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Publisher vs. Membership Communicator—Finding the Balance - 4/6/2010 -

How can you manage the sometimes conflicting interests of the publishing and the membership services teams when it comes to sharing delivery of the message?

By Amanda Patton

EVERY DAY, ASSOCIATION PUBLISHING TEAMS STRUGGLE to find the right balance in serving two masters—the membership and the association itself. For example, how do you handle:

  • Inter-departmental competition for prime real estate on the website?
  • Unsolicited articles from vendors?
  • Member-generated content that may compete with pay-to-play association programs?
  • Editorial demands from a small—but active and vocal—subset of membership?
  • The sometimes conflicting needs/interests of a diverse membership?

"If you work for an association, you are in the membership business. These are your core constituents,” said Gretchen Schroeder, marketing & membership director, National Club Association. Schroeder and Sallie Strang, director, communications, for the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions, Inc., co-led Association Media & Publishing's March 26 Washington, DC Lunch & Learn titled, A Tale of Two Roles: Publisher vs. Membership Communicator, sponsored by Worldcolor.

True—it is all about our members. At the same time, it's also all about the association—and how the association voices its message and gets the word out about conferences, advocacy efforts, education offerings, membership benefits, and more.

So how do association publishing teams and member services staff find common ground?

While no one-size-fits-all solutions emerged, the Lunch & Learn discussion produced some insights, including:

1. Size doesn't matter. Associations vary in size and structure—regardless, they all struggle with balancing these dual roles.

2. Siloes are a slippery slope. "We get very siloed in associations,” said Schroeder. "I think it is very important for communications and membership/marketing to know what everyone in the association is doing.” One strategy: Sit in on other department's staff meetings just to listen and learn.

3. For members only? It all depends. For marketing/membership departments with a primary goal of increasing and retaining members—members-only content is a key asset. Other associations, with a secure membership base and little competition, may value the branding and marketing benefits of more open access.

The ratio of open to restricted content may change depending on the needs of the association and its membership, as well as the association's current communication and membership/marketing strategies.

4. You've got options. Websites, e-newsletters, e-mail alerts, blogs, website spot polls, listserves, social media… Associations today use a variety of media—not just their flagship magazine—to communicate with their membership and the public. Assess your communications needs and content, as well as your media tools. What is the right media for the message? Member-related content that is not a good fit for a quarterly magazine, for example, may work well in an e-newsletter or a news brief. Some options, such as partnering with an aggregate news service, can provide a member benefit and an additional revenue stream.

Church and State?

Editorial/publishing and membership/marketing may be—as one Lunch & Learn attendee put it—the "church and state” of associations. What happens when these departments are at loggerheads? Who referees? How do you make the final call? Although this scenario was not specifically addressed, Schroeder and Strang pointed out that overlap exists between these departments, and good communication is the key to finding common ground.

The take-home message from this Lunch & Learn session is that associations today have an array of media tools to engage their membership and keep both publishing and membership roles in balance. In the words of one attendee: "The magazine can be consistent with the message of the association without being the messenger.”

Amanda Patton is associate editor for Oncology Issues, the journal of the Association of Community Cancer Centers. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.


 

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