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The Importance of Thinking it Through - 1/4/2011 -

What’s the role of strategic planning in diversifying your association’s media offerings? Looking back on their own recent experience, the members of one association publishing team share valuable lessons learned.

By Jeanne Marie Tokunaga

Are you feeling the pressure to progress your association’s publication efforts from print-only to "multi-channel publishing?” If so, in your rush to meet your members’ demand for new media, don’t forget the basics of sound project management — particularly strategic objectives — when plotting your course.

That was the message shared by Anne Zender, vice president of communications for the

Anne Zender, Vice President Communications of American
Health Information Management Association, speaks with Jeanne Marie
 Tokunaga, Publications Manager for the California Dental Association,
following Anne's presentation.
American Health Management Association (AHIMA), at the recent Association Media & Publishing one-day conference in Chicago, "The Business of Association Publishing.”

In a presentation titled: "If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Twitter: Managing Content Across Multiple Channels,” Zender and two other AHIMA staff members shared their experiences with the brave new world of rich media; and in hindsight they acknowledged that they could have spent even more time on strategic planning.

"Spend more time up front talking about objectives,” advised Kevin Heubusch, editor in chief of the Journal of AHIMA, the association’s print magazine, which has a companion website.

Many association professionals feel the "need” to enhance their media offerings, but Zender and her staff suggest that any association considering doing so should take the time to identify the strategic objectives and get total staff buy-in before getting too far with the project.

Sound familiar? It’s basic project management, and Zender made the point that any other initiative of equal importance to the association would have been subject to a full strategic planning process.

Jewelle Hicks, editor of Perspectives in Health Information Management, AHIMA’s online peer-reviewed research publication, admitted that in the hurry to take that publication digital, some of the appropriate planning steps were missed, such as evaluating future needs. Rushing the process resulted in AHIMA needing to rethink the project after only a few years.

In addition to the Journal and Perspectives, AHIMA uses several other communication channels. Each has its own purposes for members and the association. "It’s all about using the right medium for the right person at the right time,” Zender said.

(1) E-newsletters. AHIMA has several targeted e-newsletters, each with its own mission statement, which is an important part of knowing which messages fit each newsletter best.

(2) Video. "Video can be done relatively inexpensively,” Zender assured her audience. "You just need to invest some time.” AHIMA’s strategies include:

· Professionally produced videos;

· Homemade videos made using Skype;

· Video diary done at AHIMA’s convention; and

· A video contest.

(3) Social media. AHIMA’s strategies include a proprietary social media outlet, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Zender advised that social media "is a great way to find out what’s on people’s minds,” but that you need to be open to and prepared for dissenting views. "There is an art to responding to even the most vocal minority,” she said.

Lack of staff time is often cited as a reason not to engage in social media. AHIMA’s solution? Small, standing staff committees work with rotating monitoring of social media outlets.

The Voices of Experience

From Zender, Hicks, and Heubusch’s comments, a number of "If I had known then what I know now” tips could be gleaned:

(1) Many digital channels and formats are available. They are nothing more than communication channels. As with any communication channel, digital or not, use what fits the message, the audience, and the desired outcome.

(2) Content rules, regardless of the channel.

(3) Resist the urge to do it all. "You can do anything on the web, so you feel like you should do everything,” Heubusch said. Only commit to what you can reasonably accomplish.

(4) Measure everything. Good metrics help both editors and advertisers plan.

(5) Never forget your members’ perspective: "What’s in it for me?”

Jeanne Marie Tokunaga is the publications manager for the California Dental Association, and although she loves her iPhone, she loves print more. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this educational session for those members who were unable to attend


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