponsors:

  •  “Recognition at conferences is probably the least important driver of sponsorship value.”
  • “And guess what? I don’t need a bunch of online ads! Our industry is bombarded by that.”
  • “The sponsorship gives us name exposure. I would hope that the sponsorship gives us more than that.”

(Lori) Competition is also a factor.  It could be competition from other kinds of sponsorship opportunities or competition from other kinds of media depending on how the corporation allocates budget for various opportunities.  Overall decision makers have more choices than ever and it’s important for associations to find ways to stand out when approaching corporations.

#3. Bigger is not always better

(Bruce) Quotes from sponsors:

  • A company dropped its sponsorship at the conclusion of an association’s conference “because we wanted to reach 400 attendees based on attendee demographics and we couldn’t find them among the 4,000 attendees.”
  • “Our company would pay the same sponsor fee to reach fewer people – if they are the right people.”
  • A company shifted its sponsorship from a big association to a small association – same fee – “because we want to be the big fish in the small pond, not the small fish in the big pond.”

(Lori) In reviewing the main reasons companies sponsor associations in point 1, each of those reasons go back to qualified audiences.  Smaller niche sponsorship opportunities are welcome to corporations as they tend to provide impactful conversations, enhanced brand association recall, and stronger relationship building.

#4. Companies are not cutting their sponsorship budgets

(Bruce) Quotes from sponsors:

  • The head of a large company’s association sponsorship program said “my job is to maintain our company’s sponsorship spend – and cut the number of associations we sponsor by one-third.”
  • A corporate marketing executive said, “my sponsorship pie is the same size this year as last year, however, this year I’m cutting bigger pieces.”
  • “We would shift dollars from the trade publication to your association’s sponsorship program if we received more return from the sponsorship.”

(Lori) 100% agree with this!  There’s a narrative out there right now about an ad recession and budgets decreasing.  Although companies are making some difficult choices about traditional marketing spend, corporate sponsorship support is still strong especially for targeted niche opportunities that position a sponsor’s brand to a qualified audience (like associations) and provides thought leadership opportunities as Bruce mentioned in the first point.

#5. Most sponsorship support is a marketing expense – not philanthropy

(Bruce) Quotes from sponsors:

  • “It’s hard to see any direct dollar return on our association sponsorship.”
  • “Our company CFO says, ‘I cannot believe that you are spending this much money on this sponsorship’.”
  • “Our sales people know the decision-makers at each member company, so what is the value of the association’s sponsorship?”

(Lori) Although many traditional sponsorship opportunities are supported by corporate marketing, there are opportunities for associations in other areas of a corporation for programming sponsorship support.  For example, if an association is hosting a women’s leadership webinar series for members, a corporation’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) department may have an interest.  CSR tends to have its own budget outside of marketing.  Also, corporate philanthropy could be an option for associations offering programming or resources that match the pillars of that corporate philanthropy.  For example, if an association is looking to create a program for members to decrease their carbon footprint, a corporate philanthropy whose main pillar is environmental sustainability may have an interest.

Our “Kick Off Your Q4 2023” article will address five additional interview findings.

The recording of Bruce’s Non Dues-A-Palooza presentation is available.

About the Authors

Combining their extensive years of experience in corporate support and corporate partnership, Lori Zoss Kraska, MBA, CFRE and Bruce Rosenthal have come together to share insights and best practices with a series of Quarterly Engagement Action Items.  Lori is the founder of Growth Owl, LLC, and author of The Boardroom Playbook. Before starting Growth Owl, LLC, Lori held leadership positions within public media, commercial media, and purpose driven organizations responsible for corporate sponsorship. Bruce Rosenthal is the founder of Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC, co-convener of the Partnership Professionals Network, and author of articles on corporate sponsorship programs.  Before starting Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC, Bruce held high level corporate member and engagement positions for various national associations. Both Lori and Bruce are regularly invited on the speaker circuit and featured in various webinars, presentations, and podcasts about corporate partnership and support.