29
Jul
14

Happy employees, big dollars

EmployEngagementI remember the first time a boss took me out to lunch for a job well done.

It was my first job out of college, and the editorial staff had just launched our newly designed magazine. As editor, I wrote and scrutinized thousands of words. I’m pretty sure the designer and I spent weeks staring at a computer screen and proofs.

I’m fairly certain the lunch wasn’t that amazing. But the conversation was. As a new college graduate, the praise tasted far better than the food. It wasn’t much, but at the end of the day, we felt appreciated and engaged in the success of the association.

The morale of the story: Engaged employees work harder and smarter. Happy, loyal employees are the backbone of a successful organization, or so it seems, according to a recent study by Gallup.

It found that companies with an average of 9.2 engaged employees compared to every one disengaged employee experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share than their competition. In addition, companies in the top 25 percent of Gallup’s database have significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings and less turnover and absenteeism.

And it flows from the top down. The Gallup report found that managers are almost solely responsible for building employee engagement.

The problem: Only 22 percent of employees in the study indicated they felt engaged, with service employees feeling the least engaged.

So what’s the trick? According to Gallup: Measure the correct forms of engagement (emotional); hire the right managers, who should be expected to cultivate engagement among their employees; design day-to-day engagement opportunities, rather than build lofty goals; and find ways to connect with each employee.

It sounds easy, right? But it’s not. Managers need to be coached and encouraged to participate in professional development. Mentoring programs work well, according to those surveyed.

But what about associations?

Generally equipped with smaller staffs, it seems employee engagement should be easier to foster. That’s not always the case, as employees often juggle multiple responsibilities and wear several hats. Associations operate with less to do more, and sometimes, finding the time to foster engagement is tough.

thank-you“When it comes to recognition, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” wrote Tara Ericson, group vice president for Naylor, LLC, in the July 22 edition of Association Adviser. “I find the most success when I tailor the way I acknowledge employee achievement to how they want to be appreciated. Knowing your employees on an individual basis is the only way to know how to manage and recognize their accomplishments effectively.”

For example, Ericson creates a list of her employees’ favorite things – hobbies, restaurants and leisure activities – and refers to it when it’s time for recognition.

Also, she celebrates milestones – birthdays, marriages and births – and budgets for appropriate items.

“Sometimes, a reward isn’t justified, but your staff still deserves feedback,” Ericson said. “My rule of thumb is to say what’s on your mind. If a team member is performing well or not meeting expectations, I tell them immediately. Being direct and honest lets your team always know where they stand with you. It encourages better productivity and a more secure job culture by combating rumors and unjustified fears, and creates a constructive environment where coaching and open feedback are the norm.”

Ericson offers some other free or low-cost reward ideas:

  • Flex hours and telecommuting
  • Casual dress day
  • Public recognition
  • Reserved parking spots
  • Time off (leaving early, extended lunches, days off)
  • Happy Hours
  • Gift cards

At the end of the day, whether you have a large staff or a small staff, it’s important to remember that “an army of one” is a fallacy. Your association needs members, and your employees work to recruit and keep them.

As a manager or executive, remember that small gestures go a long way. So next time you’re craving a long lunch, or a lunch meeting at the golf course, ask your employees to join. You’ll do more than just foot the bill.

22
Jul
14

Association membership is on the rise

association-membership-recruitmentI love my Barnes and Noble membership. Last Christmas, I saved nearly $100 because I was a member. I also love my World Market membership because, well, I enjoy the wine discounts.

And then, there’s my Public Relations Society of America membership, which provides professional development, networking opportunities and member-only must-haves for public relations junkies like me.

Simply put: Membership has its perks.

So that must be why associations are experiencing a steady increase in memberships.

Marketing General Inc. recently released the results of its annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, in which 53 percent of associations reported membership growth throughout the last year.

An unprecedented 865 associations responded to the survey, reporting on things such as membership recruitment and renewal, social media usage and marketing budgets.

“The purpose of this study continues to be the development of meaningful benchmarks by which the leadership of individual membership and trade associations can evaluate their own membership marketing strategies and tactics,” MGI wrote.

Associations representing nonprofit companies, health care and professional services experienced the largest membership growth. As for membership recruitment tools, email and world-of-mouth continue to be the most effective, but this year’s results revealed that direct mail is quickly gaining steam.

But membership renewals seem to present separate challenges. Membership may be growing, but data seem to suggest new members – not renewals – account for that.

For a while, association members blamed shrinking budgets and a poor economy for not renewing memberships. Now, the economy is slowly on an uptick, so association leaders believe lack of engagement with members is the reason for stagnant or decreasing membership renewals. Second: If membership ROI isn’t evident, it’s on the chopping block.

In the study, the majority of associations reported a two- to three-month grace period for membership benefits once memberships expire.

bar graphAlso in the report, associations indicated communicating membership value is the No. 1 challenge, while cost remains an obstacle.

Other interesting takeaways:

  • Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most popular social media platforms (in that order), with Twitter experiencing the biggest boom in usage. Most associations reported their communications staff manages social media accounts.
  • On average, associations send their members about four emails per week.
  • A slight decrease from last year, 56 percent of associations said they increase dues as needed, with 27 percent planning to increase dues this year.
  • Branding and marketing are becoming more important, as 32 percent of associations have increased budget line items for such expenses.
  • Associations with membership growth also saw increases in attendance for tradeshow/conferences and professional development offerings; volunteerism; non-dues revenue; and certifications.
  • Associations with a renewal rate of less than 80 percent are less likely to experience a decline in membership.
  • Most association leaders believe networking is the top reason for joining an association.
  • To improve member engagement, 65 percent of associations have made changes to their websites.
  • About half of associations offer a student membership.

At the end of the report is a Words of Wisdom section, in which survey respondents shared their thoughts and ideas on issues, challenges and lessons they’ve learned as association professionals.

For example, one of the associations indicated it has expanded mentoring programs by 600 percent and has introduced a Visa Reward Card whereby members who have not attended an event in the past year receive cash rewards for doing so. As a result, event attendance is up 38 percent, while non-member event attendance is up 11 percent.

“Don’t just join an association; take full advantage of what we have to offer,” another association leader wrote. “When you come to us for help or resources and can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know so that we can keep improving. We want to be a true partner in your professional success, but we struggle with knowing what it is you need.”

So, where does your association fit into the membership equation? Has it experienced membership growth?

Take a look at the MGI report and see where your association stacks up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15
Jul
14

Is your association a global guru in the making?

Global businessFrom membership to events to publications, associations provide critical services to nearly all industries and professions – not just at home, but around the world.

As industries boost their globalization efforts, associations seem to be following suit, according to a new report, “Achieving Global Growth,” by American Society of Association Executives.

But what differentiates a successful global association from a not-so-successful one? Commitment. Strategy. Good business acumen. Cultural appreciation. Just to name a few things.

The ASAE Foundation and MCI Group, a global network of 50-plus offices providing market development services and conference management, just launched a multi-year, multi-phase research project to better understand U.S. associations’ global strategies and international engagement. In the end, a series of whitepapers and other resources will equip association members with tools to “go global.”

As the first byproduct of the initiative, the newly released report focuses on U.S. associations’ business activities with countries outside North America. One of the key findings: The most successful global associations have a strong commitment to internationalization, with a clearly defined and executed global strategy.

Specifically, the study found associations with successful global operations:

  • Recognize that international business operations are important to their financial health
  • Introduce products to international markets frequently
  • Conduct international meetings, conferences and face-to-face training
  • Develop strategic global partnerships
  • Invest in emerging international markets, rather than those that might be most popular or English speaking
  • Establish global offices or locations

The study also found those associations that successfully engage worldwide have higher membership growth and more non-dues revenue than those that don’t.

In addition, 60 percent said they have staff dedicated to international operations.

An interesting finding: Associations that reported growth in product sales from outside North America are more likely to have board members who reside outside North America. On the contrary, those who restrict board membership to North America have flat membership growth.

All associations (globally engaged and non-globally engaged) reported China will offer the largest potential for globalization throughout the next few years. But successful global associations also recognize potential in Brazil and India, and plan to target those markets.

“Proactive associations are those that reach out to non-U.S. members and customers to better understand their needs, promote the membership or products that are uniquely useful to them, lower barriers to engagement and consumption, give local leadership responsibility and reward or recognize participation.

“The case should be made to find ways to get into [identified emerging] markets now so as to build brand awareness, cultivate demand, build partnerships and improve service delivery capacity,” the report states. “Doing so now may actually be less expensive than waiting, when costs will be higher, negotiating for favorable terms harder and competition is more intense.”

So what do you think? Do you agree with the report’s findings? Is globalization in your association’s future?

08
Jul
14

Six Ways to Intersect Publications and Education Events

This month’s blog post is by Kim Howard, CAE, an award-winning publisher and president of Write Communications, LLC. Write Communications works with association leaders to create mission-aligned content for every channel for measurable results. She is the immediate past president of Association Media & Publishing. Howard can contacted at kim@writecommunicationsllc.com.

Kim Howard

Kim Howard, president of Write Communications, LLC

Delivering content to your members is a cornerstone of not only your publication program, but also your education events. In a perfect world, all our members would attend our events. But because they don’t, how do we share that information while not reinventing the wheel? How do we help sell the value of our education events? How can we showcase the content in the best possible way before, during and after our programs? Here are some ideas.

  1. Go beyond an ad. Cross-promote your events in the publications that you have. When you have a regularly published magazine, your content, if it’s mission-aligned, will likely fall in line with topics discussed at your education events. Is your editorial calendar in line with broad issues that are discussed at your conferences? Are you covering your content through the applicable lens for your members? Many associations have membership that runs the gamut, from students to c-suite executives. While it’s difficult to serve them all in one publication or conference, you can successfully integrate your content to cater to the cross-section of members. I use the term education events loosely because this could mean an in-person conference, webinar or podcast, lunch and learn or brown bag, etc. Have staff, freelancers or volunteers cover the event and write an article about the topics and subsequent discussion during the event. This is an excellent way to generate content for your publication and showcase the discussion. It’s also a great way to showcase your volunteers. Many members covet a byline on your association’s blog or in your publication. Covering select sessions at your events drives home the message to those members who didn’t attend that the event’s content is something to hear first hand. Think of it as your indirect sales guy.
  1. Give sidebars new meaning. Sidebars help break up your content and add an element of information that otherwise may be awkward to include in the main story. You are likely housing your speaker’s content somewhere on your website and the subject will also pertain to something you’re covering in your publication. Remind your readers that the content is still there and provide access to it by showcasing it in a sidebar. You could have content available from a webinar, a whitepaper or a slide presentation from an annual conference session. Use it. You don’t have to showcase the entire resource—just use a link, headline and blurb. And don’t forget your association’s other resources such as whitepapers, reports, webinars, podcasts, blog posts and other nuggets of information that show your members they have access to solid industry or profession information.

published

  1. Ask speakers to convert their presentation into an article, or interview them. This approach works best if you have your editorial staff attend the selected sessions and figure out which ones will translate into content for your publication. It also helps to weed out the presenters who were less than stellar: You probably don’t want to showcase their content in your publication. And it’s unlikely their content would translate well in a new format. Add an editor’s note at the beginning or the end of the piece letting readers know the topic was first discussed at “XYZ” conference, webinar, etc. I have used this approach for years and our publications have received many excellent articles that we published.
  1. When you have a hot, timely topic of discussion, ask the speaker or panelists to write blog posts about the subject before the event. There is always some piece of relevant information that speakers wish they could include, but can’t because of time constraints or because it diverts from the subject a little too much for an event. Not only is this a good way to showcase the content, but also it creates buzz about your event and may even increase the numbers from last-minute registrations or day-pass registrants.
  1. Cross-promote your education event through Twitter. If you know that certain members are into social media, especially Twitter, and they have fast fingers, ask them which sessions they would consider covering for you. This approach works best live, but after the event, consider picking out the top five or 10 tweets from the meeting and using that information as a sidebar to post-event coverage. The great thing about this approach is that you are covering a session that may not be covered a traditional way. It’s yet another insight into the education content that your meetings and events offer.
  1. Additional ideas might include:
    1. Videos or other enhanced content in digital publications. Careful planning and scheduling can yield good video clips from members when they are onsite.
    2. Executive summaries of content, ideas or discussions to share with attendees/those who were unable to attend as resources rather than simply as informational articles. (Think of this as a note-taking service or perhaps even enhance these notes with new information to make them that much more useful).
    3. Leverage sample content/learning outcomes/ROI/testimonials in next year’s event marketing materials to make the promotion that much more compelling.
    4. Consider year-round opportunities to position your annual meeting vs. only the two to three months leading up to the conference; keep the conversations going.
    5. Consider repackaging content into an infographic or other visually interesting format to help members/attendees digest the information in a new way.

Even if you can’t implement all these ideas, pick one that you know will work with your membership and any internal constraints you may have. Starting small will be the first step to yielding better results for your educational events and content that you deliver to your members.

01
Jul
14

If Events Could Talk: 10 Strategies for Fueling a Powerful Voice

Content-AuditHas your association conducted a communication audit within the last three years? More specifically, are your meetings and publications teams working together to ensure your association’s events are effectively marketed?

If your events suffer from stagnant or declining attendance, sponsors or exhibitors – or if you have difficulty securing quality speakers – the answer lies not in a silo, but rather in your team. Following are 10 strategies your association can immediately implement to boost the reputation of its signature events and, in turn, its bottom line.

  1. Branding – A uniform event name, acronym or hashtag from one year to the next is just the beginning. To ensure your members easily recognize an event at first glance, consider how colors, logos, fonts and overall design elements are used consistently across communication platforms.
  2. Differentiation – Briefly scan the professional development landscape and you’ll find fierce competition all around you – colleges and universities, other associations and even your own members. Event messaging must clearly illustrate in both quantitative and qualitative terms how your event is different from the rest.
  3. Value proposition – Every event comprises some combination of learning and networking. One way to elevate yours above the others is to demonstrate the value attendees can expect to gain in both the short-term (e.g., contacts, ideas, goals, objectives) and the long-term (e.g., strategy, tactics, products, services, profit).
  4. Voice – If your event could talk, what would it sound like? An elderly grandparent? A progressive hipster? Ensure written collateral closely resembles the tone and sophistication of your audience. As appropriate, add in elements of levity, informality, slang and pop culture to also make them fun and interesting to read.
  5. Brevity – Promotional pieces are not the place to be long-winded. Prospective attendees are inundated with messaging each and every day, so make it easy for them to cut through the noise and connect with your publications. Don’t be surprised if fewer words result in improved open and click-through rates, too.
  6. Channels – Determine how your association communicates. And don’t just think in terms of print communications – include all digital and social media platforms, as well. Optimal event marketing is multimedia in nature and should include messaging in most – if not all – of these communication channels.
  7. Testimonials – Never underestimate the power of an exceptional experience, particularly by Generation Yelp. Gather and share both written and video testimonials from attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers. Ultimately, it means more coming from their peers than it does from you.
  8. Images – We know a picture is worth a thousand words, so ditch the clipart and invest in a professional photographer to take pictures during your signature events. Use these photographs throughout your marketing materials to tell your event’s story: who attends, how they engage and what they learn.
  9. Sample content – Sometimes prospective attendees and their supervisors are looking for added insurance your event will be worth their time and money. Sharing sample content in the form of slide decks, handouts, executive summaries and video clips may be just the ticket to secure their participation.
  10. Volunteers – Identify your repeat attendees and arm them with the tools needed to promote your events. Consider guest blog posts, social media chats and featured magazine columns. Likewise, remove as many barriers as possible to encourage easy sharing of member-generated materials.

While you may not have the resources to employ each of these tactics between now and your next annual meeting, take some time this month to identify and address the low-hanging fruit. Then develop a long-term strategic plan for implementing the remaining marketing and communication ideas, remembering to include representation from both the meetings and publications teams.

At the end of the day, you simply can’t afford to ignore what your events are saying about you, your department and your organization.

01
Jul
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – July edition

Cally Hill, Director of Client Relations

Cally Hill, Director of Client Relations

Q & A with Cally Hill, Director of Client Relations

Q: When you’re not working for Event Garde, what keeps you busy?
A:  I enjoy spending time with my family and watching Tigers baseball.

Q: If you could meet one famous person, who would it be, and why?
A: Tom Hanks. He has been my favorite actor since he was on the sitcom “Bosom Buddies” in 1980.

Q: What song best describes your life, and why?
A: My favorite song is “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel because it is the first song I remember hearing as a kid and it reminds me of my dad.

Q: What is your secret talent?
A: I don’t have any secret talents, as I think they’re out there for everyone to see. (Editor’s Note: Cally is very skilled at making everything run smoothly. Her secret talent is definitely multi-tasking! – KP)

Q: Which color do you think best represents you, and why?
A. Orange. It’s a bold color that stands out.

24
Jun
14

5 Cool Things Associations Are Doing at Meetings and Events

This month’s guest blog post is by Samantha Whitehorne, deputy editor for Associations Now. Contact Whitehorne at swhitehorne@asaecenter.org.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne, deputy editor for Associations Now.

As the weekly blogger (and deputy editor) for ASAE’s AssociationsNow.com, I write about some of the innovative things that associations are doing for their meetings and conferences. While it can be stressful to come up with something new each week, it gives me a chance to spotlight association meetings, which sometimes are wrongly perceived as unable to keep up with the likes of bigger conferences such as SXSW or TED.

Here are five ideas executed by associations throughout the past year that I think are the best of the best.

Have Staff Wear the Latest Technology
In April, the Washington Restaurant Association outfitted its onsite staff with Google Glass to provide a live video feed of the event.

During the two-day event, WRA staff wore Google Glass while walking around the show, producing a video feed that streamed on its web site to give people an idea of the event’s layout and provide additional exposure for exhibitors via “on-camera” interviews.

“It allows us to go to a lot of the exhibitors and industry experts who are part of the trade show and interview them in a casual manner,” Lex Nepomuceno, WRA’s director of communications and technology, told Associations Now.

Keep Attendees’ Health in Mind
More associations are helping to keep attendees on track when it comes to their health and fitness while they’re onsite. For example, the annual conference and exhibition of the Health Information and Management Systems Society offered a three-day Wellness Challenge this year.

Here’s how it worked: Attendees had to sign up through the meeting web site and were required to have a fitness tracker to participate. They could either purchase a Misfit Shine activity tracker for $59 through HIMSS, which they picked up onsite, or use their own.

Each of the three days featured a different challenge. Participants used their trackers to calculate each day’s measurements and then posted their numbers online to qualify for daily prizes, which included two $300 gift cards and an iPad mini. To ramp up the competitive spirit, participants and other attendees could visit a booth in the exhibit hall to see who was in the lead each day.

Perfect the First-Time Attendee Experience
Conference newbies can be just as anxious to attend a meeting as they are excited, especially if they don’t know anyone, which is why the first-time attendee experience is so important.

The Society of American Archivists, with the help of its Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable, put together a first-timer’s guide for its 2013 joint meeting with the Council of State Archivists. It includes a list of what to pack and a guide on how to best network at the conference. In the latter section is a breakdown of networking opportunities made specifically for first-time attendees, including the Navigator and Lunch Buddy programs. SAA also has two other resources on its site for first-timers: One has interviews with three previous attendees highlighting their tips and tricks for making the most of the conference and the other focuses on how to best navigate the meeting.

The American Homebrewers Association also has a fun first-timer’s guide for the National Homebrewers Conference on its site. My favorite tip — written by “AHA Conference Veterans for Fun” — is this: “As delicious as it is, beer is not really food. Don’t get carried away with your conversation on hop glycosides and hot side aeration and forget to eat.”

conferenceDesign a New Learning Experience
Well-known keynoters, high attendee numbers and hundreds of education sessions are nice, but they don’t guarantee a successful meeting. What does? Designing a learning experience members can’t re-create or find elsewhere.

With member feedback in mind and a desire to create a more engaging learning experience, the National Association of Secondary School Principals made a fundamental shift in how knowledge was acquired and delivered at the NASSP Ignite 2013 Conference.

The backbone of the strategy was the Connected Learning Center, located in the middle of the exhibit hall. The center featured a technology showcase to demonstrate new tools and included a place for speakers to hold mini-sessions to dive deeper into concepts and topics they presented on during their larger, 75- to 90-minute learning sessions held earlier the same day.

To further encourage this dialogue, presenters also were able to hold “office hours” in the center. These open-door meetings gave speakers and attendees the opportunity to discuss the work they’re doing.

Let Members Do the Planning
In an effort to get members more involved in the meeting-planning process, the National Association of Plan Advisors — a sister organization of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries — let members select session topics for its NAPA 401(k) Summit, which took place in March in New Orleans.

The best part was that it was inexpensive and simple. ASPPA used the free, open-source platform All Our Ideas for the voting process. The tool was easy for members to navigate. They were given two session ideas, and they could either pick their favorite or add their own idea into the mix for others to vote on. The process was then repeated. The platform’s algorithm sorted and ranked the ideas in real time, allowing members and ASPPA staff to see what topics were in the lead.

What other cool and innovative things do you think are occurring in the meetings space, association-related or not? Share in the comments or shoot me an email at swhitehorne@asaecenter.org.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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