Monday, May 6, 2013

7 Takeaways for Associations and Association Executives


A couple of stories in the last week seem to offer lessons for association executives and their not-for-profit organizations.

The Fall of CPI

Since I had some interest from CPI for a cause marketing project for one of my clients, their demise caught my attention.

Here are some excerpts of Kavita Kumar’s story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  

  • Was this a sign of the decline of the portrait industry as a whole? After all, in the age of iPhones, many people carry cameras in their pockets all the time and also have lower-priced digital cameras at their disposal to take pretty decent photos.
  • Yet, other CPI rivals appear to be thriving despite the digital onslaught.
  • While there may be no single answer for CPI’s fall, observers point to examples that showed how an industry leader failed to invest in new processes and rethink how the digital revolution would impact its business.
  • For example, CPI still had most of its pictures processed at a centralized facility, meaning customers had to wait about a week to pick up photos.
  • “Digital photography has changed customers’ expectations,” said John Johnson, a former CPI employee who is now CEO of Picture People, based in Richardson, Texas. “Now it’s an instant gratification world we live in.”
  • Another hurdle facing CPI was that its fortunes in many ways were tied to that of Sears — a retailer that has been having its own struggles with store traffic and sales.
  • Mitch Goldstone, chief executive of California-based ScanMyPhotos.com, said CPI should have been on the cutting edge of photo technology and advancements.
  • “There’s no reason why CPI didn’t invent Instagram,” he said, referring to the photo-sharing service. “They had the greatest opportunity. They had a huge customer base nationwide that they let disappear overnight.”
  • Goldstone, who saw how the transition to digital photography was making his photo processing lab increasingly obsolete, transformed his business into one that digitizes photos that consumers mail in.
  • In addition to financial struggles and falling sales, CPI has also had turmoil at the top. In 2004, a shareholder coup led by New York investing group Knightspoint Partners succeeded in ousting seven of CPI’s nine directors, claiming that the previous board had spent too much money on unprofitable ventures.

Mobile Explosion

Isaac Chotiner wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal headlined When a Subcontinent Goes Cellular 

  • The article is a review of Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey's "The Great Indian Phone Book," which offers a comprehensive look at what cellphones have meant for India. 
  • Out of what could have been a dry study packed with statistics the authors have managed to write a superb book—informative, insightful, witty—that is essential reading for anyone interested in India, or technological change, or good stories told with clarity and purpose.
  • The numbers are remarkable: India currently has more than 900 million telephone subscribers, 96% of whom are mobile users. In 1947, the year India was partitioned and granted independence, the country had only 100,000 phones. 
  • "The country had far more mobile phones than it did toilets of any kind: 53 per cent of the country's 247 million households still defecated in the open; but mobile-phone density in 2012 approached 75 per cent."
  • Perhaps the most interesting story the authors tell involves fishermen in the lovely southern state of Kerala, whose business methods have been altered by mobile devices. "As well as allowing fishermen at sea to discover where best to land their catches," the authors write, "their mobile phones kept them informed of changing weather conditions, allowed them to alert friends on other boats to substantial shoals of fish and enabled them to call for help if a boat ran into trouble."

Building Cities

And, finally, Julia Vitullo-Martin shared this book review in The Wall Street Journal: 
How to Build a Better City.  

  • Not just how you build something but also how you revitalize a city are the questions at the heart of Alexander Garvin's "The Planning Game: Lessons From Great Cities." 
  • But for most of their careers, both spent immense amounts of time at public meetings, both were "master marketers," both sought out and found the best talent for developments, and both pushed through many excellent projects—until one day they didn't. They stumbled and fell in part because the agenda changed, and they didn't.

Key points for associations and association executives:


  1. Follow trends that impact your association’s profession or industry.
  2. Recognize the need (expectation) for speed in delivering services.
  3. Know your partners because what happens to them influences what happens to you.
  4. Watch for business solutions that your association should provide its members before someone else does.
  5. Turmoil within your board is not a good thing.
  6. Understand how digital trends are impacting your members as well as your industry or profession.
  7. Know what is happening that impacts your and your association. Don’t be like the builders. Be sure your association is not offering solutions for problems that no longer exist.

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