7 Ideas To Fight Recession


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Developed and implemented by association membership marketing professionals, here are more than seven ideas on how to help grow your association even in a recession. For more information, call Erik Schonher, VP, MGI, at 703.706.0358

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7 Ideas To Fight Recession

  1. 1. WHITE PAPER SEVEN INNOVATIVE IDEAS TO FIGHT THIS RECESSION Second in a series of MGI White Papers on membership marketing during a recession. Erik Schonher Vice President Marketing General Incorporated
  2. 2. PAGE 2 WHITE PAPER SPRING 2009 Wherever we look upon this earth, the opportunities take shape within the problems. NELSON A. ROCKEFELLER While we often compare today’s recession with the Great depression of the 1930s, history chronicles that time as a period of great innovation that led to increased social reforms, the elevation of the status of women—even the invention of “talking pictures.” WE ARE ON THE VERGE OF A Fortunately, “…not even the gloomiest predict that today’s TIME OF GREAT INNOVATION. slump will approach the severity of the Depression…” (“The Job Crisis,” The Economist [March 14–20, 2009]: 11). However, I believe we are on the verge of participating in a time of great innovation. When I authored Ten Tips for Membership Marketing in a Recession in April 2008, my purpose was to give a “heads up” of what was coming down the road and to find new tactics and channels that would decrease costs but maintain visibility and brand in the market. I advised that at a time when others were pulling out of the market, a unique opportunity to capture greater market share and top-of-mind awareness was presenting itself to the savvy marketer. TAKE STOCK IN WHAT YOU My message today is basically the same. Take stock in what you HAVE AND START INNOVATING. have and start innovating. Don’t sit still and wait for the economy, program results, and industries to change to what you want. Take charge and change them yourself through innovation. Find new ways to deliver your message, maintain and increase revenue, and accomplish your mission. When you look at something, tell yourself “if it ain’t broke, break it! If you can break it, make it better.” Let go of your rules and make new ones. To do this, just like my high school soccer coach said, start with the basics. For association and membership marketers, the basics include: G Your message G The value of your association to your members G How your members want to communicate, with you and with each other G Know your numbers and establish metrics
  3. 3. SPRING 2009 SEVEN INNOVATIVE IDEAS TO FIGHT THIS RECESSION PAGE 3 The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. BERNARD M. BARUCH, financier Now rebuild. Ask yourself, given today’s economy, is this the ARE WE DELIVERING TRUE best message? Are we delivering true value to our members? Are we VALUE TO OUR MEMBERS? effectively communicating the message and that value to them? If there is another way that might be better, then try it. Innovate. And if it works, try yet another way to see if it can be better. Again, innovate. One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again. HENRY FORD, inventor and businessman This paper highlights several brief case studies from professionals like you who are trying new ideas because the old ones simply were not doing enough. From these few instances, I hope you’ll find inspiration to question what you’re doing and work to find new “norms” and “rules.” #1 – CREATE MEMBER “EVANGELISTS” Kisha Green Dimbo, vice president for membership and IMPROVE MEMBER RETENTION marketing with the American Association of Justice, wrote to tell me AND ACQUIRE NEW MEMBERS. that her association is “…initiating a membership outreach task force with the objective of creating member ‘evangelists’ …the idea is that they will, with support from the membership department, be responsible for implementing several different membership initiatives such as phone-a-thons, outreach to first-time convention attendees, and activities at the state level, with the objective of improving member retention and acquiring former and new members.” Along that same idea, Cindy Simpson, manager of education for the National Society of Professional Engineers, once worked at an association where “…they made the past presidents Membership Ambassadors. These ambassadors were armed with information from the membership department and assisted in recruiting new members. It worked out very well as many of these individuals were
  4. 4. PAGE 4 WHITE PAPER SPRING 2009 retired but still wanted to stay involved in the association. They met during the annual convention to exchange tips and strategies, as well as monthly via conference call.” #2 – PERSONALIZE THE MEMBER EXPERIENCE…LITERALLY AN ASSOCIATION EARNED In February 2009, I chaired an ASAE Membership Idea Swap. KUDOS FOR TAKING THIS STEP While a number of ideas were discussed, one struck me as very impressive and truly indicative of the importance this trade AND UPPING THEIR GAME. association gives to membership. As it was explained, this association welcomes new members by dispatching a member representative from the membership department to their offices to review the benefits and personally introduce the association to company leadership and staff. This is very different from a year ago for the association, when standard operating procedure would dictate communications through mail, email, and telephone. The association has apparently earned kudos from their membership for taking this step and upping their game. Kimberley Gray, events coordinator at Associated General Contractors of Alaska Anchorage, wrote to me the following: “We have just started a group of associate members called the Associates Council. We have explained to them that they are not responsible for finding new members, but can help membership by delivering new member packets and offering to call them when we have functions and help them meet the other members, etc. It is meant to be a benefit to the associate members and, in turn, helps us. They will hold functions where we can invite our general and specialty contractors; they will build relationships with each other as a source for support, and more. They can help our other committees by offering to call the contractors and let them know what is going on, etc. The group is just getting started, but I’m confident that their value and benefits from their work will grow.” #3 – OUTRAGEOUS OFFERS! FREE HOTEL TO INCREASE SHOW ATTENDANCE At that same ASAE Idea Swap, one attendee stated that her association was having trouble getting people to register for one of their conferences. Since they were looking at a penalty by the hotel
  5. 5. SPRING 2009 SEVEN INNOVATIVE IDEAS TO FIGHT THIS RECESSION PAGE 5 for not filling the block of rooms, they were going to offer “a free room” to attendees. Pretty bold and ingenious. #4 – LEAD BY EXAMPLE Even in an unstable economic environment, an association’s mission often requires it to lead by example and incur expenses in support of the “greater good.” With soaring costs, acting on this social consciousness can be financially difficult, especially when it may mean taking funding from one program and applying it to another. Raylene Kershaw, senior vice president and chief operating officer IN YOUR ZEAL, DON’T STOP with Marketing General, notes that “…there is little question that the PRINTING ALL MATERIALS ‘greening’ of America will reach into all aspects of marketing this year as this all-important movement seeks to save, reuse, and recycle all that we can. As a marketer, some simple steps can help you to play an active role by using recycled paper whenever possible while testing out alternative and additive vehicles such as e-marketing and all things digital. A caution…in your zeal to comply, don’t stop printing all materials. Gradually see if your audience will respond to a substituted email versus a printed piece. (Remember, a great percentage of the population still holds a printed catalog in their hands while ordering online.) Finally, whatever your course of action, test before making any final decisions.” #5 – STAY OUT THERE In their article “The Upside of Down,” (Associations Now, February 2009) Sara Perry, vice president of operations with the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, and Tony Rossell, senior vice president with Marketing General, both offered their personal observations on what associations are doing to manage their membership marketing initiatives. Sara wrote that they “…have been able to offer some financial OFFER A DISCOUNT ON assistance in the form of a seven percent discount on annual dues ANNUAL DUES FOR THOSE for those members who paid online (saving us staff resources in MEMBERS WHO PAY ONLINE OR processing payments) and on time (encouraging prompt payment when money is tight). We waived the application fee for new WAIVE AN APPLICATION FEE members during the final months of 2008, prompting many agents who had previously been involved in the organization indirectly to
  6. 6. PAGE 6 WHITE PAPER SPRING 2009 become full members. We also allowed increased flexibility on assessment of late payment penalties for those who needed more time.” Tony wrote: “We would all agree that manufacturing has been a hard hit sector of our economy. Nonetheless, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) found 2008 to be its best year in more than a decade for both retaining and attracting new members. Mark C. Tomlinson, the executive director of SME, says ‘A key reason for our turnaround was aggressive marketing around the theme, Survive and Thrive.’ We backed up this theme by providing members with real value to help them excel in their job and career.” MEMBERS REPRESENT AN Tony continued by noting that the “…Association for IMPORTANT PURCHASING Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has enjoyed decades of membership success—growing from 12,000 members to SEGMENT FOR PRODUCTS AND more than 175,000. And 2008 has not been an exception. Ron SERVICES. Miletta, assistant executive director of ASCD, says that ‘dues revenue continues to be the bright spot in our budget picture, with an increase of four percent so far this year. And members continue to represent an important purchasing segment for our products and services.’ ” #6 – MEMBER RELIEF PROGRAMS TO RETAIN PEOPLE, Following on, Suzan Yungner, vice president with District ENGAGEMENT IS THE KEY Councils for the Urban Land Institute (ULI), told me of a very inventive program ULI has instituted called the Member Relief and DECIDING FACTOR. Retention Program. As Suzan puts it, the program “…was designed to help both members and ULI during the current economic conditions. ULI cannot afford to offer relief to everyone, so the key was to figure out who we can and should help. For ULI engagement was the key deciding factor. We wanted to retain people who attended meetings, bought books, and/or volunteered. ULI also wanted to engage our District Councils (similar to local chapters) in the decision and implementation process as they know many of our members better than we at headquarters do. ULI empowered each District Council to offer the below deal to one percent of their membership. If the District Council wants to offer it to more, they have to make the request and ULI will see if we can do it.
  7. 7. SPRING 2009 SEVEN INNOVATIVE IDEAS TO FIGHT THIS RECESSION PAGE 7 “ULI supplied each District Council with a list of all their recently expired members, listing the most actively engaged people at the top. District Councils may hand select engaged individuals they want to try and keep as members and offer them a free membership for up to one year. While the District Council is speaking with them, ULI has asked them to figure out ways to keep the former members engaged in return for the comp membership. They can attend events, write an article for their local newsletter or Urban Land magazine, volunteer (committee, mentor, community outreach initiative, help onsite at an event), buy publications, etc. District Councils also ask the member if they are OK with receiving the Urban Land magazine electronically but only during the duration of their comp membership.” Suzan believes this program will build goodwill with her membership and District Councils and hopes it will help develop and grow more committed members from those who receive the benefits, those who make the offer, and those who simply hear about it. She hopes members will remember how ULI helped them, and/or their peers, during a very difficult time, and become lifelong engaged members once they can again afford it. In line with Sara Perry’s offer above, Belinda Reutter, director of HOW ABOUT A “TRANSITIONAL” member services for the National Institute of Government MEMBERSHIP—AN EXTENDED, Purchasing, presented the idea of a “transitional membership… TIME-BOUND COMPLIMENTARY which is an extended, time-bound complimentary membership for those between jobs.” But not leaving this alone, she took it a step MEMBERSHIP FOR THOSE further and is currently considering creating a similar category BETWEEN JOBS? “…for those military members who are deployed.” #7 – USE E-MARKETING In a conversation I had with Andy Steggles, chief information officer for the Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS), he talked about how RIMS held a two-day, 3-D virtual event called “RiskLive!” in November 2008. He had 750 registrants, resulting in 511 attendees. The event had about 15 sessions with three concurrent sessions. The most popular session drew about 110 attendees and lasted for almost 90 minutes. One session featured a panel of three speakers located on three continents. Andy’s participants consider this first attempt a rousing success.
  8. 8. PAGE 8 WHITE PAPER SPRING 2009 A FINAL WORD If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. —BERNARD BARUCH, financier WHY ARE ASSOCIATIONS I don’t believe it is trite to say that our current financial HOLDING ON TO PROGRAMS condition is not going to go away tomorrow. We won’t wake up in the morning and find it magically changed back to the market THAT SIMPLY DON’T WORK economy of 2005. Then why are associations still holding on to TODAY? programs that simply don’t work today? We simply can’t wait for things to change…we have to change. And we simply can’t “…put horns on a pig and call it a cow.” We have to be innovative and change for the better. Presented above are some great, innovative ideas and perspectives by association executives and professionals like you, and I hope that they encourage you. As I believe that two minds are better than one, I also encourage you to reach out to other membership executives and your professional network to present and discuss ideas about how to make your efforts better for your members and more profitable for your association. I want to personally thank everyone who contributed their ideas and participated in producing this paper. I am grateful for your help and participation. TM SM Erik Schonher is a Vice President with Marketing General Inc. He has more than 20 years experience 209 Madison Street, Third Floor as a marketing and sales entrepreneur and in Alexandria, Virginia 22314-1764 leadership positions with major corporations and 703.739.1000 publishing houses. Erik can be reached at www.MarketingGeneral.com 703.706.0358 or at ESchonher@MarketingGeneral.com. Serving Associations Nationwide The Marketing General logotype is a trademark, and “We Grow Associations” is a service mark of Marketing General Incorporated. © 2009 Marketing General Inc.