The association community has been hard hit by COVID-19 in recent weeks, with nearly all face-to-face conferences and events throughout the spring now postponed or even canceled, requiring your members who sponsor, advertise and exhibit to pivot quickly. Despite this disruption in the market, there’s more of a need than ever for your members to connect and do business. Those companies that keep their advertising presence consistent through this downturn have a better chance of coming out stronger as the economy starts to improve again.
In the face of lost event revenue, there’s an opportunity for associations to provide new digital marketing channels for advertisers to reach audiences where they are in this moment: With many organizations going fully remote for the foreseeable future, consumption of online content is up, and audiences are seeking information from reliable sources, including professional and trade associations.
Associations now have a unique opportunity to quickly evolve their communications approach to become more digital-centric. In turn, the addition of more digital communications allows you to open up more advertising opportunities, keeping your non-dues revenue streams flowing so operations can continue through the worst of this current crisis and prepare you for any that may come in the future. Of course, it’s important to take into account how COVID-19 is impacting your association’s industry specifically when making decisions, as members and advertisers are being impacted a myriad of ways in the current market.
Live events and the face-to-face opportunities they provide to get business done are powerful and certainly hard to replace. There are many companies that use events as their primary marketing strategy and will need to shift their advertising dollars elsewhere in the next few months. By expanding your association’s digital communications content and advertising offerings, you’ll help ensure that this segment of your membership can stay in front of their target audience at a critical time. As advertisers see the ROI these digital communications channels bring, they’ll embrace a more diverse marketing plan and be much more likely to stay with you in the long term – even after events return.
As you explore new digital communications your association can offer, keep the following in mind.
Make the most of the digital communications you already have in place.
The 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking Report found that associations aren’t fully leveraging the technology they currently have in place to deliver a customized experience. Now is an excellent time to reach out to your current technology partners – your association management system or learning management system, for example – to see how you can best use the platforms you have. Ask if there is new training or expanded functionality available that would help your association to provide added value for members – and could also support additional advertising or sponsorship.
Think in both the short- and long-term.
Many of your association’s advertisers and sponsors have an immediate need to get in front of their potential customers. Worries over an economic slowdown have many companies needing to maintain that connection with loyal partners and customers, while other industries can play a vital role in helping our communities get through the coronavirus crisis. Sponsored content in your newsletter or digital magazine, targeted email blasts and website advertising can all be implemented fairly quickly, while new platforms like an online community, online buyers guide or career center could take longer to launch properly. Make a list of what you need to be able to offer now versus six months down the road, and let that and your members’ needs and wants guide your approach.
Look at ways to offer targeted or exclusive access to your members.
Conversations that happen at face-to-face events can’t totally be replaced, but associations can give advertisers a voice in front of that audience, along with other members who may not have been able to attend the event. If you’re looking at taking parts of your event virtual in the coming months through a webinar or video series, make sure to include exclusive sponsorship packages. Programmatic and retargeting website advertising is also on the rise and, much like geotargeting available on the exhibit floor, it allows companies to target prospects by geographical area. This type of advertising also allows members to share content with members in locations that need their services the most at any given time.
Be open to innovative ideas – even if they’re a little scary.
We can confidently say that none of us has been in a situation quite like this before, but abrupt change often leads to creativity and a willingness to make courageous decisions. Make sure to discuss ideas with your staff; they will have great insight into how advertisers may react to a new product or offering, and they will understand that some products are more easily launched and maintained than others. Get their buy-in before launching something new, but don’t be afraid to dive in quickly. Now is the time to test and fail fast on new marketing offerings. Through this, you are also likely to find a product that becomes a long-standing revenue stream for your association. For example, if you’ve considered starting a podcast or expanding your social media presence, now could be the time to do that with full support from your communications team and your sponsor partners.
In conclusion, associations that expand their digital offerings and give advertisers and sponsors new ways to reach their target audience in this period of time when face-to-face events are unavailable will see the pay off in the long run, and they will have the added security of a more diverse flow of non-dues revenue in case of stormy weather or sunny skies.