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
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.
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
- 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?
- 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
- 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.