Posts Tagged ‘associations


The new association “normal”

John Graham

John Graham, president of ASAE

This month’s guest blog post is an interview with John Graham, ASAE president. Association Adviser conducted the interview and posted it on Aug. 18.

ASAE The Center for Association Leadership, which supports the interests of more than 22,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations worldwide, sat down with President John Graham about new membership models and game changers he sees happening for associations during the coming year.

Association Adviser: John, we’ve been talking about the “new normal” for a few years now. How do you think associations are handling the transition to the faster-paced, “what’s in it for me” demand from their members?

John Graham: Actually, it’s a huge opportunity vs. being a challenge for associations. But a lot of these tech advances are expensive. Many associations don’t have the resources in reserves, but you do have to make the investments. For instance, we’re a larger organization, and we invested about $5 million throughout the last three to four years in our website redesign. We had to take money out of reserves, not from the operating budget. That’s a big commitment in the future.

AA: You referenced ASAE’s hybrid membership model in your opening remarks at ASAE’s annual convention in Detroit. Can you tell us more about how it will work and how other types of new membership models are working for other associations?

JG: It’s going to work exactly like the small staff association model works for us now. If you look at small staffs, generally only the CEO (or executive director) is the member and [the] rest of the staff has to rely on the CEO to share what they learned [from ASAE]. Our new model lets [staff] who wouldn’t normally be members access the same information and resources as full members. That, coupled with our education loyalty program, gives us the opportunity to reach a much larger cohort of an organization’s staff.

AA: John, can you walk us through this new membership model?

JG: Sure. Membership will be based on how many staff members an organization has. So for the price of “X,” the CEO and/or directors will be regular members (including receipt of print member magazine) and all the other staff, if they opt-in, will be electronic members. They’ll have access to the same benefits, but will get the magazine electronically. I think many other associations will adopt hybrid and transactional membership models.

AA: What do you think the biggest membership communications challenges are for today’s association?

JG: There is so much information flowing to people from all different sources that it’s easy for your message to get things lost in the clutter. Even in simpler times it was hard to get your message through. What’s the old marketing rule — it takes seven touches to make your message resonate? Now there are so many other ways to reach people. I don’t [know] what the magic number of touches is today.

AA: Are any new channels particularly affecting the touchpoint equation?

JG: Mobile! It changes the dynamic of how people communicate. Associations used to drive information and content out [to members]. Mobile allows the individual to [proactively] seek the content they really want from the organization and not have it pushed to them. So your organization needs to be nimble and flexible enough to make it easy for the individual to seek content from you in a very efficient way.

AA: Now that members of Next Gen are starting to assume leadership roles, what are you seeing as the biggest differences between their management styles and those of older generations?

JG: What changes more from generation to generation is personal experience each generation had growing up. Every leader, regardless of age, seeks face-to-face interaction and interpersonal relationships. But, technology actually enables communication. The younger generation is much more comfortable with technology. It’s viewed more as a communication enabler as opposed to “something I have to learn how to do.” It’s part of their way of life.

AA: So we can expect more technology-based communication from the next generation of leaders?

JG: No. I don’t see it that way. It’s just that younger people have a much higher expectation for technology. Their management style is not that much different. People think every generation is different, but I just don’t see it. Some of the [perceived] differences have to do with the economy when young people came out of school. For kids coming out of school today, it’s a very different experience than it was for kids coming out of school 20 years ago. The other thing we see is that younger leaders put much more emphasis on work/life balance and are drawn to organizations that value work/life balance.

AA: What is the next “game changer” you see on the horizon?

JG: It’s still mobile. The use of mobile today is as much a game changer as the advent of the personal computer was 30 years ago.

AA: If a typical association team leader got an unexpected 50 percent increase in their annual budget, how do you think they would (or should) spend it?

JG: Two areas: technology and messaging platforms. In terms of tech, associations don’t need to be on the “bleeding edge,” but they should at least be on the cutting edge if they want to remain relevant with their members. In terms of messaging platforms, it’s critically important — especially for trade associations — to invest wisely in their messaging platforms. As they try to get the message out about their industries — from solar to petroleum to mining to beverages — messaging is a critical component of what you do and what members expect.

AA: John, there have been some great speakers and sessions here at ASAE this week. How can attendees put all the great tips and insights to use after the daily grind swallows them up?

JG: An excellent practice is to bring multiple staff to the meeting and make sure you don’t cluster. Network with different people and attend different sessions. Soon after you return to the office, get together and share what you learned — not only with those who were at the meeting, but with many others who couldn’t attend. And think about having more people join under the new membership model for next year [laughing].


Don’t be an Association Hoarder: Use Professional Organizer Techniques to Revamp Your Programs

John Ricco

John Ricco, vice president, Partners in Association Management

This month’s guest blog post is by John Ricco, vice president, Partners in Association Management. It originally ran on Partners Preceptors, a blog by Partners in Association Management.

Boxes. In the association world, we know boxes – literally and figuratively. We check them off our to-do lists; we’re encouraged to “think outside” them; and we pack them full for conventions and meetings. The problem with association hoarders is that we often hold those boxes (both the literal and figurative ones) as sacred objects not to be moved, touched or heaven forbid – tossed.  But do not be afraid to hoist your boxes overhead and with a casual tilt, dump the contents for a fresh perspective on your organization’s programs and services.

Professional organizers (yes, there is such a thing, and of course, they have their own association) tell us the best way get organized and obtain a clear train of thought is to start anew. We’ve all seen an episode (or 10) of the “Hoarding” television show where the unsuspecting hoarder is thrust into an intervention where family, friends and professionals attempt to convince them to let go of a house full of plastic tubs of expired grocery coupons, garage sale “treasures” and the like. In these extreme cases, the organizers try to convince the hoarder to remove everything from the house and then decide what is important enough to go back in.

Consider trying the same approach with your association’s programs and services. We recently did this with one of our association clients with fantastic success. The group’s convention had gotten stale and something was missing. So we overhauled the event by dumping the box out and started fresh. The process is basic but complex at the same time. How do you go about it? Using a convention as an example:

1) Identify:

    • The “MUST haves” (education and networking)
    • The “LIKE to haves” (that $30,000 ultra-luxe up-lit evening networking lounge)
    • The dumpster items (the ice sculpture “vodka luge”)

2) Determine where the “MUST haves” will go back in your box.
3) See what room is left for the “LIKE to haves.”
4) Throw the rest in the dumpster.
5) Get buy-in from the appropriate stakeholders.

With a good deal of apprehension and uncertainty, we changed our date patterns, nixed receptions, added luncheons, turned the schedule on its head and added new, fun networking events – all with the goal of increasing the experience for “regular” attendees and exhibitors. The end result was rave reviews from all attendees (except for one or two people – you know who they are). Most first-time attendees said “sign me up for next year.”  Exactly what association pros want to hear.

We are now using the same approach for another group that has been experiencing lackluster performance with their affinity programs. We are in the process of identifying:

    • The “MUST haves” (What products do the members absolutely need for their businesses to succeed?)
    • The “LIKE to haves” (Are there “cutting edge” or new products they don’t yet know they need?)
    • The dumpster items (What programs have run their course and no longer deliver value?)

We’ll then go through steps two to five above; we expect results similar to those we experienced with the convention.

There has been much discussion throughout the past few years regarding the relevance of associations and the future of associations in today’s work and professional climate. Hoarders will not survive.

Don’t wait for the camera crew and intervention team.  Don’t be an association hoarder!


New report: Association marketing has a ways to go

marketing-mix-priceMarketing is much more difficult than most people think. It requires creativity, strategic planning, vision and data analysis.

Marketers have a vast skill set, and that’s why they should have a seat at the decision-making table.

That’s according to a new benchmarking study on association marketing by Demand Metric and HighRoad Solution.

The State of Association Marketing,” unveiled this week during ASAE’s annual conference in Detroit, summarizes the marketing efforts of 373 survey respondents, mostly comprising membership associations.

Key findings:

  • 73 percent of survey respondents rate their overall association marketing as somewhat or very effective.
  • Marketing communications was the most prevalent marketing capability in associations surveyed, provided by 70 percent of marketing functions to their associations.
  • Only 25 percent of study participants report members perceive their marketing communications as always relevant and professional.
  • Membership retention saw the largest year-to-year increase, offered by 47 percent of association marketing departments in 2014 compared to 62 percent in 2015.
  • Event marketing was identified by 78 percent of respondents as the most effective marketing tactic.
  • Associations are embracing marketing analytics more closely, with the percentage reporting no usage of analytics dropping from 13 percent in 2014 to 9 percent in 2015.
  • The budget line item most frequently found in association marketing budgets is for print, found in 46 percent of association budgets. Print, however, ranks eighth in terms of effectiveness.
  • More staff and more funding rank first and second as the resources that would most help improve marketing effectiveness. However, neither staffing nor funding correlated to greater marketing effectiveness in the analysis of the study’s data.
  • Survey respondents identified internal meetings as consuming the most time.

“The baseline study sadly pointed out how far behind associations are in areas such as digital advertising and marketing automation,” said Suzanne Carawan, chief marketing officer for HighRoad Solution. “As you will see in this year’s report, we’re making progress, but there is a lot more work to do before we can bridge the gap between corporations and associations.”

A few things to consider. (My two cents here.)

contentmarketingWhile it makes sense to have the marketing director handle the main marketing duties – banner ads, social media ads, marketing material, website marketing, etc. – it’s also beneficial to have marketers contribute to membership retention efforts. After all, it’s a marketer’s job to explain why membership is valuable, and this means keeping members from losing interest – enter the skill set I referenced above.

In addition, according to the survey, strategic planning wasn’t a top priority for associations. That’s a problem.

As someone who’s learned to blend public relations and marketing, I can vouch for the fact that marketing can’t exist without strategy. A marketing plan isn’t a strategic plan. Instead, marketing should be part of the strategic plan, with clearly defined messaging, tactics and audiences. Marketing should support the association’s strategic vision; not compete with it.

Marketing communications is perhaps the most effective piece of the marketing puzzle –provided there’s good content. Effective, meaningful, useful content.

According to the report, print is still an effective marketing vehicle among associations. But I’d argue that association marketers should consider the power of digital marketing. LinkedIn and Facebook marketing campaigns can yield huge rewards.

Tell us…what role does your marketing staff play in your organization? What works best for you?


Us vs. them

member_engagement_retentionWe hear it all the time: We live in a “me” society. Most of us, at some point, have asked, “What’s in this for me?

Associations aren’t any different. Think about it: How many associations want to boost revenue by hoping their members buy more? How many times have we wished we could just get more volunteers?

In other words, we ask, “How can we get our members to do what we want them to do?”

Newsflash: It’s not about us. It’s about them.

“Unfortunately, while we’ve been busily building and marketing the programs, products and services we think our audiences might like, the world has changed,” write Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CEO & chief strategist, Spark Consulting LLC, and Anna Caraveli, managing partner, The Demand Networks LLC, in their new whitepaper. “In 2015, customers are looking for more than a transaction; they’re looking for custom solutions that can be constructed only through authentic relationships of the type, duration and intensity they—not you—want.

Focusing on member engagement, Engel and Caraveli provide some guidance for associations to transform their thinking: Instead of defining engagement as what they value, associations should be asking how they can help their members accomplish their goals.

Here are some “what-ifs” for associations to consider:

  • What if, instead of membership and product sales, our goal was to enable members to achieve the outcomes that matter most to them?
  • What if, instead of looking inward to try to build the perfect product, we looked outward to our audiences, interacting with them to understand their needs and experiences?
  • What if, instead of viewing members as passive consumers of our benefits and programs, we worked with them as co-developers of the value our associations provide?
  • What if, we gave up control and encouraged our audiences to define the terms of their own involvement with us

And yes, sometimes this means competition.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

The key is to figure out how your association, better than other organizations, can truly engage members and potential members. Thanks to 24-7 access to information, simply being experts in a field won’t cut it anymore. Your members can find information anytime, anywhere, with a click of mouse.

So how do associations compete? They should use their networks to build engaging communities and to listen to their members’ collective voice to learn what really matters, the whitepaper suggests. Associations should ask: What do our members really want to succeed? What are the needs and issues we can help address?

“Adopting the outside-in approach to engagement means your sole goal is to create value for members,” Engel and Caraveli said. “Everything else (program categories, mix of benefits, organizational structure) can be questioned, transformed or even eliminated as long as doing so solves your audiences’ problems and creates value that engages them.”

Some tips:

  • Ask people to contribute. Don’t just create products, events and resources you think people want. Instead, engage your members’ skill sets. Ask them to help create value.
  • Work toward providing your members’ goals – not your own. Get rid of the things that aren’t working and instead focus on those that are. The most engaged members are those who feel you truly care about their personal and professional development.
  • Include everyone, from every department, in your engagement strategy. It shouldn’t just be the job of the membership department. This means breaking down internal silos. It’s important for everyone to work as a team, rather than people looking out for themselves. Sometimes this means getting rid of the fat.
  • Act – don’t just talk. If you ask for members’ feedback, truly mean it. Be willing to make suggested changes. Remember: It’s not about sales; it’s about your members’ success.

It’s not easy, and it may require an entire shift of focus. Simply put: Associations may have to dump the old and bring in the new.

Anna Caraveli

Anna Caraveli, managing partner, The Demand Networks, LLC

But it’s worth it.

“Properly understood, engagement is nothing more or less than the development of real relationships with our members and other audiences,” Engel and Careveli wrote. “Authentic relationships take time to develop, involve increasing commitment on both sides, require us continually to be learning more about each other and are focused on helping each other achieve important goals. Through the process of developing genuine relationships, associations become necessary partners in helping our audiences achieve their most important goals, and we achieve our goals—to be financially healthy, vital, growing, mission-driven organizations—as a result.”


Is it time for an event sponsorships makeover?

Tara Ericson

Tara Ericson, group vice president at Naylor Association Solutions

This month’s guest blog post is by Tara Ericson, group vice president for Naylor Association Solutions, where she oversees group publishers and specialized industry market teams. It was originally published on Association Adviser.

Do you have a three-tiered (platinum, gold, silver) event sponsorship offering? Have you offered the same sponsorship opportunities year after year? Is your sponsorship revenue stagnant or declining?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your exhibit and event sponsorship offerings may need a facelift.

Experts say 85 percent of a trade show’s revenue comes from selling exhibit space. The other 15 percent comes from sponsorship and advertising. According to Velvet Chainsaw, however, associations are shifting more effort into capitalizing on trade show sponsorships and advertising in response to vendors’ desires to reach potential customers in more meaningful, creative ways. Furthermore, vendors are relying on associations to come up with those creative ways to reach attendees before making a sponsorship investment.

If you’re already responsible for multiple parts of planning and executing an event, your sponsorships are likely on auto drive, and a total reinvention probably seems daunting. But don’t let the idea of reinventing sponsorships intimidate you. Here are five tips for growing your event sponsorship revenue.

Customization is in demand.

Based on the 2014 Association Benchmarking Report, only 42.8 percent (of association executives surveyed) said they were trying to customize their advertising/sponsorship programs to a company’s specific needs, and only 10.1 percent fully customize each sponsorship opportunity.

We encourage you to take a more sponsor-centric approach when developing your event sponsorship offerings. Building flexibility into your event sponsorship campaign allows the sponsor to tailor its messaging and branding more effectively toward your attendees.

Divide your sponsor prospects into different buckets to segment those prospects who are most likely to participate in a customized event sponsorship package. Use a consultative sales strategy in which you try to match your association’s event objectives and education track with your sponsor’s objectives and branding.

A good example of a customized of sponsorship might look like this: An event sponsor purchases a sponsorship package that includes a full-page ad in the association’s magazine, adjacent to an article related to its industry segment, that runs prior to the trade show. The ad directs readers to the sponsor’s booth. At the event, the sponsorship package includes signage at a specific education session that reaches the sponsor’s targeted attendees, permission to distribute a leave-behind, such as a key for each attendee, at the education sessions that will unlock a prize at the sponsor’s booth, and an online banner in the event’s daily e-newsletter.

Keep it fresh.

Associations that host events always need to look for and offer the next new thing in sponsorships to keep their event fresh for vendors. Combine innovative ideas with unique sponsorship opportunities to create new sponsorship revenue streams.

  • Main Lobby DJ Sponsorship: Music creates great ambiance, especially if it’s happy and upbeat. This approach allows the sponsor to have signage on the DJ table and to insert its own audio commercial every 10 minutes.
  • Cocktail Ice Luge Sponsorship: Sculpted ice structure with the association logo and sponsor logo. This provides great exposure in a fun and entertaining environment.
  • Product Developers Reception: An invitation-only gathering held during the larger show, at which guests hand-picked by the sponsor for their interest in the sponsor’s products can view a prototype and speak with the sponsor about its offerings.


Have two or three high profile, exclusive sponsorship opportunities for vendors willing to invest a large sum to reach your members. Too often associations shy away from asking for the big dollars for fear of upsetting their membership or a lack of confidence that they will sell. But if you don’t offer it, you will never know if you are leaving money on the table.

The key to successfully selling these event sponsorships is to keep them big, loud and exclusive, which can be fun for you and for the vendor.

These loud sponsorship opportunities should come with the honor of having the sponsors’ brand in every single part of your event. Make a huge splash with marquee sponsorships so your vendor is portrayed as the king of the event, and no one is left to wonder who the premier sponsor was.

RT_SPONSORSHIPBut don’t forget the little guys!

While going big with your top sponsors, don’t forget to create some low-budget options for new companies entering the marketplace or for companies of any size that haven’t been doing business with you.

Associations should work with sponsors to find a price point that is mutually agreeable when introducing new event sponsorship offerings or when working with a first-time sponsor. However, if you offer a discounted rate, always note the original price on the invoice and reflect the savings so your sponsor will anticipate having to pay the full price upon renewal.

Give sponsors what they really want

Your greatest asset is your membership, and your sponsors are willing to pay for time with members. Sponsors appreciate the branding opportunities that signage and swag offer, but being able to talk directly with their target market is the most coveted benefit your custom sponsorships can offer. Meeting with vendors at events saves members some legwork and often creates awareness of solutions they didn’t know exist. Incorporate access to your members into your sponsorship packages through appointment-based sessions, promotional emails, print and digital media, VIP cocktail parties and speaking opportunities.

meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,716 other followers

Facebook updates

Featured in Alltop


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,716 other followers

%d bloggers like this: