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Chapter 1

Why associations need digital sponsorships

Earning “found money” through sponsorships

You know that feeling when you find cash you didn’t even know you had in an old pair of jeans? Pretty great right? And the best part is that all you really had to do was reach in and grab it. Don’t get me wrong though – it’s your money. Hard-earned cash you made through building connections and making smart decisions. So even if finding it felt easy, you put in all the work that led up to that pleasant surprise.

It’s easy to look at sponsorships in the same way. You work hard all year round to provide your members and attendees with educational benefits, networking opportunities, certifications, and events – and you end up with a loyal audience of followers that look to you as the industry thought leader and content source. When sponsors and exhibitors in your industry see this perfectly curated audience of yours, they want access to it – and they’re willing to pay a pretty penny to get it. Selling sponsorships is essentially earning “found money” – you already put in the effort, and now you can reach into that jeans pocket and pull out the cash.

Now, all of this might sound obvious. You know how sponsorships work. You’ve probably been running them for years. But in order to get the greatest possible value out of your sponsorships today, you have to understand how valuable your audience truly is, and how you can leverage it in even more powerful ways for both you and your sponsors.

Moving from traditional to digital


For decades, brands have engaged in traditional forms of sponsored advertising, like these Pepsi ads on display in a subway station.

There’s no denying it – the focus for sponsors and exhibitors will always be on real-time activations that engage fans before, during and after an event. In-person event sponsorships are an extremely powerful channel because:

  • Attendees have spent time and money to be at the event, meaning they are part of a niche, highly engaged audience that will likely be interested in what sponsors and exhibitors have to offer.
  • Sponsors and exhibitors can make a more personalized and immediate impact, create memorable moments throughout the event, and in some cases speak directly with attendees.

With that being said, people are spending a lot more time online nowadays, which means that the most valuable asset that you own is your digital audience. As your audience members shift nearly all of their focus to social media, online news sources, online shopping and more, you and your sponsors have the chance to capture their attention across all of those sites and platforms.

You might be thinking: “Sure, maybe digital sponsorships are important right now because in-person events are on pause, but they won’t be a top priority once things go back to normal.” 

If that sounds familiar, think again. Digital sponsorships have been delivering results since long before COVID-19 affected the events industry, so if you’re not on board yet, then why not use events being on pause as an excuse to get caught up? And the best part – when in-person events do come back, you will have added in this excellent new source of revenue that you can maintain all year round as part of a multi-channel sponsorship offering.

Don’t get us wrong: COVID-19 is definitely a reason to offer digital sponsorships

There are three game-changing factors to keep in mind in the midst of all of the recent shifts due to COVID-19. 


  1. You aren’t the only one in your industry having to cancel events or switch to virtual. All of your peers and competitors are doing the same thing. This means that your sponsors and exhibitors can’t just go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for. They’re still heavily relying on you for brand awareness, lead generation and thought leadership opportunities, and it’s up to you to pivot your offerings to fit those needs.

  2. Due to social distancing, everyone is spending a lot more time online now. At various points over the last few months, there were spikes as high as 50-70 percent in time spent online, and these rates have consistently stayed at or above 20 percent more time spent online than historically.

  3. Other traditional B2B marketing channels that your sponsors and exhibitors might have been leveraging before are no longer available or as effective. With widespread event cancelation, there are no opportunities to sponsor or exhibit at in-person conferences and trade shows. Furthermore, with so many people working from home, it’s no longer viable to send direct mail or print publications to offices, and cold calling becomes much less effective. This just brings us back around to the first point, which is that your sponsors and exhibitors still have very clear needs, and they’re counting on you to offer an option that meets their needs. (Spoiler alert: it’s digital sponsorships.)


And if you need another reason, associations are built for digital sponsorships.

We’ve talked about how you and your sponsors have to meet audience members where they’re at across the web. The next thing to note – and this is why digital sponsorships are so powerful for associations – is that your audience isn’t just live event attendees. It also includes: 

  • Previous years’ attendees
  • Active members
  • Former members
  • Social media followers
  • Website visitors
  • Newsletter subscribers
  • And more… 

As an association, you’ve curated a large audience of people with a clear need for what you offer, which makes them more likely to be interested in hearing what your sponsors have to offer. The level of intent here is much higher than if your sponsors were to run their own Facebook, LinkedIn or Google ad campaigns. 

In other words, your audience is one of the highest-quality audiences that a sponsor in your space could have access to, and there’s no other way for them to get that level of exposure unless you offer it to them. So whether you’re selling sponsored retargeting, on-site ads, email blasts, or some combination of these, what you are really offering is reliable exposure to an audience that is much more likely to convert – and that is something brands are willing to invest their marketing dollars in. 


Whether you’re engaging your followers through virtual events, webinars, or other channels, you have a high-quality audience that sponsors are eager to get in front of.

Many associations are already going digital… sort of

When you hear that you need to get more digital with your sponsorship offerings, do you ever find yourself saying (or thinking) anything along these lines?


“We place our sponsors’ logos on our site and sometimes at the bottom of email communications. Does that count?”


“Our sponsors sometimes ask us ‘what’s new in digital’ but we never really have a great answer and don’t have the time to do more…”


“Digital sponsorships are just an add-on in some of our proposals, but they’re not a priority for us right now.”

If any of that resonates, don’t worry – you’re not alone. A lot of associations think that if they’re offering some form of digital sponsorships, they are ahead of the game. The problem is that your sponsors need broader and more trackable exposure in order to keep up with their competitors, and they’re relying on you to offer them more powerful ways to get in front of your audience. 

You might already be running these types of digital sponsorships:

  • Sponsored email blasts or exclusive email content
  • Logos or sponsored banner ads on your main website

We’ll go deeper on the pros and cons of each of those in the next chapter, but we’ll be focusing mostly on sponsored retargeting.

Sponsored retargeting lets you leverage the value of your digital audience in ways that far exceed the impact and results of other types of digital sponsorships. It’s about offering your sponsors access to your audience members wherever they are on the web through highly effective and measurable ad campaigns.

Up next, we’ll go into the importance of having a multi-channel approach for sponsors, along with the benefits and limitations of these main types of digital sponsorships and why sponsored retargeting is standing out as the winner. 

Chapter 2:

Why sponsored retargeting is the winning solution

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