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Attracting Readers and Revenue - 10/20/2009 -

In a multimedia world, associations may be uniquely positioned to match messaging with members and wider audiences. But the funding model remains elusive.

By Carole Schweitzer

"A fundamental shift from traditional advertising-supported media to institutional communications,” said Jane Ottenberg, president, TMG Custom Media, "is a remarkable and relevant trend for associations.” Quoting from the most recent Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications Industry Forecast, Ottenberg set the stage for the panel presentation "What's Happening in Association Publishing,” Association Media & Publishing and ASAE & The Center's October 1 Lunch and Learn program.

Moderated by Cecilia Sepp, consultant and writer, CS Association Services, the program also featured Carol Dodds, vice president, publications advertising, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and Frank McGill, owner, McGill and Partners. With publishing's dramatic shift to multi-distribution and personalization, presenters shared the view that associations are well positioned with reader-relevant content, but it's unclear how they'll finance the expanded distribution channels.

Who Do You Trust?

Ottenberg noted that advertisers "want to be associated with your publications, because you have the trusted content.” And personalization—down to the individual member or stakeholder—is the name of the game. Content specific to the interests of the end user is what's important. "In that area,” she said, "association publications are already way ahead of the curve.”

Don't overlook the fact, Ottenberg continued, that "there's an online video revolution out there.” By 2013, 85 percent of media consumers will be watching online video. In the past year, it's grown by 70 percent. "You could have a weekly or daily video show to get content out to your members…and it's the next best thing to a magazine because it's visual and it evokes emotion.”

With the "distribution revolution” already a reality, associations are pushing out content in all ways: digital, print, and electronic. Use all channels regularly, advised Ottenberg, and optimize the searchability of your content. Is print dead? Not for at least five years, she predicted. And some, such as David Abrahamson of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, say that despite the Internet's profound effect, "the power of magazines to define and then create the idea of community will become more crucial.” Access Abrahamson's paper, "The Future of Magazines, 2010–2020.

Seven Critical Concepts of Highly Effective Publications

Providing additional advice, Frank McGill described seven key actions for today's evolving environment:

  1. Focus on frequent engagement. Align breadth, depth, and frequency of your communication with key constituents and their expectations—which have profoundly changed. "From a business perspective,” said McGill, "the print-only business model is dead, but print as part of the model is definitely not dead.”
  2. Assure content alignment and relevance. Despite the altered media landscape, "content is still king,” said McGill.
  3. Build a content hub. Create a centralized repository (from multiple internal and external sources) that delivers material via multiple platforms.
  4. Optimize platform integration. By integrating print products, digital media, events, social networks, and so forth, you can deliver content in the most engaging formats for your various constituencies.
  5. Explore strategic alliances. "We're seeing more and more collaboration. It's no longer a go-it-alone, insular world,” said McGill.
  6. Optimize reach, impact, and action. Deploy communications to create positive actions across all constituencies, advised McGill.
  7. Monetization is good. New additions can be sponsored, for example, and actually become revenue generators.

In the end, noted McGill, your magazine is now a spoke and not a hub. "Your advertisers, business partners, sponsors, and others are expecting integrated media solutions that will maximize marketing reach and increase the core impact and results of your association's efforts.”

Multimedia, More Work

With a flagship magazine more than 50 years old, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has reason to celebrate. Yet, says Carol Dodd, "it's definitely a time when we're seizing new opportunities and different ways to touch members. Of course, we need to find ways to fund those opportunities,” she added, acknowledging a harsh reality that the Lunch & Learn attendees could relate to: With seven websites, seven weekly newsletters, a daily newsletter, one major annual event, and some new regional events, the association has its hands full in balancing its media messages and the resources available to broadcast them. "If there's a takeaway here,” admitted Dodd, "it's that this is all creating a lot more work.”

Ironically, for all its new media bells and whistles, the association still realizes 90 percent of its publishing revenue from print products. A mere 9 percent is derived from digital media—and 1 percent from events. Dodd said that the association is actively seeking partnerships and sponsorships to help monetize its media. "Our contract sales team,” she said, "is working to understand new opportunities and effective ways to market them. But the process is fraught with challenges. We can leverage the depth of content that we all have, but it takes a lot of thinking at the front end to deploy it to your advantage.”

Carole Schweitzeris senior editor of Business Officer, the monthly magazine of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Washington, DC. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn presentation for those members who were unable to attend.


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