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Turning Research into Insight - 9/24/2013 -

Three fresh tools to supercharge your publications.

By Nan Hallock

On Sept. 6 in Chicago, Association Media & Publishing turned one of its most popular 2013 Annual Conference presentations into a half-day, interactive workshop for 28 AM&P members who traveled from Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin to participate. Led by Lisa Feldner of Network Media Partners and Kristin Gomez of the Association for Corporate Growth, the workshop explored no-nonsense ways to cast critical and creative eyes on an association’s current and potential publishing landscape.

Breakout discussions fueled the exchange of ideas between participants, and an in-depth look at the conceptual evolution of ACG’s suite of digital publications demonstrated how to bring informed ideas to life in service of audience preferences and priorities.

Who’s Who and What’s What

Participants stepped through practical ways to enrich traditional SWOT assessments (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), conduct meaningful competitive analyses, and apply objective, critical thinking to internal communications and publications audits.

Feldner and Gomez emphasized that the productiveness of these fundamental tools relies heavily on a thorough understanding of key audiences. Before anything else can — or should — be considered, a non-negotiable foundation must be built with accurate, in-depth, multi-dimensional reader profiles that extend beyond basic demographics, geography, and job titles.

Ask and Listen: Build Relationships

Breakout groups brainstormed ways to reach into nontraditional corners of the universe to gain unexpected and previously unexplored insight. For example, it was suggested that an association’s public policy attorney could provide a valuable strategic future-view. The member services staff assistant who fields incoming telephone calls could report "what’s trending now.” Extended telephone interviews with chapter leaders and sit-down conversations with conference attendees could yield boots-on-the-ground feedback from informed leaders who function outside the traditional inner circle of advisory boards and committees.

Feldner and Gomez stressed that audience understanding is not complete without an exploration of media consumption habits and preferences. Consider:

  • What news is important to association members?
  • Where are they getting it?
  • How are they getting it?
  • What do they want to get from their association publications?

New Media Consumption Trends

The stuff of traditional association magazine and newsletter tables of contents is no longer applicable. The challenge is to determine how association publications can effectively complement the realities of an evolving (and more competitive) media landscape.

Many association members now learn about their colleagues’ job changes, promotions, and openings in real-time via e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media networks. Mainstream and trade media keep members aware of breaking news online and via newsfeeds, listservs, and e-mails. Members aren’t waiting for print magazines and newsletters to deliver to their mailboxes anymore. They’re not even waiting for their desktop computers to warm up. They’re using tablets and smartphones on-demand at work, at home, and everywhere in between.

Feldner and Gomez cited a study by World Association of Newspapers revealing that 90 percent of all media interactions are now screen-based, and multi-tasking via multi-screens is a norm. This is not to suggest that print is dead, but to emphasize the importance of carefully defining appropriate content and determining effective delivery channels.

Don’t Quit When You’re Ahead

The ACG suite of digital publications interpreted what was learned about its audience, its direct and indirect competitors, and the world in which ACG and its members exist. The result is a strategic complement of daily, weekly, and monthly online publications integrated with social media initiatives — Twitter in particular. Each publication speaks to distinct goals while completing a well-coordinated continuum of communication.

ACG’s decisions were guided by the thorough development and thoughtful use of the research tools discussed during the workshop. The results have been successful — very successful — but ACG is not taking its success for granted. Feldner and Gomez emphasized that re-evaluation must be an ongoing process. Keeping an alert ear to the ground in between the formal, scheduled updating of SWOT assessments, competitive analyses, and internal communications and publications audits will keep association media and publishing teams ahead of the curve and in the driver’s seat in the face of inevitable change.

Nan Hallock is director of publishing, Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this event so thoroughly for our members who were unable to attend.


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