Inside the future of association marketing

Four emerging leaders tell us how associations can position themselves for what's next.

BY Tim Gregorski
Imagination Contributor

As associations work to future-proof themselves, editors and communicators under the age of 35 provide a critical creative resource. And those bright young team members can also play a key role in attracting younger members. That’s certainly true of Association Media & Publishing’s 2017 Emerging Leader Award winners (sponsored by Imagination) Matt Davenport, associate editor, Chemical & Engineering News, American Chemical Society; Kim Greene, senior associate editor, Educational Leadership, ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development); Christina Orda Tagle, marketing specialist, American Academy of Pediatrics; and Meg White, managing editor, REALTOR Magazine, National Association of Realtors.

These four editors, journalists, writers and marketers, who are helping build a foundation as the next generation of association marketing rock stars, shared their insights with Imagination.

Imagination: What excites you most about editorial work for associations?

Kim Greene: greene-kim-2017-web-2What draws me to the editorial work for ASCD is the focus on supporting the work of educators. As a former teacher, I know the importance of providing educators with research-based practical resources. It excites me to know that my work has the potential to improve educators’ practice and—by extension—outcomes for their students.

Matt Davenport: I write for chemists who are generating new knowledge and products to help us live healthier, more fulfilling and sustainable lives. Every story is an opportunity to introduce creative, dedicated and discerning people to an idea or problem that maybe they’ve never thought about before. Creating content that resonates with readers is an exciting, challenging and rewarding responsibility.

Meg White: Storytelling is key to creating the sense of community and belonging that will allow associations to thrive in the future. New members who see an organization that wants to understand their needs and tell their story will be lifelong members. My work at the magazine includes writing and editing of course, but also finding new ways to gather and tell the stories of our members. I enjoy listening to our members and using their experiences to illuminate the larger trends and industry movements. The triumph of one real estate transaction can lead others to victory, if the story is told in the right way.

Imagination: What are the biggest threats you see—either for your association or for the association world more broadly?

Matt Davenport: MattDavenportThe biggest danger is complacency. It can be tempting to get into a routine—relying on familiar sources or storytelling techniques—just to meet deadlines. You’ve got to keep looking for new ways to keep your core audience engaged while connecting with new readers.

Christina Orda Tagle: I don’t necessarily view this as a threat, but an opportunity: I’ve noticed the demographics of members in associations are changing, with a large number of younger members. We would need to determine what the most effective way of communicating with them is in a way that shows that membership in an association has value.

Kim Greene: One of the biggest challenges is the expectation that all online content will be free. How do you balance allowing open access to resources that can draw in potential members with keeping content behind pay walls so existing members see the benefit of membership?

Imagination: What creative strategies can help associations overcome these hazards?

Meg White:megwhite confpicks photo1 Crowdsourcing gives us the opportunity to hear from so many more people than we ever could before. But we also need to look for ways to use our skills to help members tell their own stories. If we provide diverse pathways for members to do that, they will not only find us valuable as an amplifier, but they’ll also learn from each other by consuming the lessons of their peers.

Christina Orda Tagle: I see marketing overall evolving in the digital aspect. By targeting a younger demographic that is more tech-savvy and always on the go, I think that associations should utilize digital strategies and tools to their advantage.

Kim Greene: I attended an AM&P Lunch and Learn session last year to learn about attracting and retaining next-generation association members. The presenters offered several ways that association publications can draw in younger members—in ASCD’s case, early career or even pre-service teachers—with intentional choices about cover images, story selection and content formats. If potential members don’t see themselves represented in publications, they likely won’t see themselves as members of that association.

Imagination: You've been named an emerging leader. What work are you most proud of, and how have you helped your organization evolve?

Christina Orda Tagle: Orda TagleThe work I am most proud of is the development and enhancement of the marketing for live courses. In the past year, the overall marketing strategy and efforts have significantly increased course registrations— exceeding our goals—with several courses having record-breaking attendance.

Kim Greene: One of my favorite projects has been launching a Twitter account for Educational Leadership (@ELmagazine). I know this isn’t exactly the newest content strategy in 2017, but I prefer to call us fashionably late! @ELmagazine has supported our evolution in a few ways—some planned, some unplanned. First, it has served as a test case as a secondary account to the association’s robust account (@ASCD). With some overlapping content and some unique content, it’s one more way for potential readers and members to learn about our work.

Second, we’ve seen informal professional learning networks pop up organically on Twitter around our articles and theme issues. In one case, two educators took it upon themselves to organize daily Twitter chats to discuss our November 2016 issue. That’s an editor’s dream—seeing your readers come together to get every morsel of information possible out of an article.

Matt Davenport: When I first started at Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), we were creating multimedia to augment our written journalism. Since then, our mindset has changed to making multimedia journalism—telling stories that are important to our readers using audiovisual platforms. We are also trying out new things including interactive graphics, producing audio stories and our first same-day news video about the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Meg White: I’m most proud of the strategies I’ve crafted to bridge the digital-print divide. When I first started at the National Association of Realtors, online content was an afterthought. Making the case for a methodical approach to producing online content and making print materials available digitally was initially a tough sell for a small staff. By creating dynamic, free or low-cost tools that our team could use to communicate, plan and strategize, I was able to lead us forward and establish a framework for continuing growth in this area. Now, we routinely execute digital-first strategies and determine how to make the most of our online and offline platforms to reach the largest share of members.

Imagination: What's on your content marketing wish list for the future?

Kim Greene: I’d like to help launch a blog to extend our content in a way that will allow us to respond to timely events in the field, reach more readers and interact with existing readers.

Christina Orda Tagle: Data-mining software is on my wish list for the future because I believe with predictive analytics, we will be better able to target customers and potential customers on a new level, giving us competitive advantage and increasing the bottom line.

Matt Davenport: I think there’s an expectation today that part of a journalist’s job is to help share and promote their work and that of the news outlets they work for. How reporters use social media and engage with readers becomes part of the brand.

Meg White: I’d love to see improvements in how digital versions of print materials appear when shared online. Also, I think enterprise-level social media management and email campaign software could both stand to make some leaps forward in terms of usability and flexibility.

published: June 26, 2017