Based in Ottawa, Acart does a lot of work with national associations in Canada. From the Brewers Association of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association to more specialized professional groups like Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists, we’ve gained insights and expertise to help these clients deal with their unique marketing challenges.
Unlike more hierarchical organizations, associations depend on broad internal member consensus just to plan, create and execute communications and branding. When membership and steering committees are composed of individuals and businesses with diverse — even competing — agendas, this can be difficult to achieve without outside professional help.
Why outsiders? Because a specialized agency brings in objectivity, big-picture thinking, and the ability to help internal participants identify and act on their shared goals.
No two associations are alike, but our experience has shown us that there are a few steps you can take to start (and end) your communication project on the right foot.
1. Have a clear objective
Whether you’re embarking on a broad communication or brand strategy, or a tactical advocacy campaign or membership drive, you will never be able to agree on a solution with agreement on what the “problem” is. This sounds basic, but it needs to be determined in detail — including goals and measurements of success — and communicated to everyone who will take part in the final decision. With clear and concrete objectives defined in detail, there is less chance that the decision-making process will be clouded by confusion or resentment among members “not in the loop”.
2. Debate first, agree later
The time to argue over the reasons for, and expected outcomes of, any association marketing project is at the start. The best way to achieve this is to hire a facilitator to help the planning group within the association to make sure everyone’s opinion in heard and considered. He or she then needs to identify common threads, concerns and additional ideas, and get the group to discuss them. The result should be something that everyone in the room agrees will be the plan, with no lingering doubts for later.
3. Check-ins mean buy-in
At various stages in the process of developing marketing strategy or content, the association planning team may be expected to “check in” with key members who are paying for the work. This is a process that must be managed carefully and professionally, to prevent endless revisions or clashes of opinions. Generally, it is best to provide a formal status report with reiteration of agreed-to objectives and solid rationale for work done to date. Often, we are asked by our clients to provide this service, either in person at AGMs or through various conferencing channels. It is also possible to create online tools, such as podcasts, webinars, or e-learning modules, for more decentralized organizations. Questions about strategy or creative will inevitable arise, and it is essential that they be answered — based on best practices or expertise — in a way that shows clear connection to objectives. If changes to the plan are made as a result of a check-in, make sure everyone understands what has been done and how.
4. Let your members be your media
In today’s social media driven world, associations benefit from years of experience managing “real life” networks. This knowledge is easily transferrable to the next level of networking, the members’ individual professional and personal circles. When they are well-informed about the project, and have been given the opportunity to feel a sense of ownership over the brand or campaign, launching the new initiative should be easy. At an in-person or online launch event, provide members with access to the online and printed content they need to spread the word further. This may include posters, digital badges for their professional sites, infographics, press releases, or almost anything else. Let them be the ambassadors.
Need help with your association’s marketing?
[Image via Wikimedia]