This month’s Corner Office spotlight shines on Tino Mantella, president and CEO of the 19,000 member Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).
Association Adviser: Tino, tell us a little bit about TAG.
Tino Mantella: We’re all about educating, promoting, influencing and uniting Georgia’s technology community to foster an innovative and connected marketplace. We have about 19,000 individual members and 1,900 member companies. That makes us one of the largest technology organizations in the country. We were formed in 1999 when three of the state’s largest technology organizations merged: the Southeastern Software Association, the Business & Technology Alliance and Women in Technology. Georgia has 20,000 tech companies generating $13 billion in revenue and accounting for 17 percent of the state’s GDP.
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AA: Your membership numbers seems to defy the stereotype that young, tech-savvy, people aren’t “joiners” in the traditional sense.
TM: Young people will join communities if they see value. Two of our primary membership benefits are networking and connections. We connect you to thought leaders, company executives, investors, government and civic leaders, service providers and entrepreneurs.
You also get instant access to dozens of specialized groups that focus on a broad cross section of industries and topics. For instance, we have 32 different societies covering more than a dozen disciplines, such as international business, mobility, entertainment technology, project management and even offshore development solutions.
AA: Which part of the technology industry do you come from?
TM: Actually, I don’t have a tech background. I’ve been in the association world most of my career, having spent 20 years combined at the helm of the National Arthritis Foundation and the YMCA of metropolitan Chicago, before coming to TAG in 2004.
In addition to focusing on innovative new services, I’ve always devoted a lot of time to membership growth, fundraising, advocacy and economic development.
AA: Speaking of membership, you’ve had impressive revenue and membership growth during a very difficult economy.
TM: First of all, the financial crisis didn’t hit our industry as hard as it hit sectors such as housing, building and construction. It was the bursting of the tech bubble back in 1999-2000 that really hit us hard. Not only did tech companies take a big hit, but the bubble burst just when TAG was forming.
|Video: Watch these association leaders talk about how they integrate new technologies into their association communications.|
AA: So, how did you pull off triple-digit growth in membership and revenue?
TM: We do a lot of research and focus groups. We talk with our people a lot, keeping our “ears to the track” to get a sense of what’s coming next. You can’t stand pat or follow the status quo. We invested in a full-time PR director, so we’ve gone from 200 million media impressions a year to 300 million in just the first four months of this year alone. That’s certainly helped get the word out.
Also, four years ago we introduced Premier Company memberships, as opposed to individual memberships. That way an organization’s entire staff can take advantage of the TAG membership and resources. That’s become a seven-figure revenue stream for us, and we have more than 200 member companies participating in the Premier plan. They seem to like the convenience of one-stop shopping, as opposed to joining 52 separate organizations.
AA: We noticed you have a hefty 100-page sponsorship packet. Non-dues revenue is obviously an important part of TAG’s operating budget.
TM: We like to keep a balance of 50 percent membership dues and 50 percent sponsorship. It’s important to understand what sponsors really want, then put together a package specifically for each one. We want to make sure sponsors have lots of choices. Rather than focusing on a single annual conference or convention, we have more than 200 niche events a year built around specific hot topics. We’ll soon have a full-time sponsorship account manager on board. You need to follow up with sponsors after the event and visit them year-round—not just when you want them to sign a contract.
AA: Two hundred events per year sounds like a tremendous amount of work.
TM: It is, but events aren’t only the responsibility of our conference people. Everyone at the organization gets involved. Each of our 25 full-time staff members is responsible for developing an event topic—automotive technology or defending cyber-attacks, for example—and championing it.
AA: Can you go too far with NDR?
TM: You don’t want to be too focused on sponsorship for sponsorship’s sake. Again, we like to keep that 50/50 balance between membership dues and sponsorship.
AA: Biggest difference between your older and younger members?
TM: The next generation is all-in on digital. They’re not going to go to the mailbox, fill out a form, lick a stamp and put a check in an envelope. They do everything digitally, and they expect you to do the same. Our average age is mid-30s, which I guess is fairly young for an association.
Older members still want paper and younger members want everything electronically. People say you send us too much email, but good old email is still the most effective way to get membership—not Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Pinterest.
AA: So it’s safe to assume your membership magazine, HUB, is all digital?
TM: That’s how most prefer to receive it, but members can use the print-on-demand option if they’d like to make hard copies.
AA: How about social media?
TM: Obviously that’s an important communication channel for us given our demographics and the industries we serve. But, we don’t send all things to all people. TAG is a much more customized experience for our members. Like I said, we have 32 different societies for our members to join and each one has its own dedicated social media manager. Social media’s not a major revenue generator yet, but it’s coming soon and that’s where members are spending their time.
AA: So young people don’t have any interest in traditional member communication vehicles, including live events?
TM: I’m not saying that. Like everyone else, young people still want to get out from behind their desks to go to events and see people in person.
AA: What are you most proud of in your eight years at the helm of TAG?
TM: I have a great team of dedicated volunteers and staff that has helped us grow membership by 500 percent and build a prestigious board of 65 technology stakeholders. We only had five board members when I arrived.
Unlike some organizations, I like big boards. They open up a lot of doors for you representing all different parts of the technology industry and bring big resources to the table. The growth [in membership and active board participation] is what has allowed us to add a series of programs and services that support TAG’s vision of educating, informing and uniting the technology community. It’s also given us the resources to hire a full-time government relations director, who’s at the state capitol every day they’re in session.
We’re not just championing our industry, but our regional economy as well. Our ultimate goal is to make Georgia a Top 5 state for technology by 2015.