For more than a decade, we have had the pleasure of serving some of the most prestigious associations in the country. From major industry groups to professional organizations, we’ve guided many of these clients through the process of reinventing and strengthening communications tactics and strategies. While admittedly anecdotal, our experience does point to some commonality between associations (and other non-profits) and their marketing and communications aspirations during this dynamic digital age. Here’s a mix of what we’re seeing and some general advice:
Online presence: From library to storefront.
It’s not a big insight to say that a lot of associations are redesigning their websites, but the changes they’re willing to make signal a whole new mindset. In short, many are willing to make the big shift online from “library to storefront.” In other words, the website isn’t just a repository of information and resources for members and academics, but a compelling advocacy tool that immediately tells any audience who they are, what they do, and what they stand for. This is worth noting, because letting go of reams of online content – that has just always been there – can be difficult. For those that make the switch, however, the rewards can be great.
First, get their attention.
We have never represented a client whose issues are not in some way critical to the national discourse, or dealt in matters important to the well-being of certain constituencies or the public at large. But no matter how serious, detailed and well-though-out a position, you have to get people to notice you first. That might mean getting creative – a dramatic image, graphic or headline, for instance, used online and in other ways, that ensures someone is looking in your direction. Yes, you have serious things to say, but if no one’s paying attention, you’re back to the whole “tree in the woods” analogy…
Have a point of view.
You care about your association’s issues, right? In fact, you and your colleagues might be brimming with passion. So, why don’t your marketing and PR messages convey that? Advertisers have known how to arouse consumer passions for a long time. They appeal to emotion and how their products will affect your life. We can’t do that, you say, we’re an august group of experts in our field – we deal in facts, not emotions. But don’t your members have an impact (or want to have an impact) on people? Think about the reaction you want people to have when they first encounter your organization’s brand. Make them feel something first, then you can get them to think. And that doesn’t mean playing on fears. Remember the positive emotions you can harness: Sympathy, excitement and hope, to name a few.
This doesn’t mean you run amok with your message – it should always be tied back to your mission, strategic plan and some serious communications objectives. But for goodness’ sake, have a little fun! Try something you’ve never done before. Or, at least propose something new and creative. If it gets shot down, fine, but at least you tried. And you never know when the wrong crazy idea might lead to the right one.
As the self-help guru Marianne Williamson once wrote: “Your playing small does not serve the world.” Or, more commonly put, “go big or go home.” It’s a great time to be a communicator working for an association. The issues are just as important, the missions just as critical and the stakes just as high. Be sure your marketing and outreach strategy rises to the occasion.