I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a panel discussion about breaking down silos within associations to help those organizations better integrate their communication efforts. Along with the executive directors of three prominent associations and an audience of 100 association professionals at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference in Washington, D.C., we explored three key areas:
- Examining your current communications program to identify existing communication gaps;
- Building a strategic communication plan; and
- The “how-tos” of implementing change.
It didn’t take long for us to recognize one glaring problem: There’s a great deal of confusion about what communication integration really means. We also noticed this confusion in our 2011 Association Communication Benchmarking Study, which nearly 700 association leaders completed earlier this year.
We asked survey participants the question, “To what extent are your member communications integrated?” Here is how they responded:
|Answer options||Percent responded|
|Plan to be integrated within 12 months||9.9%|
We purposely did not want to define the term “integration” in detail so we could determine the level to which respondents really understood this concept. So, what is the definition?
Definition of Communication Integration
Based on our research and daily interactions with some 500 associations in 90 industries, we’ve found that communication integration can be boiled down to this:
In essence, communication integration must have three critical components:
- Each of your media products must have a defined purpose, audience and frequency with a corresponding communication calendar (i.e., what goes out when).
- Each communication vehicle must have a plan for cross-promotion of product and editorial repurposing.
- Each vehicle must offer advertisers the ability to synchronize their messages across all media channels you offer.
How do we know that association professionals are not as far along as they think in terms of integrating their communications? In our benchmarking survey, we asked two follow-up validation questions. The first was, “Do each of your member communication vehicles have a distinct purpose that staff members can articulate?” When we examined the results among those respondents who told us their communications were either “Fully Integrated” or “Somewhat Integrated,” almost 20 percent answered “no”—their communication vehicles did NOT have a distinct purpose that their staffs could articulate clearly.
Another striking example surfaced when we asked respondents, “Do you offer your advertisers and sponsors the ability to place synchronized marketing messages across your various communication channels?” Again, almost half of respondents who considered their communication efforts to be “somewhat” or” fully” integrated reported that they did NOT offer synchronized, cross-platform marketing opportunities to their advertisers or sponsors.
Why is this important? No one needs to be reminded that members are more distracted than ever, and they’re only going to be more so in the months and years ahead. Thanks to the web, social networking and B2B media portals serving the industries you represent, members simply have more access to more information. When you couple low-cost, high-speed access to information with the current business environment requiring us all to do more with less, you can see that the competition for your members’ attention is pretty darn tough.