Thursday, November 29, 2012

Main Thing, Engagement & Problem Solving: Key Ideas for Association Executives

Today’s association executives face a myriad of problems. Changing demographics. Increasing competition. Defining income sources. Adapting to diverse media and technology. Merging with millenials as members and leaders. Understanding these and more.Three seemingly disparate articles provide context for discussions with your association leaders and association staff professionals.

In an Inc. story titled Do One Thing & Do It Better Than Anyone Else Jeff Hoffman advised:

“Become the best darn whatever-you-are that you can be. Set aside your other good ideas. The rest will follow. Find your "golden purpose" ... the reason you and your company (association) exist.”
Find your golden purpose. Stick to it. Then, expand. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Does Your Association Follow the Wisdom of the Crowd or Encourage Diverse Thinking?

Many association executives – me included – encourage crowd-sourcing as a tool to encourage ideas.

Reading a Wall Street Journal article (An Outcast Among Peers Gains Traction on Alzheimer’s Cure) made me wonder how we balance decision-making within our nonprofit organizations.

This story points to this tyranny of the experts as potentially harmful to society. 
While it is not quite crowd-sourcing, this story does make me wonder if our association boards, committees and staff can fall into the trap of what the experts say.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hockey Feud Shows What Happens When Associations Forget about Their Members

I’m a huge hockey fan. The greatest sport there is. I’m biased though. I played varsity hockey at Ohio State.

As a hockey fan, the current “lock-out” shows hockey leaders (management and players union) are the dumbest “association” going. (Especially because a similar labor issue cancelled the entire 2004-05 National Hockey League (NHL) season.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bond, Motivation, Einstein and 4 Other Items for Association Execs

7 Ways To Build A Brand Like Bond By Ken Carbone via FastCompany
With a bang, the 23rd James Bond film will open in U.S. theaters on November 9 and no doubt it will be a blockbuster like all the films from this franchise. The media buzz has already begun and actor Daniel Craig will attempt to once again put his edgy stamp on the iconic character. But the Bond "brand" is much bigger than any one actor. It is built on a solid and winning formula that has worked for more than 50 years. It's totally scalable, always on trend and continually innovative. A close look at James Bond as a brand reveals seven universal lessons that are applicable to any company in search of brand stardom:
1. The Story.
2. The Style. 
3. The Team. 
4. The Sex. 
5. The Technology. 
6. The Media. 
7. The Logo.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

When will associations move to “dynamic pricing?” Lesson from Black Friday

Back in September, I wrote that over the last 34+ years in association management, I've watched associations struggle over where to set member dues and how often we should change dues. We've had the wait and leap philosophy versus the “steady creep” model of small annual dues increases.

Whether sporting events, airline fares or Christmas gifts, our members are getting used to rapidly changing prices ... whether variable pricing (depending on the opponent) at a football game or differential pricing (for airline seats) or now dynamic pricing (for online and bricks-and-mortar stories).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you and your family.

SCDdaily will not be published Thursday or Friday.  Back on Monday.

And, to those who know me ... Go Buckeyes!  Beat Michigan!!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Association Leadership: Lessons from Twinkie, Kodacrome & Blackberry

Well, it’s happened again! Another iconic brand has bit the dust. Over the weekend, Hostess Brands – maker of iconic treats such as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread – closed up shop.

Lots of people are speculating the cause of the Twinkie failure: high labor costs, incompetent management, failure to keep up with trends (toward healthier snacks).

I wish Hostess was an exception. In reality, it joins a long list of iconic American brands in the ash-heap of creative destruction.
• Kodak
• Oldsmobile
• Newsweek (print edition)
Others (like Blackberry and the U.S. Postal Service) are floundering and struggling to adapt in time to avoid going out of business.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Napster, New Yorker, Freeloaders & 4 Other Articles for Association Executives

Napster, Udacity, and the Academy 
By Clay Shirky
Using what MP3 and Napster did to the music industry as an example, Shirky talks about the upcoming evolution/revolution within education in the form of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Shirky says that last year Stanford’s Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun offered Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, an online course that attracted 160,000 potential students, of whom 23,000 completed it! While Shirky focuses on the potential disruption to “traditional” education, associations should pay attention to what this all means to nonprofit organizations.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Big 3 (Costs, changing demographics and mobile) impacting association meetings

Like many of you, I belong to a national association that normally charges about $800 for its 3-day national meeting. 

But, the registration fee is less than 20% of the total cost of attending. In addition, I have to pay airfare/travel costs (around $500) and lodging expenses (about $950). So, my out-of-pocket costs total about $2,250. Since I’m self-employed, I need to look at potential lost income from being away from my work. This “lost income” can amount to as much as $3,000. So, the real cost of attending that one professional meeting totals about $5,600!
It is vital for associations and meeting managers to look at this math from the eyes of their attendees and potential attendees.
As more of your members (and prospects) start “paying their own way” (because they have become self employed or because their employers no longer pay for professional development), you need to be aware that they too are calculating the true cost of attending your meeting.

And, this helps explain why more people are looking more favorably on mobile education.

Several stories in the news last week made me consider the potentially big changes coming in association meetings & education ...

Professional Development in a Mobile World

  • By 2016, it is projected that 85% of broadband will be delivered via mobile (tablets, smartphones) versus fixed locations (hardwire computers) per Maris Stansbury in eSchool News. Such ubiquitous broadband access will transform learning of all stripes. From public to higher education to professional development, educators and trainers should take heed.
Supercomputing Conference Feels Effects of GSA Scandal 
  • The supercomputing conference, happening this week in Salt Lake City, is one of the first major scientific conferences feeling the impact of reduced federal employee attendance. The event, which draws a number of federal research labs that the U.S. Department of Energy runs, saw a sizable decline this year. While specific federal attendee numbers weren’t available, the conference, which had 11,000 attendees in 2011, has 9,500 attendees this year. This is despite a record number of exhibitors. 
Washington University joins group offering online credit courses
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Washington University in St. Louis announced Thursday that it’s joining a network of nine other schools — including Duke, Notre Dame and Northwestern — to offer courses online for credit. The project, dubbed Semester Online, is regarded as a significant — though cautious — step by elite colleges to embrace a technology they have previously just dabbled in.
Earlier in the week, I read a similar Clay Shirky post on Napster, Udacity, and the Academy  He talks about the creative destruction of MP3 and the likelihood that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are likely to radically change higher education.
While these four articles point to the future in mobile or online education, one story goes contrary to that thought: The Limits of the Virtual: Why Stores and Conferences Won't Go Away

There is nothing as compelling as direct human interaction. It strengthens trust, creates serendipity, and fosters community in an irreplaceable way. And although technology is progressing, there will always be a premium placed on meeting in person.

“Participants in every online community that we have joined have ultimately tried to find opportunities to meet in physical space as well. Communities that blend interactions in virtual and physical space ultimately become much stronger and effective than those remaining in virtual space alone.”

Both sides are correct.
Back on 9/13, I posted comments on “E-learning will Impact Association Education Programming.”  In it I mentioned the four reasons associations should experiment with mobile learning:
  • Accessibility
  • Customized content
  • Easy to check progress
  • Variety
Face to face conferences are costly; time-consuming BUT offer experience, connections and a personal touch not possible (today) with mobile or online programming. 
Yes, most associations have traditionally struggled to reach the majority of their members via in-person meetings. Before the internet, we called these members “mailboxers” because they joined and only wanted our publications. We now call them “lurkers” because they follow our social media posts but rarely, if ever, comment or become engaged.
So, as you evaluate your own face-to-face education/conferences, you should track:
  • What percent of your membership attends? 
  • What percent leave the meeting a day early? 
  • What percent of attendees are actually in your sessions ... especially the general sessions?
And, you should be asking “how can we revitalize our conference and conference programming to make it really engaging and useful to our attendees and our members.

At the same time, your association should be exploring the ways to dramatically increase the experience of attending your meeting. I love the post from Tahira Endean, CMP, titled Is Your Event an Oreo or a Macaroon?

Has your event become an Oreo - where your participants know exactly what to expect, from the level and tone of speaker and message, to the dinner in a ballroom with the same type of meal, entertainment and dress code? Where they enjoy and embrace the familiar, perhaps not knowing there could be more? More engagement, more thought-provoking discussions that lead to new innovations in their field, a feeling of being more connected created by program timing that allows for this to happen.
So, as you explore options for your associations delivery of content/knowledge/education, be aware of these three key points:
  1. Millenials (who represent the bulk of your potential members in less than 10 years) will expect similar offering from their professional societies and trade associations
  2. Cost pressures (not just on federal employees) means associations will need to offer alternative education and conferences to cut costs/travel expenses. 
  3. Technology shifts suggest associations will need to offer more than our “traditional webinars.”
Face-to-face conferences and events will continue to be part of your association’s overall content delivery strategy but not the sole part. In addition to adopting new elements to existing conferences, smart associations will be developing new mobile focused events that provide lower cost options and that appeal to a new generation of learners.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are you listening to your association members?

According to USA Today, the Harvard Business School study concluded that a one-star increase on a Yelp rating can yield a 9% increase in sales. And, four out of five consumers (80%) reverse their purchase decisions based on negative online reviews. The result was in Roger Yu’s story Online Reputation Crucial for Small Businesses  
Over the last few years, I’ve normally just smile when association executives tell me they “don’t have time” to engage in social media conversations. Sometimes I respond by asking, “Does someone answer your telephones?” 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How do you know when it’s time to go? Lessons from association executives.

The CEO of a national association abruptly resigned his position. The speed created speculation that he was fired. 

 When I met with him about his situation, he said, “I quit. The board hired an outside consultant and recommended the changes he recommended. It was a direction I did not support and I decided it was better to resign than try to implement what I didn’t support.”

His comments focused me back to my own experience of being fired when the association fired my CEO and said I could go with him. And, realizing that I had been so focused on my job that I missed the signals that would impact my career.

In fact, after learning of my job change, Charles Rumbarger said to me: “Steve, remember, it’s their organization not yours, but it’s your career not theirs.”

As I think about the CEO who left, it begs a key question for today’s association CEOs ... “when do you know it is time to go?”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Branding, Oreos and 5 More Readings for Association Executives

Here are seven articles for association executives. Enjoy!

Online reputation crucial for small businesses (associations) 
By Roger Yu via USA Today
Obsessive monitoring of online reviews has become a norm for tech-savvy small-business owners. The burdensome but necessary task has been made even more complex by the emergence of social-media channels, Twitter in particular, that empower opinionated customers. This article – written for small businesses – is important for associations too.

Is Your Event an Oreo or a Macaroon? 
By Tahira Endean, CMP, via Events, Life & Impact Points blog

Has your event become an Oreo - where your participants know exactly what to expect, from the level and tone of speaker and message, to the dinner in a ballroom with the same type of meal, entertainment and dress code? Where they enjoy and embrace the familiar, perhaps not knowing there could be more. More engagement, more thought-provoking discussions that lead to new innovations in their field, a feeling of being more connected created by program timing that allows for this to happen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

5 Ways Causes Can Help Your Members and Your Association.

I’m an accidental cause marketing professional. It happened shortly after helping create the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation in 2005. FedEx approached us with a request to deliver the official Christmas Tree to the White House. We convinced them instead to help us deliver trees to military families in what is now known as Trees for Troops.

Suddenly, I discovered I was managing a large, award-winning, national cause marketing program. And, over the last seven years, I’ve had the opportunity to expand my knowledge about cause marketing. In fact, I publish cause marketing articles on and have a separate @causeaholic Twitter handle.

In addition, I’ve seen the power of cause marketing to energize association members and boost awareness of the association.

The growing number of cause celebrations on Veterans Day and a couple of “really neat” cause stories caught my attention over the last few weeks and reminded me that associations and/or their members could benefit from well designed and executed cause marketing campaigns.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Association execs know that success is everything done right; failure is just one thing done wrong.

I’m not sure who originally said this but I recognize it plays out in associations.

The quote came to mind when I was reading a Wall Street Journal story titled “Windows 8 Success Hinges on $10 Component."

The issue is that bringing touch from tablets to PCs is a high-stakes topic from which association executives can learn. 

 Here are a couple of highlights from the story ...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Seven Secret Seeds of the Spirit of Success: Tips for Association Leaders & Association Executives

Association executives have a joint role with association volunteer leaders in establishing the association’s culture. Over 30+ years of association management, I’ve discovered seven key “seeds” to create a culture of success. 1. Set the Stage. 

  • Winning teams wield winning ways (attitudes). 
  • Leaders develop winning attitudes. 
  • Generate and reinforce a positive, winning attitude.
  • Reinforce the value of the group. 
  • Henry Ford: whatever you do, do with enthusiasm!
2. Cause. 
  • Have a missionary zeal! 
  • Organizations must meet the needs of its members. If they don't believe in the cause, nothing will convince them to get involved. 
  • Think first about your members, prospective members, leaders and prospective leaders. 
  • "To hell with your grass seed, what will it do for my lawn." Help them make it greener!
3. Focus. 
  • Stick to your goals. Don't wander aimlessly nor let your members wonder who and what you are. 
  • Most problems come not from doing too little, but from trying to do too much. Better to do three things extremely well than 10 things poorly. Be a mile deep and an inch wide ... NOT ... a mile wide and an inch deep! 
  • You need to be known for something. I worked once for a large national association which after 30+ years changed its policies related to federal policies. The change confused members and the organization failed to get more than 30 percent of its members to agree with any of its new policies. Members left and the organization went downhill.
4. Recruit & Involve. 
  • You gotta ask them. More than once. More than one way. Takes 7 times before we hear a message. 
  • They won't join if they don't perceive they'll get something in return. Make sure your sales pitch meets their needs. Offer value for their time and money ... the two toughest things to get from people.
  • Don't ask people to volunteer their time if you don't have something for them to do. Everyone has different interests ... different strengths. Finds ways to uncover them ... and put them to use. Create & use a time & talent sheet.
5. Economize & Minimize. 
  • Wasted time is the biggest complaint of boards, committees and members. Don't hold meetings unless there’s a need. Don't hold one without an agenda. And, don't have an agenda without an ending time. Time is more precious than money ... use it wisely or you'll lose it.
  • Minimize. Hockey teams change lines every 45 seconds. Great basketball players play only half the game. Football teams platoon. Organizations should consider the same approach. If the membership recruitment job is too big ... why not split it into quarters ... into “prospect segments.”
6. Inform. 
  • You MUST keep them informed. Key to involvement and motivation. 
  • Gen. George Patton said "information is like eggs ... the fresher the better. Keep the troops informed. Use every means before and after combat to tell the troops what they are going to do ... and what they have done." I bet Patton would be using Social Media!
  • Make chapter newsletters entertaining, informative and fresh (current). People like to read about people. Tell them what other members are doing. Brag about them. Create role models.
7. Motivate & Reward. 
  • President Ronald Reagan once said, "nothing happens without a dream." Give them a dream ...a vision. If you want action, you've got to motivate your volunteers ... rally them around your cause ... borrow tactics from successes.
  • All volunteers ... each one of them ... wants a reward for their time and money. 
  • Some want a "pat on the back." 
  • Some want mention in newsletter. 
  • Some want peer recognition. 
  • Some want plaques. 
  • Become big plaque buyer. Reward in newsletter ... send personal notes ... recognize at meetings.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Easy reading is hard writing: Lessons for Association Communicators

As I review association marketing and communications pieces, it appears that most of us fail to write from the perspective of the readers/audiences.

As associations, we tend to talk(write) about how wonderful we are (whether the association or its products/services) and use “our” language and don’t understand when members and prospects don’t respond.

Walt Seifert (my old PR prof) told us: “If you are selling grass seed, remember that your ‘readers’ are saying ‘to hell with your grass seed, what will it do for my yard?’”

A research firm reported to the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) on two levels: “What you are saying versus what consumers are hearing.”

Let me share an example to illustrate what am I saying?

  • When I worked at the American Soybean Association, we did a marvelous job of writing about the “features” of our national convention but had a difficult time converting our promotions to the benefits of the convention. For example, we had to switch promotion of the convention’s youth program from “Soybean Expo offers 39 hours of kids programming” to “know that your child will be having fun in age-appropriate activities in a safe, nurturing environment.” 
Focusing on benefits not features makes all the difference to your readers/viewers/listeners. 

Have you ever watched “cable shopping networks” such as QVC? You can learn a lot about the use of customer-focused language from them. Listen their words and imagery as they convince you that you can’t live without what they are selling.

I found this information on Coppyblogger ... great advice for all associations.

  • “Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already-existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copywriter’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it.” ~ Eugene Schwartz
Model your writing after these folks and other companies and nonprofits who focus their communications on benefits and not features.

And, realize that it is hard writing ... but the key to reaching your objectives.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Today Is Election Day

Lot's of people have sacrificed to preserve our freedom and our responsibility to vote.

Take time today (unless you have voted early or absentee) to exercise your privilege to vote.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Can Music Power Association Awareness and Branding?

I’m not a big proponent of paid advertising ... especially for associations.
Yet, we can learn from corporate advertising to discover any new promotional techniques.

Two ongoing TV campaigns have grabbed my attention ... not because of the product and not because of the visuals ... but because of the music.

The commercials are:
Once you hear either, it is hard to get the music out of your head!

These ads reinforce the power of music to capture our attention. Music “gets in our heads” and serves as a powerful reminder of experiences.
And, that begs the question: 
  • Should associations have “theme songs” ... music that burns your association experience into the minds of your members and prospects? Music that connects with your audience and conveys your association’s experience.
Any associations want to share how they are using music to influence their members and prospects?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are Your Association's Emails "Getting Through?"

Someone tweeted a link to this blog post.

I think it speaks to us as association executives and association marketers.

She shares the importance of (1) the subject line (the headline from my j-school days) and (2) the opening sentence (lead).  Both are hugely important today more than back in my old newspaper days!

Rather than rewrite it, I asked Katie Atkinson if she would guest post it.

You Talking to Me?

Guest Post by Katie Atkinson via

It’s Tuesday morning, and I’ve got an email In Box overflowing with messages.