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Stay Relevant and You'll Stay in Business - 12/7/2010 -

The business of association publishing is changing, but it still boils down to providing relevant content to all member demographics in the format they prefer.

By Leslie McGee

The single biggest challenge for associations today is . . . digital. Not surprising, right? But associations need to recognize digital’s enormous implications and learn how to excel in its various platforms to stay relevant to their members—and to stay in business.

During his keynote address at the Business of Association Publishing meeting in November, Greg Fine, CAE, vice president of marketing and communications at the Association for Corporate Growth, focused on trends in publishing, particularly those related to media and generational needs of members.

The fundamental concept seems simple enough: "Provide content that’s relevant for all,” said Fine. But with five generations of members with unique needs clamoring for content, that becomes a significant challenge.

  • The Silent Generation (1926–1945) tends to join associations, but most are retired.
  • The Boomers (1946–1964) want to make a difference in the world now.
  • Generation X (1965–1975) prefers to focus locally and change the neighborhood. Gen Xers tend to make deliberate connections.
  • Millennials (1975–1985), the largest generation, are very connected and team oriented.
  • Gamers (1985/1990–) are even more connected than Millennials and require technologic social interaction.

Generations matter for associations because one product or message doesn’t fit all. However, regardless of age, different generations "typically come to associations when they need them,” said Fine, but he stressed that they want different experiences.

And Now Digital Changes Everything

Generational needs are tremendously important, but the current digital revolution added another dimension to that challenge for associations, beginning with smartphones. Although their small text can be difficult to read, smartphones enabled associations to get readers/members the content they wanted. iPhone began to change the game with countless apps, but not many bought the device.

But then, the iPad burst onto the scene, with remarkably real photos and a tremendous number of apps. Some publication apps are better than others, and Fine specifically recommended theEntrepreneurapp because it offers a very rich reading experience. That is the key: "Deliver a mediaexperience,” said Fine, not a digitized magazine with static pages.

Associations needto think like their audiences, whether they are Boomers, Gamers, or anywhere in between. Don’t assume that members are using digital devices in the same way that you are. In addition, members require more engagement with their associations. Although social media allows them to sell and grow association communities, it will hasten the death of some organizations, especially those that are nonresponsive. Associations should use social media and digital platforms to their advantage and "figure out how to effectively monetize that engagement,” said Fine.

The Future According to Fine

So what does the future of association publications hold? Fine offered his predictions.

  • The U.S. Postal Service will continue to present challenges, particularly to nonprofits, which will be the last print publishers.
  • The government will change how it taxes nonprofit organizations.
  • Printed publications will be eliminated, but the timeline is the real question. Within a relatively short amount of time, holding a print piece will not be critical for members.
  • Associations need to learn how to effectively deliver and monetize user-directed content.
  • Associations will become rich media powerhouses because members are invested in them.

Fine stressed that the next 5–10 years are going to be particularly challenging because associations will provide content across numerous channels and revenue will lag. Associations need to build business plans, show ROI, and focus on those they know best: the members. You can be invaluable to your members by providing the content they need in the format they want.

Leslie McGee is managing editor, Oncology Nursing Society. Follow her onTwitter @pgheditor. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering "The Business of Association Publishing" for those members who were unable to attend.


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