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Get Vendors to Create and Sell Your Content

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, March/April 2014 Money & Business

By: Samantha Whitehorne

Summary: Industry partners and vendors tend to be the experts on the products and services that they are trying to sell to associations and their members. Try leveraging that knowledge to create engaging content for members and bring in additional revenue for the association.

Does your association have an online buyer's guide that doesn't get the number of visits your vendors would like, requires significant staff time to maintain, and fails to live up to its revenue potential? Is the same true of your webinar program?

If so, you could learn from the American Society for Training and Development, which found itself in that position a few years back. "We just weren't engaging our members, customers, and suppliers like we should have been in those places," says Dawn Baron, ASTD's former vice president of marketing. "And it was hurting our bottom line and draining staff resources."

ASTD, which has 40,000 members in 100 countries, had a webinar program that covered nine subject-matter areas and involved numerous staff members responsible for setting up and moderating webinars, as well as a third-party media and exhibit sales team who lined up webinar sponsors and sold upgraded buyer's guide listings. "One person was managing the relationship with presenters, another was scheduling webcasts, and still another was finding the right sponsor," she says.

With that in mind, ASTD adopted a new model in January 2012 to reduce workload and help better cross-promote and connect vendors with customers. It created one online interface that made it easy for everyone involved in any aspect of a webinar—from content development to marketing to sales—to work as a team. ASTD also outsourced the production of the webcasts, freeing up time for staff to focus on how to better engage their customers and suppliers through content and sponsorship opportunities.

One way they did this was by offering exclusive sponsorship of a webcast. For one level of investment, a sponsor can put its brand in front of the audience before, during, and after the programming. When participants click on the sponsor logo, they are taken to the company's page in the ASTD Buyer's Guide Directory—driving traffic to a site that received little attention in the past and further cementing the audience-supplier connection. There, visitors are sometimes offered additional content, provided that the sponsor purchased an enhanced listing.

The good news is that ASTD has benefited from the program as much as its sponsors and customers. Its buyer's guide revenue grew 122 percent between 2011 and 2013, and revenue for its webinar program jumped 186 percent during the same period—adding up to six-figure revenue for the organization.

"Give your members the content they need and have your suppliers be the experts," Baron says, "and everyone wins—association included."

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email:swhitehorne@asaecenter.org

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Content Connection."]

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