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Take Down the Barriers - 3/1/2011 -

New content development strategies are emerging from a rapidly changing media environment, and associations may find their members best served when they share the driver’s seat.

By Joy Metcalf

Know who you serve and what those individuals expect of you—because if you don’t, all your tactics and strategies for content development and delivery won’t matter. This was John O’Brien’s primary message at Association Media & Publishing’s Roundtable Round-up on January 28, 2011. As vice president of sales and business development for EEI Communication, O’Brien led a roundtable session focused on content development strategies.

O’Brien and the participants agreed that the former content strategy for magazines was based on a deliverable: The amount of content you could deliver was based on how many ads you sold. But all that is changing. As print ad sales have suffered, so have the size and frequency of magazines. Meanwhile, amid declining nondues revenue sources, association members are expecting more without paying for it, O’Brien noted.

With advertisers focused on immediate, tangible, and measurable results, publishers must adapt and learn new strategies to deliver more to their members and readers with less, and in a way that provides results for their stakeholders. This requires change and, as O’Brien pointed out, people don’t like change.

However, the environment is not all doom and gloom. O’Brien spoke candidly with those at his table about options and solutions. Participants also shared examples of strategies they were employing or asked O’Brien questions on how to approach issues they were facing.

For instance, he commented that advertisers and members alike want the right to help deliver content as well as interact with it, particularly since content is so easy to create today with technological advances and social media. He recommended that associations create ways for members and advertisers to interact via social media.

One participant at the table said they were doing this by featuring discussion questions on each issue’s cover article with links to the association’s social media pages. Members can link directly to the association’s social media pages via the publication’s digital edition and immediately begin discussing the question with other members.

O’Brien also recommended using your association’s website to better understand your members and what they’re looking for. He suggested using a robust analytics package to gather information—then watch where your members go and what they do. The analytics will show what members are most interested in, O’Brien said, and then you can deliver more of what they want. He likewise recommended hosting industry news—beyond your association news—on your page.

One participant asked if it was dangerous to share the driver’s seat with the members. O’Brien’s response: Yes, but you have to manage the risk. He said that members will take control regardless. They want their say, so engage them in a way that you can manage, whether that’s through moderating Facebook conversations, or discussion boards, or through other means. O’Brien said that there are companies that provide monitoring services for a low cost.

He encouraged participants to take down the barriers and allow members to have a say and to feel the connection they have to their association. Another participant added that often, in his experience, fellow members self-moderate themselves; they take the association seriously and want it represented well.

O’Brien wrapped up his roundtable session noting that magazines used to be the center of associations. However, websites, he argued, are now that center. Therefore, advertisers want to be personally engaged with your members through the website.

Display ads are gone and they won’t be coming back, according to O’Brien. Associations must find ways to engage members and advertisers, connect the two, and monetize their available products and services. O’Brien suggested one way to monetize the connection between your advertisers and members is through a performance-based model; for instance, the advertiser pays a certain price each time a member clicks on the advertiser’s page.

Ultimately, though, O’Brien stated that the most important thing is to know your members and what they want. Associations can then meet their needs and connect them to the right advertisers as well as connect advertisers to the right members. It’s a changing environment but one that certainly offers hope to associations looking to monetize their content.

Joy Metcalf is managing editor, American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this roundtable discussion for our members who were unable to attend.


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