As associations look for ways to increase revenue during the pandemic downturn, one expert says they should consider monetizing their role as matchmaker for industry partners and members.
With pandemic closures killing the event revenue associations rely on, many are looking for new ways to bring money in. Don Neal, CEO and founder of 360 Live Media, spoke at a recent ASAE webinar, “The Association Revenue Recovery Plan.” While he offered more than a dozen revenue generators in today’s climate, he didn’t go in-depth about how they worked.
I tracked Neal down to talk a bit more about how associations can best use the tools they already have to generate income. His philosophy is that associations adopt a model similar to another industry.
“Associations are very similar to media organizations,” Neal said. “They have an audience, some content, and a distribution channel. Right now, they don’t have an event, so they have to rely on their other media assets.”
Revenue generators that will pay dividends right now will provide companies who want to reach your audience access to the right members. “It is a very lucrative model,” Neal said. “It’s a matchmaking, like eharmony.”
Neal had a couple of tips on process. “Work with existing industry partners, those who like you, who trust you, and have an interest in your audience,” he said.
After selecting previous partners, do a little upfront work. “Find out: Who do they want to meet, and what is the best way for them to engage?” Neal said. “And give them some options. Prepare a relatively short list for them to choose from.”
So, when playing matchmaker, Neal suggested four methods that are easy to start with or will give you the most bang for your buck.
Virtual focus group. “This is one of the easiest things to do and more fun,” Neal said. “A lot of industry partners are looking for feedback on products.” With this method, the partner will provide a list of requirements, and the association will find members that meet those requirements and ask them to opt in for the focus group. Usually the sponsor will give the participant a gift card. Neal said as a broker, an association might get a few thousand in revenue for providing several participants.
Virtual hosted buyers. While this one may take a little time to set up, Neal said it is the most lucrative. At traditional tradeshows, certain sponsors are willing to pay associations big bucks to meet with specific members who are able to make or influence purchasing decisions. At a traditional meeting, the sought-after member—also known as a “hosted buyer”—would have their attendance fee paid by the industry partner and agree to meet with that company for a set amount of time. The partner also pays a fee to the association.
“I can give you one example where the sponsoring company was willing to invest $5,000 per meeting; this was in the medical [association] environment,” Neal said. “If it costs $50,000 to acquire a buyer for their medical device, and they can have someone meet with them for $5,000, it’s very efficient. You don’t have to talk to 20 people to find one that can make decisions.”
There are two good things about offering the hosted buyer virtually, Neal said. First is cost reduction for the sponsor. “If they allocate $100,000 to that event, they are paying for the booth, the construction, the carpet, the banners, the lanyards. Those are all hard costs,” Neal said. “If you take away all the hard costs, all you have left is what that sponsor wants to pay to meet the seven right people.
The second is that it can be done any time. “It doesn’t just have to reside on top of an event,” Neal said. “You can do this year-round. I can meet you Tuesday at 2:30 on Zoom, or on the hosted platform.”
Paid thought leadership. This is similar to a sponsored webinar, Neal said. However, with paid thought leadership, the partner/sponsor is more involved in creation of the content than they are typically in a sponsored webinar. “You still have guidelines and guardrails to ensure it’s not just a buy-me commercial,” Neal said.
Exhibitor to exhibitor. When it comes to matchmaking, you don’t just have to match attendees and sellers. “Fifty percent of the business at tradeshows is done between exhibitors with other exhibitors,” Neal said. “You can put your exhibitors in contact with one another.”
Neal said the best time to start is now. “See which of these you have the ability to do quickly and successfully without taking on a lot of costs and risks,” he said. “Companies have money to spend, and in my opinion and my experience in the last 60 days, this is the best way for associations to recover their revenue.”