Archive for the 'Communication' Category


The communications struggle continues

2016-association-communications-benchmarking-report_page_04If you’ve been following this blog for the past five years (heck….even the past year), you know I’m a communications nut.

Seriously. It’s the center of everything I do – from my personal life to my professional life.

Without communication, both internally and externally, there’s no content, no strategy. Nothing.

But not everyone knows how to communicate, at least not effectively. That goes for businesses, too.

Last January, I wrote about Naylor’s 2015 Communication Benchmarking Study. Naylor has been conducting the survey for five years, and last year, the survey found most associations were continuing to struggle with communications. In fact, only 6 percent reported having a communications strategy.

Fast forward: Naylor recently released the results of its 2016 Communications Benchmarking Study. And….you guessed it. Associations are still struggling.

The top two communications challenges reported this year: communications clutter/overload and the inability to communicate membership benefits effectively. Both challenges have increased since 2011, with 69 percent and 67 percent of associations stating those are the largest obstacles.

At the same time, nearly 80 percent of associations said their members ignore their communications – up from 59 percent in 2015.

Also of note:

  • More than half of respondents recognize a serious or significant problem with the lack of revenue generated from their communication vehicles.
  • Most respondents believe they are good at creating relevant content, and more than half are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of members’ needs. But, as stated above, those efforts are often being ignored.
  • Although 57 percent believe they could improve member engagement by improving their ability to customize for different subgroups, not many are actually doing it.

While under staffing remains a top concern among associations, especially in the communications department, some positive trends emerged in the 2016 survey.

communicateThis year, more associations reported success in helping their members find desired information quickly and keeping them informed about education opportunities and events.

While e-newsletters and print magazines remain top communication vehicles, associations seem to be expanding their communication vehicles. For example, according to the results, Facebook, webinars and online career centers have gained traction.

Finally, again this year, associations reported difficulty with communicating to young professionals. While integrated communication is paramount to success, segmentation and customization of communications is key to enticing young members. As such, Naylor advises associations to develop specific events, communications and mentoring opportunities unique to this group.

“In general, associations are doing a better job at organizing information and making it accessible to their members, as well as keeping their members informed about new events and education,” Naylor says. “It’s more critical than ever to make every message count. And while associations appreciate the importance of segmenting member data to provide tailored communications to combat the ‘overload’ challenge, a relatively small percentage feel they are leveraging technology available to do this effectively.”


Community management is about strategy

pr-online-communities-20368498Although still relatively new, online communities are quickly becoming popular platforms for engagement, discussion and membership.

But there’s still some confusion about best practices and culture, according to a new report by The Community Roundtable and Higher Logic.

“In the current environment, it’s easy to question or second guess ourselves, but one thing I feel strongly about is this: A community approach can help navigate these issues in a way that brings along customers, prospects and employees,” said Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder, The Community Roundtable. “It is the best way, and maybe the only way, to keep our organizations in sync with themselves and with their markets.”

Happe said communities are the most effective way to deliver learning and change – much better than social media platforms, which are inundated with advertisements.

The Higher Logic report contains data from 339 community programs from a range of industries. The first takeaway: strategy. Strategy is based upon a shared understanding of value. In other words, communities must define value to their organization and to their community to foster engagement. In addition, the report found those who could measure that value to determine ROI performed best.

Next: operations. Giving members a voice is key to community success. Communities that provide a formal feedback system, multi-tiered advocacy program and member-led community programs far outperformed their peers.

And then, tactics: Most communities measure basic activity and membership, but going beyond that, including regularly tracking activity, behavior change and outcomes, reaps big rewards.


Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder, The Community Roundtable

Some recommendations from Higher Logic:

STRATEGY: Create strong, defined value statements for your organization and members, highlighting the shared value of the community. Tip: Boil it down: What’s the value that the organization and members get from being a part of the community – and where do those value statements intersect?

OPERATIONS: Engage and empower members, through feedback programs, member- and internal expert-led programs and by prioritizing getting organizational buy-in and understanding of community. Giving the community a say in its operation can help increase engagement and community contributions. Tip: Tap into the expertise in your membership – communities that include member-led programming demonstrate higher engagement and maturity than their peers.

TACTICS: Focus metrics and measurement on the behaviors you want to see, not just the ones you can easily measure. Everyone measures something, but the best-in-class communities are digging into the metrics that demonstrate the impact of the community. Tip: Use frameworks to better connect behavior changes to metrics so that you can more readily explain the value of the community to members and the organization.

“As community professionals, we need to keep our focus on the fundamentals and continue to reinforce value and success,” Happe said. “Don’t lose sight of the basics; continue the dialog with those that can benefit from your community; and develop an ROI model to define the specific business value that is generated from the community.”


No more masses for association marketers

email-marketing-for-your-home-businessAs some of you may know, Event Garde sends a monthly e-newsletter. So every month, I jump into Constant Contact to look at stats.

Admittedly, I’m a word nerd, but I find the stats and data fascinating. I get excited when the click and open rates increase. And I use those – based on the popularity of certain topics – to decide what to write the next month.

Email marketers: Does this sound familiar?

According to most reports, email is the No. 1 tool for marketing among associations. But do email campaigns work?

A new report by Informz may help marketers decide.

The 2016 Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report analyzes nearly 2 billion emails sent by associations in 2015. According to the report, email volume rose nearly 12 percent from 2014.

We’ll delve into the findings shortly, but first, Informz points out marketing automation technology has transformed the way associations communicate. For example, it allows senders to more easily segment audiences, allowing for topical, personalized responses.

“Associations are making a purposeful shift to integrate and maximize their digital marketing reach, utilizing all their data assets,” Informz says. “Websites, email marketing programs, account management databases and online communities are no longer perceived as separate functional entities. Taking a holistic approach means moving away from a single communication strategy to a tailored, one-to-one communication approach.”

click-460In addition, the report revealed email relevancy is top of mind for subscribers. As such, marketers are moving away from mass emails, instead sending customized communications to members – which translates into more meaningful member experiences.

And now the findings from the Informz report:

  • The average email metrics for associations include a 98 percent delivery rate, 36 percent open rate and 16 percent click rate.
  • More than 70 percent of email subscribers were sent one to five emails per month.
  • Emails containing eight or more links represent 77 percent of the email sent volume.
  • Audiences between 5,000 and 50,000 accounted for 63 percent of all emails sent; however, the smaller the audience, the higher the open and click rates were.
  • For the second consecutive year, emails sent during midday hours accounted for the largest percentage of emails sent, as well as the highest click rates.
  • Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday had the highest email volume with an average open rate of 35 percent.
  • Friday had the highest weekday open rate at 37 percent.
  • Subject lines with fewer than 40 characters had open rates that exceeded the 2015 benchmark of 36 percent.
  • More than 60 percent of opened email had engagement for more than 10 seconds, which is an increase from last year’s metric of 62 percent.
  • Mobile readers engage with emails longer than desktop readers, with 67 percent of mobile readers spending longer than 10 seconds.

So…what are your thoughts? How does your association use email?

Remember that newsletter I referenced? We’re always looking to feature examples of success so if you’ve developed an email campaign that works, please send information to Kristen Parker at


Would Mother Earth approve of ‘green’ venues?

Earth-DayOn Friday, we’ll celebrate Mother Nature’s finest creations. Spring is finally here in Michigan and as robins chirp and flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time for Earth Day.

Friday is Earth Day, so in anticipation of all things sustainability, let’s take a look at the Green Venue Report 2015, produced by Greenview and Twirl Management.

In the second annual survey, 30 convention centers, representing more than 57 million square feet of space, responded.

According to the report, there are seven best practices among environmentally friendly venues:

  • 83 percent have achieved a sustainability-related certification.
  • 80 percent donate excess food to local charities on an ongoing basis.
  • 85 percent participate in sustainability programs or initiatives led by their city.
  • 77 percent have an employee green team or sustainability committee.
  • 70 percent have a dedicated sustainability coordinator or sustainability manager on staff.
  • 87 percent have secure bike parking for staff.
  • 72 percent can provide event planners a specific waste diversion report for their event.

As for physical attributes, some venues have a green roof, which means it’s partially or all covered with vegetation. Green roofs reduce building energy use, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, beekeeping seems to be an increasing trend, with some venues practicing it on their green roofs.

Another emerging trend: onsite gardening. About one-third of venues produce food onsite from their gardens.

In addition to bolstering accessibility options for guests, an increasing number of venues offer transportation options for their employees. Fewer cars on the road means fewer emissions, so 63 percent of venues offer alternative transportation, or incentives for using public transportation, while 64 percent of venues offer electric car parking and charging.

The report states that while having someone lead efforts is key to fostering venue-wide sustainability, it’s challenging to keep employees engaged. Managers report they spend significant time training staff on environmental stewardship to help them understand the “why,” not just the “how.”

In fact, some organizations hold incentive programs for employees who are the most dedicated to reducing environmental footprints, hosting things such as luncheons.

global_sustainability-green-integrationAnd, of course, efforts would be remiss without effective communications. At the foundation of communications should be a clear sustainability policy that’s shared with all audiences. In the survey, 97 percent of venues reported having an internal sustainability policy and 64 percent said their policy is publicly available. At the same time, 45 percent of venues produce an annual sustainability report.

All efforts aside, Greenview found there’s confusion about terminology and measurement of practices. Data aren’t consistent and standards are lacking.

From the report:

“If these numbers are telling us that convention centers and planners are actually discussing sustainability, yet planners are still not taking advantage of sustainability programs, then perhaps this misstep in communication highlights a significant problem in the way we talk about sustainability in general. Perhaps there is an opportunity for centers to change the way they communicate their programs. Event sustainability conversations can’t be focused on additional costs and impact reports. Conversations need to happen in a way where planners better understand how utilizing the sustainable programs in place will enable them to create a unique and powerful event experience. An event that can be a showcase of organizational brand values, that has the potential to enhance attendee experience, demonstrate leadership, potentially reduce costs and is more efficient and less wasteful.”

So take some time on Friday and think about how your organization practices sustainability. And the next time you’re booking a venue, ask about its sustainability practices.

We’re all in this together. We only have one Earth, so let’s take care of it!


Use the media to manage your relationships

media_monitoringIn the early stages of my career when I was working as communications director for a nonprofit, I was amazed at how quickly a national issue could become local.

National grassroots efforts steadily trickled down to local and state governments and organizations so I found myself buried in issues management. Every day, I scanned news outlets across the nation and throughout the state to see which issues may affect my daily operations, but more importantly, the operations of our members. Think federal and state funding!

After a few years in public relations, I’ve learned that to build support, staying on top of trends and issues is key, as is listening to your audiences – otherwise known as key publics.

A new whitepaper by Media Miser – a media analytics and tracking company – spells out the importance of relationship management.

“Effective communications means more than just managing issues through the media,” Media Miser said. “Companies and organizations must also be aware of their external publics – the people and groups outside of an organization’s sphere that affect, or are affected by, what that organization does. This is known as relationship management: the discipline of identifying key publics and establishing strategies for building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with them.”

Step 1: quote analysis. Chances are, your communications staff is monitoring media, but pay attention to quotes. Doing so will allow you to see what your stakeholders are thinking and saying about the trends and issues that could affect your organization. If you’re not on track, their words will tell you.

Also look for advocates and “badvocates.” By scanning for quotes and statements, you can assess who’s on your side – and who’s not. If the media heavily quote someone, he or she could be an opinion leader – and a media favorite – so it’s wise to determine whether your organization’s positions align with that person’s agenda.

As I mentioned before, keeping an eye on regional news will give your organization a taste of the key publics within that region, and could help your association strengthen its presence and capitalize on hot-button issues and trends. For example – knowledge. Is there something happening about which you can best educate that region?

And messaging. It’s so important. Whoever handles communications in your organization needs to develop consistent messaging. That said, staff can tailor those messages to a region or stakeholder’s concerns.

“If you want people to trust you and your organization, consistency is a must,” Media Miser said. “Trust is the first step in developing a relationship with opinion leaders and your key publics. The last thing you want is to communicate different messages regarding the same issue: Without consistency, you run the risk of looking insincere. This will inhibit your publics’ ability to trust you, and without trust it’s impossible to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.”

It goes without saying that people appreciate transparency, so always, I mean ALWAYS, be honest. Your organization doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of a public relations quagmire.

business-relationshipIn summary, pay attention to what media – and this includes bloggers and niche reporters – are writing about. Even if an issue doesn’t seem important to your industry, it could tangentially relate. Remember: Media are key to helping you build relationships.

Other questions to consider:

  • Is there mutual trust between your organization and your key publics?
  • Is there an equal exchange and benefit? Are you seeing a reaction to your relationship management efforts, or are they falling flat? Should you focus your efforts on different key publics who are more likely to reciprocate?
  • Is your company committed to maintaining a relationship with your key publics? Are you continuing to nurture every relationship that you’ve developed?
  • Are you satisfied with the relationship? Are your key publics satisfied? What can you do to improve these levels of satisfaction?

For Better or Worse: Business Relationships Built to Last

Deal or No DealHave you ever looked back on a failed business relationship and thought, “Where did it all go wrong?” Yeah, me neither. Ok, well, maybe once or twice. But more importantly, I’ve found there’s something we can do as service providers to establish a rock-solid foundation with our association counterparts from the get-go. You may be interested to learn that the answer lies in effective communication.

Following a client engagement late last year that ended with kick-ass deliverables but a sour aftertaste in my mouth, I began reflecting on what I could have done better or differently to ensure post-engagement bliss. While I have no illusion that every client relationship will spout sunshine and rainbows (you’re right, I need to lay off the Care Bears with my nieces), I’d at least like to find some balance.

Colleague Advice

As a result, I immediately reached out to a respected association consultant for some advice. (You know who you are – thank you!) The first thing she told me is: “A wise consultant friend once told me if the proposal/contracting process is painful, the engagement will be worse. Walk away.” Touché.

Some additional insights from our conversation follow:

  • Prospective clients should be open to setting aside time to meet and talk as needed; and the process to do so should be relatively easy.
  • During the initial interview phase, ask more human questions (e.g., culture, morale, teamwork and collaboration).
  • What you’re looking for is best cultural/personality fit, which is why conversations and/or meetings in the proposal phase are so important.
  • Ultimately, we’re starting to form and then build a relationship, which means the human side is critically important.
  • Respect, however, is a two-way street. As the prospective consultant, I need to be easy to reach and communicate with and be accommodating to the degree I can, and I need to treat the prospective client with respect and consideration, too.
  • From the very beginning, be sure to form a relationship with the project owner and the decision-maker.
  • Help the prospective client to prioritize projects and processes.
  • Following the initial interview phase, spend some time reflecting on the conversation:
    • How did the initial meetings go?
    • What is the chemistry like?
    • Are there unreasonable demands/timeframes/red flags?
    • How easy/difficult is it to schedule time with the primary contact?
  • Assuming the project moves forward, identify who will participate in the initial kickoff meeting at least one week in advance.
  • During the initial kickoff meeting, discuss roles, responsibilities, expectations and communication preferences.
  • Throughout the engagement, circle back to project management. Are things working? What needs to be tweaked?
  • Finally, always host a project wrap-up meeting.

Agreement Clause

Based upon this feedback, I have added the following clause to my client/contactor agreements:

A “getting started” success guide will be developed by Event Garde and disseminated to you within three (3) business days following execution of this Agreement by both parties. This document will comprise:

  • Key player names, contact information and communication preferences
  • Expectations of all key players, including frequency and mode of status updates
  • Ground rules for successful engagement

Client Section

The success guide includes a client section listing key staff contacts and subject matter experts, their contact information, their preferred communication methods and a summary of their responses to the following questions:

  • How do you generally like to communicate day-to-day (e.g., email, phone, text, in person)?
  • What is your preferred process/procedure for check-ins/progress reporting (e.g., status updates/reports, meetings)?
  • What forms/methods do you prefer to receive check-ins/progress reporting (e.g., email, report on letterhead, in person, verbally by phone)?
  • How frequently and with whom would you like check-ins/progress reporting?
  • How do you like to share documents (e.g., email, Dropbox)?
  • What file formats do you prefer (e.g., Word, PDF)?
  • What else do you need from my team to feel adequately onboarded/successful during this engagement?
  • How do you like to be prompted when there are outstanding deliverables/needs?
  • If you have any additional insights from previous consulting engagements (e.g., what worked, what didn’t and what you learned), please share them.

happy-couple-having-meal-out-horiz_rs3iszEvent Garde Section

Our Event Garde section also includes a listing of key staff contacts, their contact information, their roles/responsibilities relative to the engagement, their preferred communication methods, guidelines for scheduling meetings and the following reminder:

Just like in a restaurant, if you aren’t happy with something, please let Aaron know right away (directly) so he can fix it while it still matters. 

Hat tip to Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE for her post on Getting the Most Out of Your Consulting Partnerships and her reference to this analogy.

Ground Rules

I also like to include the following insights into the Event Garde culture as a basis for each client engagement:

Following are some ground rules my team tries to live by. Thought I’d share them to give you added perspective into our culture. Hopefully, they’ll provide a baseline from which we’ll all work, as well.

  • Work hard, play hard
  • Be respectful
  • Stay open minded/positive
  • Listen
  • Offer constructive criticism
  • Don’t micromanage
  • No one is “wrong”
  • Respond to email within 48 hours
  • Respond to phone/text the same day
  • Participate/share ideas
  • Be understanding of everyone’s schedules

  • Life happens

  • Use tech (in meetings) for emergencies only

  • Get to know the person, not just the job

  • Ask questions

  • Assume the best

The success guide then concludes with a recap of the project’s scope of work and tentative timeline.

What resources/approaches have you found most successful in building business relationships that last?


Networking boredom solved

In alignment with Event Garde’s focus on networking, this month’s guest blog post is by John Rampton, the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Due, a free online invoicing company specializing in helping businesses bill their client easily online.

It was originally published on BusinessCollective.


John Rampton

Over the past five years, I’ve attended, on average, one event per week. For those who attend conferences and trade shows often, networking can become mundane. We get used to doing the same thing over and over: from quick chats between meetings in designated coffee/beverage areas to huge parties thrown at local nightclubs by conference sponsors. Each morning, we get up and do it all over again. Due to the repetitious nature of conferences, I don’t enjoy them as much as I used to anymore, and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.

Over the past six months, I’ve changed up my routine to make conference networking something I enjoy. With just a little bit of planning, I have been able to change my perception about networking and get 10 times more return out of every conference I attend.

Here are some of the ways you can make this happen:

  1. Throw a small meetup. Renting out a bar or restaurant — or even a hotel room — to host a conference meetup can be quite expensive, with really no ROI guarantee. However, you can achieve many of the same goals of hosting a conference event (without the cost) by hosting a meetup. Simply call a few local bars and restaurants and ask for some specials on food and drinks (don’t ask to reserve a space), create an event on Facebook or Eventbrite and spread the word via conference social channels. Keep the meetup informal and limit it to around 20-30 people. This allows the right setting to establish deeper connections but doesn’t tarnish your reputation if it doesn’t go so well.
  2. Hit the hotel bar. Every conference has a nearby watering hole. Pick the closest one to the conference and “belly up” to the bar. As attendees come and go, you will have an easy opportunity to strike up a conversation. However, remember that you are at the bar for business, so make sure to not go overboard with the booze.
  3. Go “hashtag hunting.” The key to conference hashtag use isn’t in what you tweet, but rather what you observe being tweeted. Scan conference hashtags often during your conference to search for small gatherings at nearby restaurants, bars and attractions. Searching conference hashtags can lead you to more networking opportunities, including small meetups, unpublicized events or just connecting with conference attendees you wouldn’t otherwise have met.
  4. Leave your lanyard on. As long as you are near the conference, you should have your lanyard with your conference badge on. Though it’s slightly embarrassing (like leaving stickers on new jeans), rocking your lanyard will let other attendees easily identify you and can lead to some easy networking opportunities — like a quick chat while you wait in line at Starbucks or an exchange of elevator pitches in an actual elevator!
  5. Read non-verbal cues. Not everyone at a conference is looking to connect, but it can be easy to find people who are looking to network just by their posture, how they are standing, with whom they are standing and other non-verbal cues. Networking isn’t always easy or fun. Hopefully the tips above will yield you some new business and add some flavor to your typical networking routine.

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.

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