One of the only things I had in common with the presenters at "10 Strategies to Ensure Your Publications Aren't Living in the Past" (a presentation at the recent Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting) is that we all had recently inventoried our publication strategies and made plans for updating them. Otherwise, our publications had entirely different organizational purposes. Also, our readers have very different expectations.
Still, the presentation was quite helpful because the case studies were so different from my own work. The more I compared Society for Neuroscience publications (SfN) to those of the Illinois Association of Realtors (IAR) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the more questions I considered about SfN's own publication strategy that hadn't previously occurred to me. Comparing my work with the AAD and IAR case studies really drove home the importance of knowing your readership. Each association publication's readers have different needs, and it is important to ask the right questions so you can identify those needs.
Knowing my reader demographics (from a 2011 communications survey conducted by Stratton Media & Publishing), I wondered about the benefits and challenges of an association having multiple branded publications. Both AAD and IAR members have various publication brands that are important to their members. SfN members, however, prefer receiving fewer branded publications. In fact, SfN is in the process of streamlining most membership communications. So, the value of branded publications is determined by the value your members ascribe to them.
I also asked myself during the presentation what role SfN publications have in revenue generation, and how does staff time dedicated to the publications reflect that connection. I think that there is an appropriate correlation between the organizational value of SfN publication and staff time dedicated to them, since SfN publications are a member benefit more than they are a source of revenue. In seeing IAR and AAD's publication revamps full circle, I can appreciate how updating a publication's strategy can free up staff time to expand the content offered to members and allow for more creativity. It is important to consider this: What is staff NOT doing while working on an outdated publication? You don't want to sacrifice social media outreach, in-depth member profiles, and other formats of content your members want just to keep a semi-effective publication in production.
There were a few main points I took away from the "10 Strategies" presentation:
Challenge your own assumptions;
Consider outside perspectives;
Build organizational consensus; and
Keep the member in focus.
The last point especially resonated with me: Keep the member in focus. The "member focus" is a moving target as members' needs continually evolve. Furthermore, without evaluating members' communications interests and having an organization-wide appreciation of members' needs, you can't create current publications with relevant content. Evolving could take a few years, but tackling that evolution strategically could put your membership communications strategy ahead of the curve.
How challenging do you think it is to create member-focused communications? What are some strategies that have worked for your organization?
Elizabeth O. Hurst is member communications coordinator at the Society for Neuroscience.