Arizona Attorney Magazine’s unconventional approach to member engagement resulted in a wildly popular member arts competition.
By Maggy Baccinelli
As editor of the State Bar of Arizona’s Arizona Attorney Magazine in 2003, Tim Eigo decided to take a risk. With a goal of heightening member engagement, Eigo’s team relied on its collective research and experience in developing ideas for content that was original, interesting, individual, and meaningful. Trying to stay outside the box, the staff acknowledged that art fits these criteria and decided to launch a member arts competition. Art is in the vein of human interest stories that drive the success of many association publications, but according to Eigo, an arts competition trumped straight human interest stories in being more fun, engaging, and inclusive.
While success seemed possible, facilitators of the project were not without concerns. They worried about participation, quality of submissions, reader interest, and available resources to accomplish the task well. Driven by these concerns, they got organized. Their process included getting board and internal staff buy-in, anticipating obstacles, creating a production calendar, and determining how to market the competition. Lastly, the staff ensured that holding the competition met the association’s goals and mission, which includes "sparking stimulating discussion through challenging and thoughtful ideas, creating a community;” and "taking an active role in which lawyers can better connect with each other.”
Since 2004, the competition categories have broadened from writing focused on law practice — war stories, cutting-edge legal ideas, political and historical commentary, etc. — to fiction, nonfiction, poetry, humor, visual arts, music, and video. Advertising for the competition also transformed from 1/3-page ads with Old English fonts to full-page modern ads with eye-catching slogans and images. They began advertising on the association’s blog and website, too. Not surprisingly, member participation increased dramatically: In 2004, Arizona Attorney Magazine received 11 submissions. In 2010, the publication received 464.
Winners of the competition have their art featured at the State Bar Annual Convention’s wine and cheese reception. They are also featured in the magazine — on the cover and in a package — after participating in a professional photo shoot.
Eigo compiled a list of pros and cons and lessons learned from launching this member campaign. He admits that because his staff judges the competition, issues with excessive workload have come up. To combat that, the team promoted the competition a little less heavily in 2011 and received a more manageable 306 submissions. But the pros still far outweigh the cons, he says:
· It’s fun;
· It engages everyone involved;
· Members are known to be competitive;
· It illustrates often unseen member stories;
· It makes members feel at home in your association;
· It engages your volunteer board, readers, and advertisers;
· It invigorates your pages and returns them to members;
· It advances the brand or your magazine and association; and
· It may highlight things that are important and meaningful to your readers.
The art issue, says Eigo, has become the most popular issue for readers and the editorial board, who say the art issue meeting is their most fun meeting of the year. It also engages advertisers, which is a benefit any association can appreciate.
Maggy Baccinelli is editorial coordinator for ACC Docket at Association of Corporate Counsel. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for contributing this article, which was based on a presentation at the recent Annual Meeting.