Relationships and partnerships are built and solidified during challenging times. Both personally and professionally, the way we react to enormous changes in our environment sets the tone for our future.
Associations are the guiding light for their members and industry professionals through this time of disruption and unknowns. Members are looking to their associations to be the ultimate resource to help them stay informed of pertinent industry information, solve problems they are facing in their businesses, find ways to collaborate and connect with other professionals, and help each other stay encouraged through crisis. Communication is vital; your members want to hear from you frequently. This is also a great opportunity to open up your member-only communication vehicles to the entire industry, including non-member prospects – show them why they need to be a part of your organization today and in the years to come.
By leveraging your communications channels – and strategically introducing new ones – you not only increase ways for your members to stay engaged, but you also drive much needed non-dues revenue. At a time when many association events have been postponed or canceled and much of the workforce in our country is now remote, your association must find ways to communicate with your important stakeholders, share your valuable content resources, and connect people and businesses in a meaningful way.
It is possible in this crisis to continue to drive non-dues revenue while communicating effectively with your members, industry stakeholders, and advertisers and sponsors. By creating an overall communications strategy that pulls from each of the buckets below, it allows your association to create diverse advertising offerings, customize relevant content for different member groups, strengthen your brand and emerge as an industry thought leader.
Sponsored opportunities are quick ways for supplier members and exhibitors to showcase their product and service to the audience they are trying to reach: your members. This is particularly true in the absence of face-to-face events. Sponsored email blasts are a great way for brands to reach your association’s members and regular event attendees immediately and with a targeted, relevant message.
Sponsored content is a way for companies to engage and interact with your members, while also sharing their important industry knowledge. Sponsored content can be highlighted using your association’s current digital channels, like your newsletter or website. There are two ways to offer sponsored content: The advertiser can sponsor content created by your association, or the brand can contribute editorial they’ve created through their own thought leadership. If there is a concern from stakeholders about the content itself and whether it appears as too “salesy,” you can overcome that objection by putting sponsored content guidelines into place and having all sponsored articles clearly labeled as advertising.
Associations are the driving force in most industries for professional development, continuing education credits and industry certifications, so until live events return to calendars, associations are looking at other ways to provide the vital education that regularly happens on-site. As many turn to webinars, video and white papers, it also creates an opportunity for sponsors and exhibitors that did not get the chance to showcase their product and service for those attendees.
Associations with an ongoing webinar series, and especially those creating a new series as an alternative to missed live events, should be offering their supplier members the ability to sponsor through branding opportunities and contributed content. For those companies that were sponsors or exhibitors at your event, this is a great way for them to still get in front of their target audience. Plus, it will not only help your association cover the costs of the webinar series or video production, it will also help you recoup some of the non-dues revenue lost from events. Many companies that had budgeted their financial support of your association either need to reroute those dollars or risk losing them, and a webinar or video series is a cost-effective way for them to still meet their goals. This also creates the unique opportunity for associations to highlight what their member companies are doing to help their fellow members during the COVID-19 pandemic – many companies are doing great things to support their communities, and you want to help them share that message.
Of course, all of this goes for written white papers as well. Allow companies to sponsor your association-produced white papers, or allow them to create their own white papers that are promoted and distributed via the association’s channels. This is an enticing option, as it gives companies an opportunity to describe the product, service or technology in greater detail and in a format that is easy to understand and can be used as an ongoing reference. White papers also offer the ability to add case study examples, visuals and graphics, and tangible takeaways and resources to your audience. It’s an incredibly valuable product because of the content and analysis provided, and one in which companies will undoubtedly be willing to make an investment.
Many of your event exhibitors have brochures, pamphlets and fliers that highlight their products and services. With the postponement or cancellation of events for at least another month, companies have this collateral at the ready that they will not be able to use in the way they had anticipated. There is no better way to still get that messaging across than to include these as direct mail pieces either on their own or with your upcoming print publication.
While events are a great way to connect businesses with the organizations and people who they want to work with, it’s always worth asking your exhibitors: How are you getting your name out before and after an event as well? Advertising in print publications is another cost-effective way for exhibitors to still showcase their products and services to the membership. For those associations having to delay an event until later in the year, create a Product Showcase or Products & Services Marketplace special section in your upcoming issue so these companies can remain in front of your audience right now – they may even be able to use some of the same materials they had ready for your originally scheduled event, meaning they could be ready to go with an advertisement quickly. Of course, these special sections can be highlighted in the digital edition of your publications as well for added exposure.
With so many people at home and online nearly all day, there’s never been a better time for associations to evolve and enhance their digital communications strategy. People have more time to browse websites, watch videos and read newsletters – and better yet, they want to do all those things, especially if the content you’re sharing is keeping them informed with reliable, relevant updates. Newsletter and website ads are a great opportunity for companies to also share timely messaging about how their products and services can help members most during this time.
Your association can complement its traditional website advertising with newer programmatic opportunities, including website retargeting, to help drive engagement as well. For the associations that already offer these options, temporarily lowering the prices on these ads, extending delayed billing options or offering a new introductory rate could bring in new companies that are willing to try something new to reach your audience right now. As an association, opening access to members-only sections of your website or allowing non-members to subscribe to your newsletter for the next few months could be a great way to show support to your larger industry at a time of need, as well as bring in new streams of non-dues revenue for your association to help you weather the storm. Your members and professionals throughout the industry will remember that support down the line.
Your members are in need of a lot of information right now – that’s a given – so don’t make them search for it in a number of different places across your communications platform. Associations should be creating a content hub where members can find all the best resources, timely updates, member benefits information and new content related to this current crisis.
A microsite – a website dedicated to a specific subject (COVID-19, for example) or branded to your publication – is a great option. It acts as a “one-stop shop” that houses all the different communications the association has to offer, including feature articles, blogs, member news, videos, social media feeds, in one place and allows your site visitors to find the information they need, exactly when they need it. These sites are also key to cross-promoting your association’s other communications channels and can help to drive traffic to those publications throughout the year.
An online community is another meaningful element to add to your microsite. It’s a place where members and industry partners can connect to ask questions and talk through issues, concerns and best practices. Your members will be relying heavily on their trusted relationships to get through difficult times and uncertainties in the short- and long-term.
With both microsite and online communities, your association will be able to offer traditional advertising placements, as well as sponsored content opportunities, that will be viewed as relevant to your readership.
As the leader in your industry, you want to make sure that your association is top of mind during this time of crisis and that your members are receiving the information and resources from you that they desperately need. For those associations that don’t fill this need, you make yourselves vulnerable when members go to renew and when potential advertisers and sponsors make their next round of purchasing decisions.
John Bacon, senior group publisher with Naylor Association Solutions’ Managed Services Division, has more than 10 years of extensive experience and expertise in leading profit-generating operations for professional and trade associations.