If Christmas is cancelled because of COVID-19, Hallmark will have to do a bit of scrambling to make sure their messages of merriment reach their targeted audience. Similar (sort-of) is the experience of bar association event sponsors, some of which  have just lost their best opportunities to connect with current and future clients with the cancellation of some of the legal community’s biggest events.

From both the bar and the sponsor side, there’s an exorbitant amount of work that goes into each event, and while it’s evident that most organizers have cancelled their events in order to benefit the greater good, the lost sponsorships leave bars with a bit of a dilemma. What should they do with the money sponsors have committed for events that are no longer on the calendar?  I think the short answer is whatever the sponsor would like the bar to do,  but I recently talked to a few bar event sponsors to understand their experiences and expectations.

Tracey Gavin, the Marketing Director for Lawpay, says that the company values the relationships they have with bar associations, and that they work hard year round to form true partnerships with each association.

“We understand that this is a hard time for everyone, and we are all learning best practices for conducting business during a pandemic on the fly,” said Gavin. “A lot of the associations we work with count on our sponsorship dollars to help fund some of their core functions, and we want to continue to be there to support them. While we don’t expect bars to refund us if they are not able to do so, we do hope that they we can come up with some creative ways to work with them to support their members and increase our visibility – whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or not.”

Innovative ideas might be the key to retaining sponsor support. Elizabeth Carazolez, the Operations Director for San Diego-based family law firm Antonyan Miranda, which sponsors many legal community events, says she has yet to see organizations come up with something really innovative.

She did say, however, that bars have promoted the firm in their monthly newsletter and on their websites. While the law firm does have COVID-19 related videos and articles they are sharing via social media and their newsletter, the bars haven’t asked to use them specifically, but have asked about what the law firm is doing to ensure their business operations continue.

Joe Patz Vineyard, Vice President, Alliances and Business Development for Fastcase, said that they too have information that is beneficial to bar association members. “Fastcase has worked to support our partners through the COVID-19 crisis to be sure bar members have access to the complimentary resources that are available to them from Fastcase as well as other publishers, associations and legal experts in the industry. We continue to stay in close contact with our partners to ensure they feel supported during these challenging times.”

Austin, Texas-based MemberCentral,  which tends to do more sponsorships with the National Association of Bar Executives than individual bars,  is open to alternative ways of creating visibility for the company’s products and services since exhibiting is no longer an option.

Mauricio Fonseca, the company’s Chief Product Advocate, suggested that organizations refund sponsorship dollars, minus any direct costs where money has already been spent and cannot be refunded. He also suggested organizations offer a credit, saying, “Sponsors may be interested in refundable monies placed as a credit balance, which can be used at a later time by the sponsor or refunded, but ideally the monies should be refunded in good faith if requested by the sponsor. The credit could be used on an alternative option if the sponsor is willing. ”

Fonseca has also suggested that bars could consider asking service providers like MemberCentral (an Association Management System and legal education platform provider) for help with things like “supporting your membership billing activities or supplementing if short-staffed” or “increasing their online education offerings with both live and self-paced courses for credit.”

My bright ideas? Allow your event sponsors to sponsor your webinars and zoom calls. Invite them to introduce themselves at the onset and provide information on the COVID-19 resources they are providing. Give them virtual face-time with your members whenever possible – whether it be on a zoom call or by allowing them to do separate live online product demos that are later archived on your website.