How to Avoid Dissatisfied Corporate Partners

Written by Bruce Rosenthal on August 7, 2018

I have written before about the importance of listening to industry voices in order to develop mutually beneficial corporate partnerships. This is true when it comes to what your partners want, but it is equally significant in revealing what they don’t want.

I recently heard three stories about interactions between associations and corporate partners that revealed dissatisfied partners. In all three scenarios, the associations were at risk of losing a top-level corporate partner, or having the company move to a lower level partnership. These stories can act as cautionary tales to help our associations consider the perspective of their industry partners, and avoid any such dissatisfaction in their own relationships.

Scenario 1: An association’s largest corporate partner was also sponsor of a major association award that was presented at the annual conference. The association’s staff decided to move the awards program to a different association conference to provide more visibility for the award and the sponsor. However, when the association told the corporate partner the award would be presented at a different conference, the company was not pleased.

Scenario 1 remedy: The association should have contacted the corporate partner during the planning phase to get the company’s input about repositioning the award ceremony.

Scenario 2: In an effort to improve its corporate partnership program, an association retained a consultant to conduct confidential interviews with its largest corporate partners. The consultant asked companies paying corporate partner fees of $100,000+ per year if the association was aware of their business goals as an association partner; one company replied “How would the association know our business goals? They never asked us!”

Scenario 2 remedy: The association should have a process for reviewing the corporate partnership with each company, to discuss the company’s goals and the association’s goals.

Scenario 3: The staff person in charge of corporate partnerships for an association had regular phone calls with a top-level corporate partner. The conversations focused on things like clicks on banner ads, how many registrations the partner would receive at the annual conference, and whether the cost of food and beverage for their reception at the conference was negotiable.

Scenario 3 remedy: The association should try to shift the conversation from low-value details to important topics like the company’s business goals and goals for the partnership.

The key themes emerging in these scenarios are respect, communication, and transparency. None of the three stories point to an intentional lack of consideration for corporate partners, so much as a failure to communicate this consideration in a way that shows the partners that they are valued. As partners, what these companies wanted in all these cases was an invitation to the table: to be included in the decision-making process, and to know that their voices were being heard on important issues. We should take this seriously, to ensure we keep our top-level corporate relationships healthy and flourishing.