How to Create a Rewarding Career in Association
Association publishing careers offer robust
opportunities — if you never let yourself go unchallenged in your job.
By Stephanie Kern
school teacher. A public relations specialist. A journalism graduate. Like so
many of the professionals in the industry today, the panelists of the May 20th
AM&P Lunch & Learn, "How to Create a Rewarding Career in Association
Publishing,” didn’t set out to obtain a career in association publishing. Rather,
it was a happy coincidence.
panelists come from different backgrounds and the amount of experience each has
with association publishing is varied, they unanimously agree that the
diversity of work that association publishing brings them is why they love what
publishing is more robust than most careers,” says Stacy Brooks, communications
manager for the American Physiological Society and former public relations
specialist. "On the PR side, it is very one-note — professionals feel they have
a niche and are above working with or blurring the lines between other
departments. On the other hand, associations are so diverse — especially in the
scientific and health industries.”
working at a newspaper, the scope was so broad that I could never be too
specific in my writing,” says Brian Davis, senior manager, communications and
publications, for the American Health Lawyers Association and a 2008 journalism
graduate. "In associations, the topics and audience are much more defined,
giving me freedom to publish on a variety of topics in much more detail.”
Murphy, senior director, communications, and publisher at NAFSA: Association of
International Educators, agrees. "With associations, I get to become a subject
matter expert in each subject area that I am exposed to. I also get the chance
to wear numerous hats in the organization; this is especially true for very
Let Your Skills Shine
panelists further agree that during the first couple of years that a person
starts out in association publishing, industry knowledge can take a backseat to
publishing experience. "Communications skills help you succeed even with a lack
of knowledge,” Davis says. "Time is needed to become an expert at any job.”
sees it as more of a 50-50 balance, claiming that a professional must bring his
or her own skills to the job, but knowledge is absolutely vital. "I’m never
going to be an expert in my field, but I can carry on a conversation with the
experts well enough that they might not know the difference,” Murphy says.
of the field, when I’ve gained it, is the most important asset…though as a
communications person, I’m never going to say those skills aren’t important,”
Movin’ on Up
moderator and president of AM&P, Erin Pressley, vice president publishing
for NACS Media Group, asked the panel whether they thought there was room for
career advancement in associations, the answer was almost universally yes — but
not always in traditional ways.
there’s not an immediate vertical move available, you can always move
horizontally to a different department to get more experience,” says Brooks.
Sometimes, she admits, it’s about waiting it out until a position becomes
available. In the meantime, there is an opportunity to gain more
responsibility, develop skills, and get recognition from your peers.
Murphy, working for a variety of associations — from a six-person company to a
corporation-size — was his key to development. "Most of my advancement came
from moving from one association to another, as I rarely had opportunities for
vertical moves,” he says. In small associations you can gain knowledge about a
variety of jobs (for instance, in the smallest company Murphy worked for he
handled PR, editing, writing, and selling ads, among other jobs). But in large
"corporation-like” associations, the roles are very specific, and there is more
opportunity to move horizontally or vertically.
practices from the panelists include:
an editorial advisory board made up of members.
research the field to plan for the breaking stories — that’s the only way to be
relevant to members.
more proactive than reactive actions.
advance, you must make people know that you’re aware of and working to further
the association’s goals.
get caught up in sticking with one position or title — that’s limiting your
are and will continue to be overwhelmed with content, so your publications have
to be the best to get noticed.
the business model of your organization. If the model is bad, you should learn
how to fix it — or be ready to leave.
What’s in the Crystal Ball
for the future of the industry? The panelists agree that while things in the
association publishing industry have changed a lot (especially how we get
content out to people), the basics haven’t changed — getting information to
people in the best way they can digest it.
makes a valid point: "The audience is not changing as rapidly as the
technology, so part of our job is not jumping on the latest thing just because
it’s the latest thing. You have to know your audience.”
do you know when it’s time to move on to another job? When you’re not being
challenged anymore, the panelists advise. "Don’t get bored or outgrow your job —
you will find your skills may be outdated as well,” says Murphy.
Stephanie Kern is assistant editor at the American Staffing Association.
Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks her for covering this Lunch &
Learn for our members who were unable to attend.