The evolution and importance of resource guides and membership directories.
On the third or fourth day of the year, I returned home from running a few errands to find the 2015 edition of the telephone book propped up on my porch. “Ugh,” I vented to no one in particular as I moodily kicked it across the front door’s threshold. “I don’t know why they’re still making this.”
As I grabbed the book and headed for the recycling bin, my oldest son excitedly asked if our phone number was printed in this edition. Since we haven’t had a landline in years, I had to crush his enthusiasm. “Besides,” I said, “anything that’s in this book is online. This is already outdated and not nearly as useful as what’s on the Internet.”
My point is that print media is struggling to retain its foothold, and while I don’t think that print is going away anytime soon, the ones who have consistently kept the presses rolling (and will continue to do so) are those who have developed a long-term strategy for ensuring print’s relevance while simultaneously embracing digital formats. There’s no reason why both mediums can’t coexist.
A prime example of print and digital living in harmony can be found in the resource guides and membership directories that Naylor produces with our association partners.
In my nearly eight years as part of the Naylor team, I’ve seen membership directories evolve from primarily a print-only affair to a multifaceted project that incorporates the best elements of emerging and established technologies. Nearly all of the membership directories we produce are now complemented with a digital version, and an increasing number of them utilize an online verification system that allows members to update their data without the assistance of an association staffer. This frees up resources on the association’s end while simultaneously allowing updated data to be fed into an online component of the directory.
This is a certainly not a comprehensive list of the innovations that have been implemented, and we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible given today’s realities and tomorrow’s promise.
Admittedly, we still have a long way to go, but I am genuinely excited about the possibilities afforded to us, as well as the willingness of Naylor’s executive management team to fund new technologies and expand our horizons. By design, this is a long-term project, but I’m looking forward to unveiling some of the innovations that we have planned in the near future!
In spite of this evolution—or perhaps because of it—I still routinely field the questions about whether investing the time and energy required to create an annual resource guide and membership directory is necessary given the wealth of information available online.
To that I answer, emphatically, “absolutely!”
Though it should never be an association’s sole communication output, a resource guide and membership directory is a fantastic tool that can be used to great effect as part of a suite of communication products that an association uses to connect with members and industry partners and even prospective members.
Here are just a few of the advantages that I’ve witnessed firsthand as a partner with numerous trade associations in producing countless print resource guides and membership directories:
- Promotes your association’s brand. Want to have a lasting, visible presence with your members throughout the year? Putting your brand in front of members as often as possible—especially in a hardcopy reference tool that’s specifically designed to be used frequently—is a great first step toward ensuring a lasting presence in the minds of your members and association partners.
- Offers hard-to-find content that promotes member networking and professional growth. Even though there is a lot of data to be found online, it’s still difficult, if not impossible, to find everything you need—especially in a format that’s easy to access. With a well-planned resource guide in hand, members can easily access content that isn’t readily accessible and allows them to harness the strength-in-numbers power of their association membership by connecting with other members for goods, services, training and even brainstorming opportunities.
- Provides yearly educational content. Associations can ensure frequent use of a resource guide by making it just that—a roadmap of the resources available to members. If you have continuing education classes scheduled for the coming year, include it. If you have content relating to legislation that will impact your industry, include it. If you have anything that members find useful and has a lengthy shelf life, put it in the resource guide. If the guide is intended to be a one-stop resource, treat it like one. Similarly, it’s important to take a good look at the content you are including. Is all of it necessary? Probably not. It’s a great idea to solicit frequent outside opinion or, better yet, let your Naylor editorial and marketing representatives create a survey for your members. What do they want the guide to be?
- Compiles contact information in one easy-to-reference location. If you’re an association member, and you’re looking for a fellow association member who specializes in a particular segment of your industry, as well as an updated list of government contacts, and an updated list of association representatives and industry consultants, you could click around on the Internet for 30 or 40 minutes, with mixed results, or you could utilize the resource guide and find answers in about 60 seconds.
- Enhances member value. As a result of each bullet point above working in concert, members often appreciate having a tangible benefit of their association membership that they can keep with them. Whether they choose to make the print or digital component the primary access point, they have a constant reminder of why their membership in the association is beneficial and essential.
This is an incredibly interesting time for print media. Certainly every association has members who see little need for a digital component of any print product, and every association must have members who prefer digital over print. Somewhere in the middle, though, many associations have discovered a sweet spot where the two mediums can complement each other instead of competing for attention. The associations finding success in this arena are the ones taking a proactive approach to the situation rather than waiting to see what their peers and competitors are doing.
In illustrative terms, think of print and digital each as a wheel on a bicycle; you’ll reach your destination (and your goals) a whole lot faster if you have both wheels turning in the same direction. Put in practical, real-world terms, an annual resource guide should be a key part of a larger communications plan, but it should be planned, and it should work in tandem with each of an association’s communications efforts. If you look at the resource guide and membership directory as another tool to connect with members and help make their lives easier, you’re already winning the battle for their attention, loyalty and support.
Even if a resource guide and membership directory isn’t part of a larger communications strategy, if you can create a publication that has value and is indispensable to members, you’re ahead of the game and serving your members well.
Carter Davis is a Managing Editor of Naylor Association Solutions.