Leveraging Sponsored Webinars to Drive Revenue and Education

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The American Society for Cell Biology put on a recent series of five webinars on light microscopy, a trending topic for cell biologists. They structured an agreement with a company to sponsor the entire series where ASCB chooses speakers for four of the webinars, and the sponsor chooses the fifth—according to an article in Associations Now.

It’s a generous concession, but I would think there has to be some buy-in on the part of ASCB for that last speaker. Still, being creative with getting sponsorships for webinars should be encouraged. Webinars have been very successful for many SIPA members, but as we know, times change and it’s always good to look at different revenue formulas.

The American Pharmacists Association’s Access Project, a subsection of its learning department, puts on 15-30 webinars each year—95% of which are fully sponsored. Anthony Gary, APhA’s senior manager of education, said they have done webinars for so long that, in most cases, sponsors now come to them with ideas. Some want a series of webinars, while others might want something more advanced like a customized website and a video.

Philip Forte, president and CEO of Blue Sky eLearn, said that some forward-thinking associations are blending their live meetings with webinars. “You can almost see where the industry is going because frankly, there is going to be a shakeout. More and more people are getting their knowledge and content through digital means. Organizations and associations [that aren’t embracing that] are going to struggle a bit.”

SIPA member Modern Distribution Management (MDM) transitioned to sponsored-only "webcasts" around 2009 and, judging from the website, they continue to do about one every month. Last week's was titled, One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Reinvent Your B2B E-Commerce Strategy. I reported last year that for $10,000-$25,000 per webcast, sponsors get to co-brand the event and collect all the leads. Attendance, which is free, has increased from 50-100 to more than 300 per webinar.

There’s a form to fill out to register. In addition to the name/address/email part, they ask for company type and size, and primary sector. They use the following copy:

Reinvent Your B2B E-Commerce Strategy
Please complete the registration form below to access this program. By registering for this event, you are agreeing that we may share your registration contact information with our sponsor, Four51. We do not permit use of your personal information without your permission for any purpose other than sending you information about the sponsor's products and services.

There were three speakers, one of whom was the CMO of Four51. Eric Smith, associate editor at MDM, moderated. "We have developed deeper relationships with some of our advertisers who are also strong in content," MDM President Tom Gale told me last year. "They've become speakers for us because they know a lot on the subject. But if it looks like an advertorial or infomercial we're done."

This holds true even if the webinars are free. “Basically [members] have an expectation level that rivals their live meetings,” said Philip Forte, president and CEO of Blue Sky eLearn. “If they’re paying, but even if they’re not, they want a well-managed, well-thought-out presentation.”

MDM also offers their webcasts on demand for up to six months after—which continues the lead generation. They retain the right to sell the webcast DVD post-event. They’re also very careful about handling customer emails and not over-emailing.

"We're a small niche; we never sell names or emails,” said Gale. “We do have sponsored e-blasts but we're careful about the frequency and what we put out there every day."

Gary seems to view sponsorships as the best way for them to deliver what their customers need. “Our goal is to maintain a high level of educational content by distributing learning tools to keep everybody up to speed,” he said. “We want to make sure that we continue to have the resources to deliver high-quality products in pharmacy education.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…