When the person in charge of managing the American Gas Association’s (AGA) sponsorships left that position in 2004, Annemarie O’Donoghue added that role to her meeting-planning responsibilities – but not without trepidation. “When I first started out, I dreaded it,” said O’Donoghue, who today is AGA’s manager of meetings and sponsorships. “I never wanted to be a salesperson. I’m behind the scenes, I’m logistics. …[I thought,] Keep me there.”
But it turned out to be a good move both for AGA and for O’Donoghue. Sponsorship dollars have grown each year since she took over; it’s now the second-highest revenue stream for the association. And O’Donoghue, who has worked for AGA for 20-plus years, has found building relationships with sponsors and “coming up with new and different ways of doing things” to be “a lot of fun.”
While it may not make sense for sponsorship to fall under the purview of every organization’s meetings department, it works for AGA, which represents more than 200 energy companies that deliver natural gas throughout the United States, and whose conferences address the needs of different segments. Focusing on securing sponsors for AGA’s annual Operations Conference & Biennial Exhibition, which encompasses all of the different areas of the association, “ didn’t go over so well,” O’Donoghue said, because the audience was not targeted.
So AGA’s strategy is to seek sponsors for its events – which, in addition to the Operations Conference, run the gamut from a customer-service conference, a financial forum, an accounting leadership conference, a legal forum, and an executive conference, to various committee meetings – on a meetingby-meeting basis. “They are specifically targeted,” O’Donoghue said, “as to which vendors would be the best sponsors for each event.”
What sponsors get in return for their support depends on the events themselves. For example, at AGA’s Executive Conference, sponsors are simply allowed to attend the high-level event. At the Operations Conference, on the other hand, sponsorships are tiered. A platinum-level sponsor supports the general session or one of the lunches and has the opportunity to present a two- to three-minute video.
Sponsors at other levels can include their brochures in AGA’s conference materials and offer tchotchkes at an on-site sponsor table. They receive an electronic version of the registration list – with the caveat that they don’t “hound” attendees, O’Donoghue said, meaning that they limit the number of times they email attendees to three. All sponsors are listed in the final program’s directory. And during each event, she said, AGA makes sure to convey to attendees that it’s due to the sponsors’ support that the association is able to offer them low registration fees.
O’Donoghue attributes the success of the sponsorship program to the fact that it’s tied directly to AGA’s meetings and events, which are recognized within the industry as “the one thing you have to do,” she said. “That’s where all the people that you want to meet are going to be. Every single sponsor that has ever sponsored has always made at least one key contact on site.”
Making the Connection
Although AGA’s Annemarie O’Donoghue might have wanted to stay behind the scenes, meeting face-to-face with sponsors at each conference has turned out to be one of the best parts of her job. “I seek out sponsors for some of our major conferences and programs, I put together the prospectus, I make phone calls, I send out emails – and I handle the meetings,” she said. “So these [sponsors] who see me on site, we build relationships. And we talk about other areas of the association that they might want to get involved in.
To learn more about the American Gas Association and its events, visit aga.org.