Category Archives: Partnering

The 10 Tips on Choosing a Venue for Social Events

My group Nashville Hiking Meetup (and I’m sure many others) plans regular social events throughout the year in order to keep the group connected. Although we’re not a social group by definition, getting people together apart from our outdoor events is a key goal.

Social events have many benefits: existing members can re-connect with folks they may not have seen in a while, new members can get a feel for the group and meet existing members without having to take the leap on a long day hike with us, and a leader can use these events for making special announcements or giving awards.

Drink a Pint Night (September 2012) with Nashville Hiking Meetup at Sam’s in Nashville, TN by Reiner Venegas

But how do you choose a location? After several years of successful social events, we’ve learned a few things about picking a venue:

  1. Determine and document your basic requirements of any venue:
    • Number of people you generally have RSVP and whether you can fit comfortably in a venue.
    • Location or proximity to city center.
    • Parking or public transportation convenience.
    • Food and alcohol choices.
    • The image of a venue and how it matches your group. We’re a hiking and outdoor club so I don’t see us having a social at a swanky hotel.
  2. Figure out how much variety you want. You may meet at the same place every other month and alternate with a new place on those off months.
  3. Seek out unconventional locations. Not all socials need to happen at a restaurant or bar. We’ve had events at members’ homes, fitness clubs, car dealerships, and park picnic sites.
  4. Seek out new places by word-of-mouth. Ask other meetup leaders what venues have worked for them.
  5. Seek out places that may be willing to make you a deal. A brand new restaurant may be more likely to book your event in order to get the exposure. Also, monitor Groupon and other daily deal offers. This often indicates a willingness to get people in the door.
  6. For a restaurant or bar, book on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. These are typically the slowest nights and a manager is likely more willing to work with you.
  7. A large party sometimes scares the manager of a venue. Quite often they’ve been burned in the past (75 people promised and only 10 show up). Offer one of your previous venue contacts as a reference. I know this sounds unconventional—a manager calling a competitor—but quite often just making that offer will convince the manager you’re real.
  8. Create a short list of the best venues you’ve worked with including contact information and share this with your leadership team (in case you’re not available to run a social in the future).
  9. Locally owned restaurants and bars almost always have more flexibility in offering specials and discounts. If you can, avoid the chains who often have to “check with corporate” before they can give you a drink special, for instance.
  10. In very, very few cases, and only when you really want a venue, make a deposit guaranteeing sales. Risky, but will get noticed.

Tips for successful relationships with venues:

  • Communicate often with your contact at the venue.
  • Encourage your members to tip the wait staff (and tip well if appropriate). This is the best way to get welcomed back and get exceptional service the next time.
  • Scout the venue ahead of time if you’ve not been there and arrive early on the day of your event.
  • Afterward, follow up with the venue contact to communicate any problems. Don’t trash the venue on the social networks. Work out your issues directly with venue management first.
  • Follow up with the venue contact afterward to see if they’re happy. This may seem counterintuitive—you and your members as customers should be happy—but you won’t believe how far this goes to solidify a relationship. This is sort of like a reverse Yelp: “please give me a review of my group.”
  • Promote the venue before and after the event. Make clear mention of the establishment in your event posting, on Facebook and Twitter, and in any email you send to members.

What advice to you have on choosing locations for social events?

 

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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If you want to borrow my audience…

With running a meetup of over 4,500 members, I receive many requests to promote other organization’s events and fundraising initiatives. I get it. You want to borrow my audience.

Just keep several things in mind:

  • Your offer must be relevant to my audience.
  • Realize I have companies and organizations paying Nashville Hiking Meetup to be a sponsor. How would it look to give you free promotion? I’d be happy to send you a quote for becoming a sponsor.
  • If I decide to promote your efforts, make it easy on me by writing posts (email, Facebook, Twitter) in my voice and in the appropriate format. Don’t just attach a PDF press release that I have to extract content out of.

Questions?

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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How to get sponsors for your group

I just received an email from member Pete asking how Nashville Hiking Meetup got its sponsors. This is one of the questions I hear most often.

To me, it’s a very simple set of answers:

  • Your audience (membership) has to be an audience the sponsor wants as customers.
  • You must have demographic data on your members.
  • You must track the value of the sponsorship.
  • You have to present a clear “ask” to a potential sponsor.

Those are the quick start answers for those of you don’t have time to read an entire blog post.

Let’s break it down…

Is your membership the audience a sponsor wants?

I feel there must be a like-mindedness between a meetup and its sponsors. What values does your meetup support? Is a member likely to shop at a sponsor’s store or eat at their restaurant?

Since my meetup has certain defined values at its core (protecting the environment, expanding shared green space, building trails, healthy lifestyle), I seek out sponsors with similar values.

First define your group’s values and then brainstorm with a small subset of your membership (a management team of sorts) to make a list of sponsors you’d love to land.

Collect demographic data on your membership

Furthermore, your membership should “look like” a desired customer for a potential sponsor, and this typically means demographics. The most basic list of demographics you should have are:

  • home zip code
  • gender
  • age range

The next level would be:

  • annual income
  • marital status
  • highest level of education

From there you can really blow it out with expanded data on your members such as:

  • children living at home
  • how often member shops at certain kind of store
  • how much annually member spends on certain types of products
  • how likely is member to purchase from a sponsor

Now, Meetup.com does not make it easy to collect any of this information. In fact,  a meetup organizer cannot see any demographics due to Meetup’s privacy policy, but that increases a potential member’s chances of joining. If you know your personal data isn’t shared with meetup organizers (even email address), I feel a member is more likely to join. I’ll take that trade-off.

So how do you collect this demographic data? The simplest way is a survey. Click here to see an example survey I launched a couple of years ago.

And what’s the incentive for a member to fill out a survey? A prize drawing. Pull together a few items of value to your members (t-shirts with your meetup’s logo, gift cards from local stores, donated items from your membership) and publicize that the survey participants will be entered into a drawing.

Once you have your raw survey data, you can create nice pie and bar charts and put all of these demographic snapshots into a packet you can share with potential sponsors.

Tracking the value of a sponsorship

You need to be able to present to a prospective sponsor how you’re going to track the value of the product or cash they are providing, and follow through with this tracking. Nothing is more frustrating to a sponsor than seeing no return on their investment.

Tracking value doesn’t necessarily mean sales dollars. It’s very unlikely you, as a meetup leader, will have access to a sponsor’s sales data. Instead, you count other metrics:

  • testimonials from members about sponsors
  • number of members who attended an event at a sponsor’s location
  • number of clicks from a sponsor’s logo on your site to that sponsor’s site (I’ll get into how to track that in a later post)

Present a clear ask to a prospective sponsor

Sales Training 101 always tells us to know what we’re going to ask a prospect before that first conversation or meeting with the company. I’ve been on several sales calls in the past where the prospect asks in the first five minutes “what is it exactly that you want from us?”

Having a clear “ask” ahead of time (donated product, a space to hold meetings, gift cards, cash) will will prevent you from looking like an idiot in this situation.

You should also develop a standard price list for advertising on your site, email newsletter, or social media page, even if you plan on discounting later. Have a PDF of your price list digitally near at hand so when you get an email asking “how much will it cost me to sponsor your group,” you’ll have a document to quickly send to the prospect. No, it won’t be perfect or even fit all sizes, but it’s something. Be sure to follow up with that prospect later. And remember you can always negotiate.

Philosophically speaking

These answers were part philosophical and part practical. I know this post doesn’t answer one of Pete’s original questions which was how I landed a specific sponsor. Since I treat my meetup like a business, I don’t divulge specifics of a sponsor’s deal.

Land those first couple of sponsors, and just like in business, it’s easier to get customers if you have customers.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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Advice for marketers who want to partner with Meetup groups

Meetup groups across the country and across the globe can be a ripe hunting ground for marketers or other entities seeking partnerships. Many want to sell their product, get the word out about their event, or raise money for their non-profit, and Meetup groups (as well as Facebook groups, Google Groups, etc.) have become quite a target of honest and unscrupulous marketers alike.

Why do Marketers Target Meetups?

The open nature of Meetup.com is a blessing and a curse: I love the fact that potential members can see what a strong group we are (in membership numbers, breadth of events, and strength of partnerships), but it’s a curse when spammers want to use my membership to hawk their wares.

Furthermore, the vast majority of Meetups are grass roots, non-business entities who likely don’t have the same types of barriers in place that traditional companies do (salespeople, business development guys). Easy targets.

A Tale of Two Marketers

I don’t care what your “product,” there is a right way and a wrong way to attempt these partnerships. Much like you wouldn’t (shouldn’t?) walk up to an attractive stranger of the opposite sex in a bar and say “I have our china pattern picked out for our wedding,” you don’t assume that a Meetup organizer or group head is just going to immediately take you up on your offer. What the marketer should be doing is basic cold calling (or cold emailing).

Let me give you a couple of examples:

  1. New person joins my Nashville Hiking Meetup. Great. We have an open group with no membership dues. That’s what I want. But immediately that person posts a note on our message board offering low interest home refinancing. Quite often I can smell him coming with a member name in ALL CAPS and member location given is nowhere near Nashville. Member gets banned.
  2. Person does their research, sees that Nashville Hiking Meetup is large by meetup standards, sees that we may have common interests (she has a product or service that fits our membership: hiking, camping, outdoors, volunteerism), but instead of joining my Meetup as a member and spamming the message board, she instead sends a private email just to me as organizer explaining who she is and how she’d like to partner with us. Immediately you’ve passed my first test.

The latter example is exactly how Emily from Pocket Grill™ contacted me the other day: a professional email directly to me, told me exactly what her product was and how we could help. And did I mention her product is targeted to our member audience?


The professionalism of her introductory email, the quality of the hyperlinked material, and the fact that I didn’t smell spam all led me to start a conversation with Emily (and I bet we’ll keep in touch as her company’s product goes to market).

Same holds true in our Facebook group. It really irks me when people I don’t even know or have a prior business relationship with post crap on my group’s wall.

Bottom Line

Dig a little bit. Do your research. Contact the group leader directly. Be professional. Don’t spam the good people of this fine republic.

What good or bad examples have you experienced with folks wanting to partner with you? Let me know in the comments.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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