Research Shows Association Leaders Still Bullish on Print Media and Events

By Hank Berkowitz • November 5, 2012

Hank BerkowitzBy Hank Berkowitz

There’s just something about the “thump factor” that you can’t replace online, the head of a mid-size national association quipped over lunch the other day. He was talking about his organization’s hefty membership directory, which remains a cornerstone of his organization’s communications platform despite the success he’s had with digital media products. “Man, that thing still has impact when it hits the desk,” he said.

He’s not alone. An association communications director confided to me recently that, like many associations, his organization introduced an eZine companion to try to save money and show it was cutting-edge. “Our members like the eZine as a supplement to the print version since it’s great for doing keyword searches, scanning quickly and archiving articles,” he said. “But at the end of the day, many members don’t have iPads yet. You can take the eZine on a plane, but you can’t always find a web connection. They could survive without the eZine, but they’ve told us loud and clear: DON’T TAKE AWAY MY PRINT!”

  • Surveys show association leaders believe their conferences and magazines deliver the most value to members.
  • Research indicates magazines score highest for trust and advertising receptivity.
  • Live events are truly the only time members come together as a body.
  • Experts say face-to-face interaction is still most effective for networking, selling and learning about products, services and industry best practices.

It wasn’t long ago that experts were predicting the demise of print in today’s on-demand, digitally-dominated society. Instead, it seems print, online and mobile are working together—whether they know it or notto enhance members’ reading and information gathering process. One of the explanations for this may have to do with the inherent trust that associations’ print vehicles have with members. In a Simmons Research study, magazines registered a consumer “trustworthiness” score of 337 out of a possible 500, ahead of the internet’s 318 and television’s 279 score. Similarly, magazines registered 286 out of a possible 500 in terms of “ad receptivity,”outscoring the internet (234) and TV (212).

So, it’s not a matter of either/or; it’s a matter of how you find the synergy between either AND or.

As Naylor’s Marcus Underwood explains in his piece about 2D barcodes, with a new technology that allows readers to scan print ads with their mobile devices, print ads can be a highly effective way to drive people online for more detailed information. Rather than waiting to get to their computers to look up an advertiser’s web address, readers can access it immediately while their interest is still piqued. And, depending on the type of tagging software being used, advertisers can track in real time who scanned the tag and how many times they did so.

So it may come as no surprise that 28 percent of association publishers who responded to a year-end FOLIO Magazine survey said they expected an increase in their publication revenue and almost one-third (31 percent) expected their publication revenue to hold steady despite tough economic conditions. The largest contributor to association publication revenue? You guessed it. Print advertising (which accounts for 63.4 percent). See Charles Popper’s story in today’s issue for more on the new era of competition for association publishers and event managers.

The FOLIO data reflects what we’ve found over the past year of reader polls and surveys in the Association Adviser eNews. For instance, association leaders told us as a group that their live conferences and events deliver the most value to members (rating them a 4.38 out of a possible 5), followed by their flagship member magazine (4.16 out of 5), then their member eNewsletter (4.02), their printed member directory (3.93) and streamed editions of their live conferences (3.92).

 As the chart below shows, associations told us they’re still investing the lion’s share of their resources in traditional media vehicles such as print and live events:

The power of live events



“We’ve heard it a million times that nothing replaces the power of face-to-face interaction with your members and customers, but I think it really goes a step further,” explained Phil Russo, executive director of the Princeton, New Jersey-based NAFA Fleet Management Association. “It’s the ability to persuade people with a handshake or a one-on-one conversation that finally pushes them over the edge after they’ve been on the fence about doing business with you or joining your organization.”

In 2010, Cog Research conducted nearly 1,200 pre- and post-show interviews with attendees of four major trade shows to see whether attending would have any positive uplift in their attitude toward events and the vendors who exhibited. It did.

For instance, before a show, 32 percent of visitors viewed events as the best way to “interact with exhibitors and compare to others.” This rose to 74 percent post-show. Cog also found that 37 percent of visitors believed pre-show that a trade event would be the “best way to meet new contacts,” rising to 71 percent post-event.Similarly, 38 percent of visitors believed they would “find out new things” before the event, which rose to 80 percent after the event.

Events are the only time association members truly come together as a body, related Richard Boale, vice president, director of operations for AppNation and longtime association event director in the craft, healthcare, legal and information industries. “It’s the nexus of synergy, networking, collaboration and cooperation,” he said. “Association events are where all the industry movers and shakers are going to be—and all the people who want to be where all the movers and shakers are going to be. You get a real sense for where the industry as a whole is going. You just can’t get the same experience online and virtually.”

That’s saying a lot for someone whose focus is entirely on digital applications and connectivity.

“My impression is that social media and related mobile applications have really helped improve conferences,” observed Steve Rappaport, knowledge solutions director for the New York-based Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), which works with many corporate and not-for-profit organizations to improve their collective listening skills. The number one reason for attending an event is networking, followed by content, said Rappaport, who authored the Amazon.com business bestseller Online Advertising Playbook and has a new book coming out in April called Listen First.

Reader Note: Click here for more information about listening in the digital age.

Virtual events

As we’ve noted in recent issues of Association Adviser eNews, about 60 percent of our readers work for organizations who currently stream, or plan to stream, portions of their conferences to non-attendees. By streaming their live events, many associations recoup a decent share of the full registration fee for the virtual experience. They also raise awareness of the event which helps registrations in the long-term.

I’ve noticed that many leading conferences offer content for free, through sponsorship, for people who can’t travel,” said ARF’s Rappaport. “There’s concern that streaming will affect registrations, but that seems to be a red herringnetworking opportunities trump watching content.”

In other words, virtual events have found money from folks who otherwise wouldn’t have attendednot lost revenue at the gate.

Ultimately, choice is what benefits the consumer/member most because it drives each offering to become better in a competitive landscape. As The New York Times “Circuits” columnist David Pogue shared with us in November,“killer apps” don’t really wipe out their predecessors; they just create “splintering.” TV didn’t kill radio. Smart phones didn’t kill cell phones. Satellite radio didn’t kill AM/FM. Each game-changing technology simply creates many more choices for consumers (i.e., members).

With competition for your members’ attention getting tougher every day, each media property that you fund has to keep strengthening what it does well, and shoring up what it doesn’t do so well, to stay relevant with members and reinforce your organization’s value proposition. Next month we’ll do a deep dive into this topic to see how well associations—and their members—think their communications vehicles are doing. Fasten your seat belts. It should be interesting.

Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser eNews.

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