case study

PAI Case Study: Emerging Stronger by Navigating Whitewater in an Uncertain Time

By Association Non-Dues Revenue, Expo Sales, Sponsorship Sales No Comments

In business, and in life, there is a saying people use “when things get back to normal, back to the way things were…” and the image of calm waters and clear sailing come to mind. Bringing forward the vision of a rowing crew all in line, all rowing in unison. At the same time, what if we are living in the new normal? More whitewater rapids, challenging us as teams and individuals to maneuver differently, quickly responding to the rocks and fast water swirling around us?

It has been over four months since we started operating in this brave new world. For the PAI sales team, this journey has taken us through quite a few rapids and challenging twists – especially during March and April. In the earliest phases, there was a prevailing feeling of emergency, as if taking on whitewater, and operating in a reactive/crisis management mode. We kept moving forward and making headway, taking it one day at a time.


In the early phase, we were guided by our instincts and principles which said to double-down on the people – to focus on the relationships and to listen intently to all stakeholders.


It was a deeply personal phase. Instead of focusing on specific outcomes and results, we found our mission was stewardship. Care and empathy heightened in all encounters, having a positive human interaction was the payoff – on a one-by-one and daily basis.

We’re not sure exactly when, but one week in late April we rounded our latest bend only to find that we were stronger, wiser, and filled with a vision that was fast taking shape. It did not occur all at once, but our collective experience with fellow industry members, clients, and their constituents became the very fuel that provided clarity in how best to embrace the new reality.


We emerged with a clearer purpose, leadership in thinking, and a proactive approach to delivering for our clients. By being “on the water,” we gained conviction along with a proof of concept.


Several members of our sales team were actually out in Las Vegas attending North America’s largest trade show the week that the World Health Organization declared the novel Coronavirus to be a pandemic. Meanwhile, another client was scheduled for two of their own in-person tradeshows five weeks later, to be held in Dallas. PAI had all but completed their selling cycles, with more than $1 million in revenue sold and in the bank. Immediately we were in emergency calls with the client’s executive team and planning committee. The events were initially postponed before ultimately being cancelled.

Our client looked to us for guidance as to how to handle payments from both attendees and exhibitors/sponsors — including whether or not to issue refunds or credits. Instead, we suggested a different take.


“Pay It Forward” Vs “Refund”

Our solution was to adopt a “pay it forward” approach, allowing sponsors and exhibitors to use the money they were planning on spending at the April conferences towards the association’s events either in the fall or 2021. We crafted a position statement that allowed us to both to be in lock-step alignment with our client but to also be able to use a credit policy and position in all communication. It included an “appeal to spirit” to support the association during an unprecedented time.

For the canceled events, we had already executed a 15-month sales program. We swung into action and immersed in a new campaign, calling each and every sponsor and exhibitor. We tracked every single engagement, “selling the association” and its shows all over again, starting with the largest supporters. We implemented new processes for the new cycle.

Weekly updates were shared, trends were ascertained. We encountered companies that insisted that they must have a refund, yet we dealt with all with grace and latitude, becoming optimistic that a majority of companies would accept a credit option.


Retained 70% of Events Support Revenue

Ultimately, we were able to help our client retain approximately 70% of their support revenue. By serving as goodwill ambassadors for our client association, we also strengthened our trust and relationships with the more than 200 companies involved in the shows. Moreover, as a service provider, we gained invaluable insight and expertise about ways to take control on the water and navigate the currents successfully.


Keep Your Head Above Water

As a result of this experience, we learned the following:

  • Don’t panic, keep paddling – when your organization hits rough water and challenges its always best to keep moving forward and it the right direction.
  • Have a team that can be trusted and fully on-board before you hit the water – by working with key support people and teams before hitting whitewater you increase your likely hood of making it through and onward no matter the challenge. Having them on your team before the challenging times helps you respond quickly.
  • Navigate based on a direction – Sometimes the first response might not be the best one. Take a moment to know the direction and the plan you are hoping to follow. Pulling over to the side for a moment to plan out the next few miles in a challenging time can allow you to not waste effort or time. Refunds seem like the right response when you are in the middle of the being bombarded by calls, but with a little planning and working with a trusted advisor you can come up with a better way to support the mission and not drain the needed financial resources.

Our experiences from early in the pandemic continue to guide us proactively as we shape and deliver solutions during these “new normal” times.

PAI Case Study: ASAE & The Virtual Event Market in 2020

By Association Non-Dues Revenue No Comments

In late May, The Profitable Association was asked by the American Society of Association Executives what were we hearing about virtual event platforms. The answer: “A lot!” Emails, invitations to webinars, demos, Zoom calls.

Since we provide advertising and media sales for ASAE in the technology sector, and we also deliver solutions for other associations’ events and publications, we had been observing the increasing chatter about virtual platforms (while also using some platforms ourselves).

A formal market analysis we conducted internally showed that well over twenty-five companies who were at that point in at least a new emphasis, if not a full-blown pivot. And, they were coming at it from many directions and legacy positions: from AMS, LMS, EMS, Marketing Automation, Community, Event Planning, and other places. It was and is clear: solution providers are moving quickly to address the needs of associations whose live events are canceled and may never be the same.


The Eureka for PAI and ASAE:

The need to serve and educate the association market and ASAE members quickly, to provide an up-close look at solutions so associations can be equipped to address taking events from in-person to virtual (or hybrid) now.


The Concept and Event: ASAE’s Demo Days for Virtual Events.


The Challenge:

Like many associations, ASAE has long-established programs, events, departments, and a large staff. Demo Days had to be planned, sold, promoted, and delivered on a fast-track schedule (in fact, in about 3 weeks from the drawing board to going live). Being nimble, responsive, and creative while executing a new type of event AND delivering with high value was the challenge. It was anticipated to be a one-day event including 8 solution sponsors, each having their opportunity to present to hundreds of association professionals.


The Solution:

  • Our team took the lead in crafting packages, benefits, and deliverables (the value proposition), as well as conducting market outreach and sales engagement.
  • We seamlessly joined with the small ASAE client team who would develop and host the program, while promoting and handling registrations.
  • We developed and applied a process that included both external and internal communications for collecting and sharing all sponsor deliverables and assets.
  • While in fast-motion collaboration, we checkpointed often to assess any gaps that needed to be filled.
  • We served as the voice of ASAE, conveying all instructions to the sponsors’ teams, so they would be prepared and ready for presenting.


The Results:

  • Based on early sales results and popular demand, ASAE expanded the Demo Day program to 1.5 Days, with a line-up that included 12 presenting sponsors.
  • Turnout greatly exceeded expectations: well over 1,000 registrants, a majority averaging over 5.5 hours of attendance.
  • Feedback from attendees and sponsors – it was an overwhelming success!
  • With such a lean operation, it was a financial success for ASAE.
  • See the line-up, and view an archive/replay of ASAE’s Demo Days for Virtual Events.


Key Takeaways for Associations:

  1. Think differently right now. The world as we knew it has changed quickly.
  2. Think entrepreneurially. Set aside politics, sacred cows, and long-established status quos. You can be nimble, agile, responsive, and strategic.
  3. You can not only survive, you can thrive. Leverage your association’s strengths and unique position.
  4. It’s the perfect time to go on offense. Be the leader that you are – as an executive, as an innovator, and as an industry association.
  5. Seize opportunities for Success. If you find a formula that works well in this “brave new world” – why not make it the basis of a new business model?


Washington, D.C. Vintage Postcard

PAI Case Study: To Optimize Exhibitor Retention – Build a Program Early, Give Cards and Candy!

By Expo Sales, Sponsorship Sales No Comments

One of the keys for hosting a successful, growing annual conference is to keep your sponsors and exhibitors coming back year after year. After all, the cost for converting a new sponsor or exhibitor can be as high as five times that of retaining a current one.

That’s why at The Profitable Association (PAI), we’ve incorporated a comprehensive “Pre-Show Selection” initiative into events that we sell, including building a Priority-Points system for incumbents that includes an automated Space Draw program. And, we have “trained” our marketplace of customers that the process will begin early – with announcements and initial actions for Next Year beginning two months before This Year’s event.

By doing so, our best-supporting companies can be ensured they have the best opportunity to get the best space and the lowest rate. It is a win for the exhibitor/sponsors, and also a win for the association client who gains a much earlier picture of their following year’s financials. And, as the association’s Sales Partner, it enables us to maximize retention at their events, year after year.

Our “Pre-Show Selection” process works something like this:

  • We’ll start marketing the sales of sponsorships and exhibit booths for next year’s conference prior to the start of this year’s conference – all at discounted rates.
  • We build the next year’s show website, online floor plan, forms, rates, packages, priority order program, and automated Space Draw program – complete with assigned appointment algorithms and automated weekly and daily reminders.
  • We execute the Space Draw phase first.
  • We reached out personally to VIP exhibitors and sponsors to ensure they did not blink and miss the opportunity.
  • We sent out e-blasts featuring the special rates available to current exhibitors and sponsors who signed up before the start of the 2019 show.
  • Next, we continue the pre-show marketing and sales outreach – right up until the day before the show.

We recently used this process to great success on behalf of Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), where we were able to exceed $1 million in sales from sponsorships and exhibit sales for their 2019 event in Las Vegas. Serving as DBIA’s partner, as their staff focused on the final preparations for the 2019 conference, we were hard at work getting them a head start for their 2020 event in the Nation’s Capital.

The real fun got underway once we landed in Vegas. We set up a full-fledged sales operation on-site at this year’s conference, with a Sales Office where we hosted one-on-one meetings with vendors, distributing promotional materials, and more.

  • As exhibitors set up their booths, we greeted them with promotional materials for the 2020 show as well as special candy treats with an invitation to visit us.
  • Later, we left them personalized appointment cards reminding them of their onsite “Space Selection” time – cards that were printed on the back of a vintage Washington, D.C. postcard.
  • We double and tripled back throughout the show and engaged directly to ensure they were fully aware of their on-site discount and that the 2020 floor plan was filling up.
  • We also sent out daily e-reminders, reminding them of the special on-site discounts available in the Sales Office.

All of this hard work paid off. Company signups increased by 119% over the year before, while early exhibit and sponsorship revenue was up as well. And, most importantly, we were able to add a personal touch combined with an automated program, resulting in great sponsor and exhibitor retention, and a fast start for our association client’s 2020 event revenue.