As we discussed in Part 1, there are more ways than ever for associations to communicate with members, so it’s only natural to assume there are more ways than ever for associations to make the cash register ring. But, it’s not that simple. The key is finding the right balance between the shiny new objects that Next Gen seems to crave and legacy communications vehicles such as conferences, print magazines, newsletters and directories—the legacy channels that continue to rack up big points with longstanding members and suppliers even in this digital age.
- Don’t introduce DNR programs—no matter how profitable—if they stray too far from your brand or mission.
- An association must direct people back to all the communication channels in which a sponsor’s message can be seen.
Here are five more non dues revenue challenges that association leaders are contending with:
6. Why is it that traditional print magazines and member e-newsletters still rank so high among associations and their members? Our 2014 research found that print magazines remained No. 2 (at 4.20, up from 4.16 in 2011) and member e-newsletters remained No. 3 (at 4.17, up from 3.93 in 2011).
According to Naylor sales manager Katie White, the information in the member magazine is a member’s world. “The pictures from their recent conference, the article about how to improve one’s business, and the recent lobbying efforts made by the association are exactly why those who receive the magazine or e-newsletter belong to the organization,” she said. “Association publications don’t simply go in the lobby of a member’s office—they are right on the company leader’s desk.”
White’s colleague, Joel Turner, said both young and older members still enjoy reading things in print. “It’s right in front of them as opposed to being on-screen. There is also a level of credibility that goes along with a printed publication since it comes directly from the association. The e-newsletter is also something that the member receives with their dues,” continued Turner. “This is a welcomed email, coming to them from the association they are a part of, with information they are interested in. Even younger sponsors and advertisers tell me often of their preference for print publications.”
According to Naylor’s Kathleen Gardner, a print magazine is a tangible member benefit. If an association has great content (i.e., best practices, safety-related topics, legislative updates, etc.) that relates and strengthens the member’s business, then that magazine becomes a very valuable benefit for that member. In addition, many association members travel a great deal and would rather carry a print magazine on the plane than read it on a device. E-newsletters offer association updates, news, etc. and if an association is utilizing this communication method effectively, it will link to registration for its events and video updates and integrate with repurposed content from the association magazine.
- With so much emphasis on engaging younger members, how should associations integrate video, mobile and social media into their content and sales strategies?
Rita Fujisawa of the California Association of Health Facilities (CAHF) said her members are not early adopters of technology and that her organization needs to do a better job of educating them about getting information and resources online. “Right now, we’re out there on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, however what’s important is not just to be out there on those social media platforms, [our messaging] needs to be in an integrated strategy. We need to do a better job of measuring it [and determining] which social media tools fit our strategy.” Five or six years ago, Gardner said everyone was telling associations: “You need to engage in social media; if you don’t do it, your competition (outside the association world) will capitalize on your market share.” At the time, Gardner said few national associations wanted to embrace social media because they were afraid that somebody would post something detrimental to the goals and objectives of their association. Now there’s more acceptance and certainly more “Director of Social Media” job openings being posted, she observed.
Turner said he doesn’t see enough cross-channel integration occurring and that more association executives should be taking advantage of today’s technology to position themselves as thought leaders on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social platforms. “They need to be writing articles and driving the social education for their associations and the industry as a whole. Younger readers want to be educated through social media, mobile and video,” Turner added. “These mediums are extremely low cost and easily accessible” for both the association and the end user.
Gardner said that video is a highly engaging medium. “The stats are incredible and more associations need to integrate it.” She added that embedding a video in your e-newsletters will significantly improve open rates and engagement, and that videos can also be effective for promoting upcoming events and contests. Gardner added that the Association TV-style platforms that Naylor develops for its clients enable organizations to have “true knowledge centers.” These online centers capture educational sessions and accreditation from the association’s events–which can then be monetized via advertising and sponsorship.
It’s important to note that even as associations increasingly move toward the free open-access model, there are still smart ways for associations “to set a fair price for their resources.” My colleague, Kelly Donovan Clark, shares more in All Aboard the Open-Access Train.
- What will it take for advertising/sponsorship dollars to catch up to adoption rates of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook by associations? Our research found that those 3 popular social media channels had the highest relative increase in perceived value among nearly 2-dozen channels measured since 2011.
Gardner observed that it’s a slow progression in the association world, but she’s recently seen more acceptance of connecting with prospects on LinkedIn and other social platforms prior to a meeting. “That used to be considered a little invasive, but now it’s more commonplace.”
If associations are going to “catch up,” Turner said they will need to have a great strategy. “An association has to do everything it can to be active on those mediums (through writing/posting articles on Twitter, Linked In and advertising on Facebook).” It also has to direct people back to the association’s communications where the sponsor’s message can be seen. “When the association engages members in that way, they are seen as thought leaders and educators in their industry. Then and only then is advertising and sponsorship valuable to the vendor,” explained Turner.
- Our research found that member-vendor appointment setting events were one of the fastest growing association media channels since 2011.
White said that’s not surprising since association members want one-on-one interaction, which is hard to get at a busy trade show. Turner said it goes back to the basics of communicating. Events truly cut through the clutter and put the decision maker “right in front of a vendor that they would feasibly do business with,” he said. “For the vendor, this garners true ROI and not merely the chance to be seen in an ad by the decision maker they’re targeting.” Events also bring the key players in the industry together in one place in a social setting that is conducive for highly productive conversations,” Turner added.
10. Can associations go too far with NDR?
Matthew Gambill, executive director of the Georgia Association for Career & Technical Education (GACTE), said you need to be careful about getting “over saturated.” Joseph Ricci, CAE, president and CEO of textile and rental services association TRSA Ricci agreed. “If you stray too far from the brand and/or mission of the association, NDR programs can create confusion in the market and push members to become less engaged.”
Sigma Theta Tau International’s Director of Administration, Thomas Popcheff, believed that NDR can go too far if you’re investing too many resources in your revenue-producing programs and are not offering members enough core benefits, such as professional networking opportunities.
Annette Homan, deputy executive director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS), said her organization faced a number of challenges when they decided to outsource advertising sales for some of their e-newsletters. It’s not that the outsource partner wasn’t selling enough. They were selling too aggressively and too much of the advertising it brought in wasn’t relevant to RIMS members. The ads from outside reps were perceived as interfering with the content (and ads) that readers did want to see. Even worse, Homan said the outside sales team was calling on RIMS vendors so frequently that it was interfering with the internal sales team’s ability to sell exhibits and sponsorships to their own conferences.
As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” Remember, there’s a fine line between non-dues revenue and non-dues revolt.
Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser eNews.
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