The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) has a long history of partnering with commercial companies during the annual meeting as well as in connection with other opportunities, including the Journal of Swine Health and Production, the AASV e-Letter, the AASV Membership Directory, and the AASV Foundation. Our goal has always been to create value for both the sponsoring company and our members. The challenge is to do that in a balanced manner that satisfies the needs of both.
Sponsorships directly offset expenses to the AASV and have a direct impact on the association’s bottom line. As a result, membership dues and annual meeting registration fees are lower than would otherwise be possible, directly benefitting AASV members. Sponsorships also help support AASV publications and the Web site. The fact that AASV members benefit from sponsorships is undeniable. However, I am not convinced that members always demonstrate their gratitude for these sponsorships. It can be easy to take the companies for granted.
I encourage each and every member of AASV to take the time to say “thank you” to the people who work for the sponsoring companies. Acknowledging the role and the value that sponsorships provide for the association is vital to help companies realize the overall impact on members. I learned a long time ago that taking a benefit for granted is a great way to lose that benefit over time. If our members do not speak up on what the sponsorships mean to them, then companies will look for other ways to spend their marketing dollars.
Part of my job is managing AASV’s relationships with commercial companies. One of the greatest challenges in that relationship occurs when personnel changes occur within a company. If the new person is not familiar with the AASV, then the process has to begin to inform and educate that person about AASV and our members: AASV members can assist with that process. There is no more credible source than a member when it comes to explaining the role that AASV plays in swine veterinary medicine.
Conversely, it is also essential that the AASV continually strives to understand the needs of the companies. These needs can change with time. However, I have been told many times over the years that companies value access to our members and the opportunity to interact with them. The best example of creating value for companies is during the AASV Annual Meeting, where company representatives have ample opportunities to network with numerous swine veterinarians in several different settings. Networking can happen during the Industrial Partners sessions, at the Technical Tables exhibit, in the educational sessions, or during one of the meal-social events.
A more difficult task is trying to objectively measure the return on investment of a sponsorship. I can’t tell a company that any given sponsorship is going to result in an increase in sales. Likewise, it would not be ethical for me to ask members to base their purchases on who does or who does not participate in sponsorships with the AASV. The companies must decide for themselves the value of creating goodwill among swine veterinarians and supporting the mission of the AASV.
The AASV is always willing to consider new marketing and sponsorship ideas from our partnering companies. Over the years I have come to appreciate the creativity shown by many in the area of marketing. I am also humbled by the gracious and respectful approach taken by companies in offering to help the AASV better serve its members. The commercial companies and the people working for them are very much woven into the fabric that makes up the AASV.
We do have some lines we will not cross. One is the sponsorship of specific educational topics and speakers. Another is any sponsorship that would require the endorsement of a commercial product or service by AASV. Ultimately, I depend on the officers and board of directors for guidance on sponsorships and commercial requests of the AASV. The collective wisdom of AASV leadership has so far been proven sound in the decision making over the last 49 years.
Perhaps it is my advancing age, but I find that I have to continually remind myself that we can’t be stubborn and rely on what has worked in the past. Going forward with sponsorships, we can use our experiences to help frame and inform our decisions, but we should not rely on them to be the deciding factor. Finding the right combination that provides for the needs of the sponsoring company and benefits AASV members is the ultimate goal.
When both value and gratitude are understood, acknowledged, and expressed, then we have the best opportunity for successful partnerships with sponsors.
Tom Burkgren, DVM