The Sponsorship Debate!
I have just returned from a very energetic winter Board meeting in Orlando, during which we spent a lot of time discussing strategic planning and our ongoing financial challenges. Let me stipulate from the outset that we are still financially sound and thanks to the excellent work of the Finance Committee we are now in a positon where we can actually invest money in an interest bearing sense. That said, we seem to live and die each year as an association on our membership renewals and growth and the return from our annual ICHRIE meeting (attendance and sponsorship). Let’s just say we continue to walk a very tight rope!
During board discussions one point more than any other kept raising its ugly head – namely, the critical importance of sponsorship dollars and the absolute need to develop a more coordinated approach to managing sponsorship as an arm of our current strategic planning effort. The point being, this can no longer be left to chance! Our approach must be strategically informed and directed. As an outcome of this meeting, I was tasked by the Board with opening a dialogue with the membership on this most critical of issues, such that we can find a better way to move forward? As Bamber Gasgoine (of University Challenge notoriety) used to say – “this is your starter for ten!” Put another way, I am writing to solicit your feedback on how best to approach the sponsorship challenge?
As I see it there are a number of related issues:
Identifying or clarifying our brand identify. In other words what is it that we are attempting to sell and/or what value proposition needs to be communicated to potential sponsors? At its most basic this needs to align with potential sponsor values and the message they are attempting to communicate. This debate has been ongoing within ICHRIE for the last five years, but we are still no further down the road in answering this most basic question. On a positive note I am aware that the Marketing Committee are currently addressing this issue and I look forward to the outcome of their deliberations. I believe we will be in a better place as a result.
Solidifying and growing existing strategic partnerships through open, honest and ongoing dialogue, the goal being to remain in tune with current sponsor needs and values. If it’s time for a change in approach – then it’s time to change our approach!
Identifying potential new partners at the local, national and global levels. This seems to be where we struggle the most. I know that at a local level this can sometimes be difficult given our member networks and structure. The argument I keep hearing is that local sponsors are the preserve of local schools and not ICHRIE. Similarly I have heard members suggest that regional sponsors are the preserve of the various Federations. Folks, I really don’t want to be the organizational grandmother that tells you how to suck eggs here, but the mothership (ICHRIE) has to be more engaged in this debate! Particularly so when the ICHRIE conference is coming to town.
I find it difficult to understand why local (Host) school(s) would not see value in being part of the hosting process for this event? I understand the importance of protecting your local sponsors and sponsorship dollars, but this event comes to town once in a lifetime. It’s not like ICHRIE is chasing a longer term relationship with these sponsors. My point is that “Host” schools should be an integral part of the planning process for this event and where their networks present an opportunity to be leveraged to improve the member experience while lowering the financial burden to ICHRIE of organizing and footing the bill for this event, we should absolutely work together to take full advantage. The return to the Host School is clear and obvious to me – it’s a stage to promote your institution, your programs and engage your students in a meaningful service learning opportunity.
Just as important is the identification of new national and international sponsors. We present ourselves as the peak professional body for the Hospitality and Tourism Industry and Educators. Surely, we can do a better job of connecting the dots with the multitude of voluntary, private, public and quasi autonomous associations, companies and organizations that make up our global industry? There needs to be a more focused and longer term approach here, which identifies potential partners and engages in an informed dialogue on the value proposition and return on investment - not just in relation to exhibiting space at our annual conference but partnering for the longer term such that both entities benefit.
I believe it is now time to develop a more systematic and accountable approach to sponsorship. An approach that not only identifies priorities and potential action strategies, but one that speaks to accountability and measurable results over time. There also needs to be a more coordinated leadership approach to this issue. What I am asking here is – where should the responsibility lie for the development and assessment of such a strategy? The traditional approach has been to look towards the Marketing or Networking Committee’s to take a lead role, but there have been no goals, targets or timelines set. Similarly, we have tended to factor this into our contractual negotiations with event planners and traditionally relied upon their efforts to grow our sponsor base. We can no longer leave this to chance! In truth I can see no way to advance our new Vision and Mission (to be shared at a later date) without developing a coordinated approach to sponsorship as an integral part of our strategic plan.
In closing I would be grateful if you, the members, could give some thought to the sponsorship debate and share your thinking with me such that it can be used to inform future discussions and the direction we actually take. We can none of us afford to leave money on the table!
Thank you in anticipation of your response.