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Where Science Meets Art - 8/13/2013 -

Combining the science of research with the art of communications, the Association for Corporate Growth provides great advice on using research to feed communications decisions.

By Mayu Mushina

Media consumption is changing rapidly. According to Lisa Feldner, director of marketing, events, and integrated media at Network Media Partners, consumers spend more than four hours of their daily leisure time in front of screens. About 90 percent of all our media interactions take place through a screen, and by 2020, 80 percent of all media is predicted to be digital.

Given these shifting trends, association publishing professionals must become bridge builders with their audiences, urged Feldner during a session at the Association Media & Publishing 2013 Annual Meeting. During "Turning Research Into Insight: 3 Tools to Supercharge Your Publications,” she noted: "We must transition from being reactive to being more specific [about what content we offer]. Where do you want to meet your members in a year, in three years, in five years?” The key is to create relevant content and deliver it in formats that match reader interests.

That’s where research comes in.

Case Study

At the Association for Corporate Growth, which represents the middle-market private equity and investment finance industry, Editor in Chief Kristin Gomez witnessed an industry suffering from a reputational crisis following the Wall Street crisis.

Meanwhile, ACG’s primary communications vehicle was through a partnership with The M&A Journal, under which 7–10 pages of association-produced content was merged with an issue of the magazine to produce an ACG-branded version for membership. The publication, while well received by members, limited ACG’s control over content.

Gomez saw the need to really pinpoint the ACG membership’s informational needs and how best to meet them. In 2012, she and her team conducted extensive member and reader research, engaged with the ACG board on the matter, assessed the competition, and more clearly defined ACG’s communications and publications goals.

The research uncovered a need for greater information than was being produced through the ACG-branded version of The M&A Journal. Gomez, in partnership with Network Media Partners, ultimately developed three new vehicles by which to deliver ACG’s messaging: a brand-new digital monthly publication, Middle Market Growth; a weekly newsletter, "Middle Market Growth Weekly”; and an online daily missive. (ACG also renegotiated its partnership with The M&A Journal.)

Three Pieces of Advice

Several months in, Gomez is cautiously optimistic about the progress of the new digital publications. The three online vehicles "feed on each other,” she said, where information is constantly pushed out through the different vehicles. The editor has plans in place to continue her research endeavors and determine who’s reading what and why.

From their experience, Feldner and Gomez offered three pieces of advice in combining the science of research with the art of communications:

  1. Identify what you need to know. Get to know your audience and how they’re consuming their media. Ask yourself: Who are they? How do they like to be reached? Where are they currently engaging with content?
  2. Generate insights. There are any number of people who can help generate valuable insight into your industry and association, according to Feldner and Gomez. These may include industry researchers, subject-matter experts, people in the finance and accounting departments, even IT staff who can look through helpdesk tickets to determine what issues are coming up most often.
  3. Select a tool and get started. A number of tools exist to help editors answer questions about their members’ media consumption habits and content needs. Feldner and Gomez suggested conducting a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A competitive analysis gives greater insight into the competition, what audiences they serve, and what is unique about their brand. (Two free tools to consider: Alexa.com and Wildfire by Google.) Finally, a communications audit is helpful to determine what’s working and what’s not with one’s own communications vehicles.

Ultimately, said Feldner and Gomez, research helps professionals understand the context in which their publications operate. It lends greater credibility to their communications efforts and, if necessary, can justify recommendations for change.

Most importantly, though, research helps us understand and connect with our audience — the very thing every association publishing professional is trying to do in the first place.

Mayu Mishina is senior writer and publications manager at the African Wildlife Foundation. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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