Marketing & Communications

From Start to Finish: Essentials to a Winning Communications Program (second in a series)

By • November 5, 2012

 By Dana Plotke

As we discussed last month, a winning communication plan starts with a commitment to defining your goals clearly and honestly from the outset. You've also got to ensure you have the right team to execute those goals, a strong understanding of how your members prefer to engage with your communication pieces and a commitment to developing timely and relevant content that's consistent with your association's values and brand identity.

Easy enough, right? Not so fast. Even by taking these steps, there's no guarantee your important communications will stay top of mind with your members, your vendors and the legislators you need to reach. With so much media competing for their attention, your success depends on how well you convince your time-pressed, information-overloaded recipients to listen to what you have to say and ultimately take the action you've requested.

Here are five additional important steps you should consider to increase your chances of producing a winning communication strategy:

  • Incorporate advertising for added value. It enhances the reader experience, generates non-dues revenue and can stimulate new membership leads.

  • Use the latest printing techniques. The upfront legwork it takes to find the right partner will pay huge dividends down the road. 

  • Develop a detailed distribution plan. Make sure you've considered how you'll reach members at the right time and with the right message on the right delivery platform. 

  • Integrate print, online and events for maximum impact. Take a holistic, rather than scattershot, approach to reaching members and respect “recency and frequency” best practices.

  • Measure. You can't manage what you don't measure. Your next communications piece is only as good as your last if you don't track responses and determine what's working and what isn't.

1. Incorporate advertising for added value
Advertising should, at the very least, complement the overall feel of a publication. If introduced properly, relevant advertising should elevate your publication's value to the reader by providing valuable information about vendors and suppliers who can help them while providing your organization with a steady stream of non-dues revenue. Many of our clients have enjoyed another benefit of incorporating advertising into their publications: the act of reaching out to non-member companies on behalf of your organization often results in new membership leads – even if a sale is not consummated at the time.

2. Use the latest printing techniques
A top-quality publication doesn't end with attractive design, superior editorial content and effective advertising. Securing professional printing services is equally important. When considering prospective printers, ask for samples of their work, find out what kind of ink and paper will be used on your publication and call other clients who've used the printer to get a complete assessment of its capabilities. Digital printing has leveled the playing field when it comes to producing high-quality materials that can be turned around quickly – and affordably. Digital printing is changing the way we think about printed media by offering the ability to customize your message to each individual reader, thus maximizing the effectiveness of your communications.

3. Develop a detailed distribution plan
Now that your publication is printed, you must decide how you will get it into the hands of your readers. You may choose to direct-mail your message using an internal mailing list or a rented list. If direct-mail is not a fit for you, you can hand out the publication on-site at upcoming events or meetings. With both options, consider feasibility and cost. Who will update and maintain your mailing lists? How much revenue are you willing to devote to fulfillment, postage and shipping? Who will ensure that your printed pieces arrive at your event on time?

4. Integrate print, online and events for maximum impact
Developing solid print materials is important to any good marketing and communications program. But, it's just the first step. There are many other means of staying top of mind with members, and you should consider a balanced combination of print, online and event communications. Many of our clients are having great success with e-Newsletters, digital magazines, online buyers' guides, trade show guides, webinars and podcasts to enhance, not replace, their print publications.

Integration Checklist

m In what ways will integrating your message make it more effective?
m How will you get feedback from your readers?
m Do you know how often members like to be reached and on what platform they're most receptive?

*** Send your completed checklist here for a FREE assessment of your communication integration progress.

5. Evaluate effectiveness
You can't manage what you don't measure. Your next communications piece is only as good as your last if you don't track responses and determine what's working and what isn't. Reader surveys are a good start to getting feedback from your audience and keeping your finger on the pulse of your readership. But you've also got to do telephone follow-up to elicit verbatim responses and better yet, meet them in person as often as possible at industry gatherings, seminars, conferences and events. In most industries, members are more than happy to share feedback with you, and regardless of how they feel, they won't sugarcoat the truth.

By building a holistic, rather than scattershot, communications platform that monetizes each member touchpoint, uses the best tools available to streamline your costs and is constantly (and honestly) measured, you'll greatly increase your odds of producing a winning communication plan that pays off in numerous ways.

Dana Plotke has worked in B2B marketing and communications for more than 15 years, with a focus on association media and events since 2002. She leads the marketing efforts of Naylor, LLC.

Naylor Senior Editor Colleen Raccioppi contributed to this article.

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