Whatís in the secret sauce
for savvy association media professionals?
By Jack McHugh
are the characteristics are common among successful nonprofit publishers? The list that follows is based on observations I have
made over the years working as an advisor to nonprofit organizations and as an
executive. These practices (in no particular order) are not presented as
absolutes, but rather, notes on how some executives run and view their
Hire some new staff from the commercial (for-profit)
publishing sector. Experienced staff
from the commercial publishing world can enrich your associationís program
because they can bring to the table different approaches to developing and
marketing new products.
Distinguish periodical publishing from book publishing. These are two entirely separate businesses. Specific
differences lie in editorial decision-making, evaluating financial performance
and sales, marketing and promotion, rights and contracts, and graphics and
Provide the publishing program the resources it needs
to grow. Investing in a growth market
is smart business. Publishing is a business that can provide substantial sales
and profits for your organization.
Consider co-publishing to increase market reach,
reduce risk, and to expand into new markets. Avoid the "not invented hereĒ mentality, as partnering with another
publisher can be good business for both partners. Be sure you understand your
goals, and those goals are not in conflict with the proposed co-publishing
Understand that writing and editing are not the same
as publishing. Writing and editing
are an important part of publishing, but publishing connotes a broader market
view including pursuing new opportunities, risk taking, customer orientation,
strategic marketing, and new product development.
Ask if the publishing department is expected to
provide editing services and design services for the entire organization. If publishing is expected to provide editing and
design services for internal customers, then you must budget for this cost and
provide the necessary staff resources to serve these internal customers.
Remove roadblocks for staff so that they can succeed
with their publishing responsibilities.
Do decision-makers add value to the process or create roadblocks to progress? Opt for a flat organization so that
decision-making can occur in the area where the impact will be most beneficial.
Reward and recognize new initiatives. Publishing is an idea business, and
without an influx of creative ideas, your publishing program will stagnate and
Abandon a commitment to the status
long-tenured employees stimulated with new ideas by creating a forum where
newer staff can exchange ideas with senior staff.
staff performance based on expectations and avoid creating a culture of
with poor performers and disgruntled staff immediately with appropriate
corrective actions. Donít expect people problems to get better without an
the service components (non-revenue) and sales/profit components in a nonprofit
publishing program. Recognize
that some aspects of your publishing programs will serve internal customers at
a cost without an offsetting revenue stream.
competitively with the commercial sector and offer incentive compensation based
There is no substitute for qualified, happy employees compensated fairly and at
the prevailing market rate.
the silo mentality.
Emphasize the sharing of information and strategic planning on an
interdepartmental basis. Knock down interdepartmental walls that inhibit
collaboration and information sharing.
the best and brightest volunteers for their advice about member and customer
In addition to serving as subject matter experts, volunteers can provide you
with insights into what your members need.
volunteers in your publishing program. Form editorial panels and use your top volunteers as
subject-matter experts for your periodicals and books.
micro-management by volunteers in the business operation of publishing. Volunteers should set policy and
direct mission tasks but not supervise staff in day-to-day publishing
Customers and Research
member satisfaction on a continuing basis. Establish processes and systems to serve members and
to measure customer satisfaction.
a customer focus.
Understand what your customers want and need, not what you want to give them.
on market research, reader and advertising surveys. Avoid a self-congratulatory posture
as you evaluate your organizationís publications. Use objective data to make
that associations and societies are in the information and education business. This is true whether information is
delivered in print (books,
magazines, periodicals) or live (educational seminars and conferences) or
electronically. Find out your membersí preferences for the delivery mode of
publications and be prepared to respond to those preferences.
John B. "Jack" McHugh is a 40-year veteran of the publishing business and author of the McHugh Publishing Guide Series. He is a former publisher and director of programs at the American Society for Quality and previously served as interim publisher at the Project Management Institute.