Defining and Leveraging Your Sphere of Influence

By • November 5, 2012

A number of years ago, I was hired to be the publisher of Orlando Magazine—an upscale, luxury monthly that catered to the affluent residents of Central Florida. Being new to the area, my CEO’s first assignment to me was: “Get to know the right people in Orlando.”

The more I thought about this simple directive and discussed it with my staff, the more powerful it became. As time progressed, it became the foundation of our business strategy that translated into a 75 percent increase in revenue in less than two years and a buzz that echoed throughout the city. We called the “right people of Orlando” our “sphere of influence.”

  • Define the centers of influence that you and your organization need to be in front of every day in order to be most effective. 
  • Once your list is created, you have to keep working it—and maintaining it. 
  • Reach out frequently to your centers of influence, but make every touch-point count. They’re especially busy people and organizations. Don’t risk over communicating with them. 
  • Ask yourself every day what you’re doing to make those on your sphere of influence feel valued.

Getting Started

Developing and maintaining this list of key influencers was the critical first step to implementing our new strategy. We felt that in a city of Orlando’s size, there were approximately 150 key people that we needed to be in front of at all times. This A-list was composed of CEO’s of the largest local businesses, political figures, leaders in the hospitality industry (it’s Orlando after all), personalities from local TV, radio and newspaper media and, of course, our top advertising clients. We found that on any given evening, many of these A-listers could be found at local events, networking functions or on the evening news. With the list complete and a commitment to reviewing it on a quarterly basis, our next priority was to figure out how to use this list effectively.

When you look at influential people in the positions described above, you’ll find they usually have great stories to tell about how they achieved their success, how they were working to make their city a better place and what their involvement is in the city’s philanthropic scene. If you’re an association editor, membership director or conference planner, you can draw many parallels to your own industry’s list of key influencers. More on that in a minute.

Our Orlando 150 list became the foundation for a number of important editorial features and mentions in each issue of the magazine. When it came time to mail the magazine each month, we invested in first class postage to our sphere-of-influence members, and if they were mentioned or featured in that month’s edition, my editor or I hand-delivered a copy to them with a hand written note. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long until we started to hear comments from people who were featured in the magazine. A typical refrain was: “You cannot believe how many people have come up to me and commented that they saw me in Orlando magazine.” Many of these people controlled large advertising budgets, and we were demonstrating how effective the magazine could be at delivering a message. It did not take long for them to make the investment with us to deliver their advertising message to our readers as well. In addition to our distribution strategy, this sphere also became our VIP invite list to any magazine events we produced, any reader panels we created or any specially targeted offers we put together for our advertisers.

The impact that the sphere of influence has can be carried over to many industries and professional communities. While the concept is not entirely unique and many organizations have incorporated aspects of this strategy into their marketing, few have a focus and commitment to fully maximize its impact. The list must be given much thought, managed, limited to a manageable number and used in all that one does.

That’s the whole idea behind creating of a big wave with a small rock.

Who is in your sphere of influence? What will you do with that list?

If you’re an association editor, executive director, membership director or trade show manager, you probably have a list of influential members, organizations, suppliers and constituents that you keep in your head, if it’s not formally documented. But are you really leveraging it to your full advantage?

If you’re a trade show manager, are you reaching out consistently to all the key attendees who would be of most interest to your exhibitors? Are you attracting all the A-list exhibitors who would be of most interest to your attendees and who give your show the credibility to pull other exhibitors in with them?

If you’re a membership director, are you recruiting and retaining the high-visibility people (and organizations) within your industry or profession that give you the “cred” that induces others to follow them on board? If you’re an association magazine or newsletter publisher, are you reaching the highly visible and vocal readers who are most likely to share your articles with others, post comments on your sites and forums and recommend to industry peers that they read your content? Is your ad sales team attracting the market-leading vendors who, by their presence in your pages, incent other industry suppliers (and competitors) to advertise with you?

By strategically leveraging your spheres of influence—and constantly updating your list—you will cement relationships with members and suppliers, increase your industry credibility and have a bigger impact with fewer resources of time and money invested.

That’s a win-win any time, especially in this economy.

Charles Popper is Naylor’s vice president of association relations. He has more than 15 years of business-to-business and consumer publishing experience.


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