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A New Benchmarking Report Urges Us to Keep on Listenin’ and Embrace the Pivot

I just got through an in-house Zoom meeting where we talked about the importance of conducting listening tours. And someone said, well, those are a thing of the past for now.
Not true really. In some respects, our remote working can be an advantage. It can be easier to reach people in our audience than it was before when everyone had busy travel schedules and internal meetings. And while Zoom fatigue is a real thing, it’s also a focused mechanism to speak one-on-one to someone. There’s no hiding or looking away.
I write this after receiving this morning a new survey report from Naylor called the 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report. Even though it does focus on associations, there are some good lessons here for all organizations.
We should still listen. Just over 80% of respondents believe they generally create relevant content, and 38% are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of members’ needs. Despite this, only half believe they have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs. If we were doing more listening, we would have a better handle on that.
Do you have proper metrics? Nearly half say their inability to measure communication effectiveness is a serious or significant challenge. In this same meeting I just finished, someone raised a good point—how are we going to measure if we’re successful? Sounds simple except 49% know it isn’t. Less than 3 in 10 respondents say their organization has no process for measuring engagement.
Our mindset has to pivot as well. Even in this COVID era—the survey was done post-pandemic—live events remain the No. 1 measure of member engagement—72% of respondents agree—and 91% of respondents believe face-to-face interaction at live events is the best way to determine member needs. I came across a quote this week from Robin Thurston, CEO of Pocket Outdoor Media: “In media, one of the things that you have to do is figure out your A plan, but also your B and C plans. And your growth strategy, so you’re always ready for a pivot if needed.”
Are you involving young people internally in your outreach? Half of respondents say they struggle to engage with young professionals. Diversity takes on so many forms, and age is certainly one of them. If possible, have a range of ages represented on your important teams, young and old.
Are you being social enough? Despite social media’s effectiveness for driving traffic to organization websites—it’s number one at 90%—only 1 in 5 respondents feel strongly that their organization’s social media strategy is well defined, and only one-third strongly agree that social media is a high priority for their organization.
Consolidate your outreach. Three in 5 felt their members were “too busy” to read or interact with their organization’s communication efforts, and nearly half felt members had “too many competing sources of information” to choose from. The last thing you want is to be competing against yourself. Make every member/customer touchpoint count.
We preach data but are we doing enough with it? More than half of respondents (55%) said they need to improve their ability to “collect and use member data effectively.” They also agreed that they did not “target or segment their communications” for different member subgroups as well as they should.
So be sure to segment. While more than half of respondents reported that they customize communications for new members and student members, less than 1 in 5 are customizing their communications for other important subgroups, such as mid-career members and late-career members. In fact, only one-fourth of respondents said they bother to segment their communications for the “almost-new” members—those who’ve belonged to the organization for just 7 to 24 months.
Can you over-webinar? You can definitely over-email, but webinars are doing okay. Webinars rose from the seventh most valued communication channel in 2019 to the second most valued communication channel in 2020. Makes sense.
You can download the report here.
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Platforms to Facilitate Connections May Be the Top Trend for 2021. All Aboard!

If 2020 was the year of the pivot in the media industry, then 2021 will be the time for facilitating connections. This week, Winsight, a large B2B media organization—they now run the National Restaurant Association Show—announced that they will launch a new platform called Restaurant Community later this month.

 

“The restaurant community consists of people who are exceptionally social and who are creative problem-solvers,” said Chris Keating, EVP of conferences for Winsight (and a speaker at our recent BIMS event). “And Restaurant Community is a place that enables them to connect with each other.”

 

This type of platform may become quite common in the first few months of 2021, as publishers and media organizations look for new ways to connect their audience. It’s actually a bit of a surprise that it has taken this long. In June, the United Fresh Produce Association may have crafted a blueprint by creating United Fresh LIVE! 365, a year-round online platform featuring a permanent expo, social gatherings, on-demand education, webinars, conference programming, and networking opportunities for the global produce industry.

 

“We basically built a year-round convention center,” John Toner, VP of convention and industry collaboration, of the United Fresh LIVE! 365 platform, said. “[The platform] serves as the connection point,” adding that exhibitors whose engagement strategy went beyond the show floor have reaped the best results.

 

For Winsight, restaurant operators and suppliers will have exclusive access to: interviews with industry influencers and restaurateurs from all titles and segments; presentations from Technomic (their data division) experts and Restaurant Business editors; interactive discussion boards; and more. At the heart of Restaurant Community are Share Groups, which provide for category specific conversations, product discovery and meetings directly between operators and suppliers.

 

Just this week, events company Emerald acquired PlumRiver, a leading international provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology. Here’s the biggest reason why. “The acquisition of PlumRiver is a natural extension of our live events business; we can now offer a complimentary, year-round interaction and transaction platform,” said Hervé Sedky, Emerald’s president and CEO, who just started Monday. So this was his first maneuver.

 

While not everyone can acquire a SaaS business, they can create new platforms. In an article on ASAE today titled, Three Ways Associations Can Make Events Year-Round Engagements, Christina Tomlinson writes:

 

“What if you could build on the pre-event momentum you create and keep the conversation going to engage, empower, educate, and inspire your membership 365 days a year? While virtual and hybrid events are a start, they too are typically limited in duration…

 

Adopt a conference mobile app and microsite or other tech-enabled community. Event technology is so pervasive your options are virtually limitless. Consider what year-round member engagement is worth… How much bandwidth and budget do you have, and how much could you save with this technology? Use your answers to inform the decision about how to approach adopting a new platform or tool.”

 

It makes sense. When I think of all the work that went into our virtual events last year, it seems a shame in this environment to just quickly move on from the learning community we created. That’s also a way to add more value—not only will you have access to this event, but you will become part of a year-long community of like-minded publishers.

 

At The Wall Street Journal, their Live Journalism team recently added a series of monthly events designed for professional women, taking on topics such as caregiving, the impact of racial reckoning on company culture and managing career pivots. These online gatherings included interviews and, yes, small group breakout sessions.

 

“As our live journalism moved into the virtual space, we saw a unique opportunity to reach a broader cohort of Journal readers who craved practical, tactical tips on navigating the current business and cultural climate, while looking for connection to one another,” said Kim Last, live journalism & special content editor. “We designed our monthly series with these readers in mind. Our annual forum was redesigned to not only highlight sharp, newsmaking interviews but also cater to the topics female professionals care about, with the hope to generate fodder for connection.”

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Wellbeing, Hybrid Events, Storytelling and the Bee Gees: What’s In and Out for 2021

It has been a challenging year, to say the least. But that just could make our annual What’s IN and What’s OUT in Niche Publishing List even more necessary. As always, we’ll leave (most of) the politics, world news, entertainment and sports stuff to others and stick to our own topics.

 

OUT

IN
Happenstance Intentional
Unsilo Collaborate

“You can observe a lot just by watching.” (Yogi Berra)

““A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” (Steve Martin)

Pivot Hybrid
Autocomplete Humanthink
Prince The Bee Gees
‘Manels’ Change the Stage
Blue and green Gray and yellow
Open-plan spaces Enclosed areas
Zoom fatigue More Zoom fatigue
Virtual wine tastings Sommeliers-to-go
The Electoral College College basketball (March Madness!)
Any news outlet
Attendees

Digital delegates

Cameo A person mailed birthday card
A COVID bump An Olympics bump
IRL (in real life) IDE (Immersive Digital Experiences)
Craziness Pandemomentum
Designed for productivity Designed for wellbeing
Staff bios Talent Alumni Directory
Unmute Next speaker

 

 

 

 

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Pause Your Day, Collaborate and Add New Speakers to Get 2021 Off to a Good Start

Two years ago, Fast Company posted an article titled How to Redesign Your Days to Give You Back a Few Extra Hours Every Week. The author listed five categories where we can make changes:

Quit Something;
Limit Something;
Pause Something;
Delegate Something; and
Add Something.

Contemplating these five areas during a pandemic and cultural reckoning may yield some new answers. Let’s take a closer look.

 

For Quit Something, they wrote “Quit a recurring meeting. Quit a committee. Quit Facebook. Quit Candy Crush.” I’d say it’s a good time to quit a poor policy: going with the same old speakers. Some audience favs are okay but take some extra time to research and find new and diverse speakers for your next webinar, podcast or virtual event. Almost everyone is available these days. With those new speakers might just come a new audience. Growth consultant Robyn Duda, who moderated a great events panel for us at BIMS, led a charge to Change the Stage earlier this year. “Whether the content is digital or physical, I am challenging us all to set the bar higher, to make our stages and screens inclusive of new, different voices.”

 

For Limit Something, how about limiting a lack of collaboration? “Journalism has become more collaborative, but our culture, for the most part, has not,” writes Bo Hee Kim, director of newsroom strategy for The New York Times, in NiemanLab’s Predictions for 2021. “Leaders will need to believe that newsroom culture has a bigger impact on the journalism than they understood in previous years—that a strong team dynamic is as important as their sharp and shiny stars. Managers are key to this transition and will need to reset with a new definition of success, followed by support and training to change.”

 

For Pause Something, they wrote: “[Go] on a walk in the middle of the day. [Give] yourself permission to run an errand during your lunch break. Stopping for a moment to assert your ability to do the non-urgent reduces the sense that everything has to happen at a frenetic pace, and that there’s no time to slow down.” Wow, this has just multiplied in its relevancy! Many of us are starting our work day earlier and ending later, amplifying the need to take breaks. There is one problem, however. In his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingDan Pink wrote: “Research shows us that social breaks are better than solo breaks—taking a break with somebody else is more restorative than doing it on your own.” That may not be easy right now. Try reaching out to a neighbor for a socially distant walk or call a friend while you walk.

 

Delegate Something has become a bit tougher in these times, for two reasons, I think. One, we’re interacting even less, of course, with co-workers so delegating something takes more intentional outreach. And two, maybe “delegate” isn’t a great word anymore because we only think of giving tasks to someone less senior, rather than sharing tasks and perhaps giving one or two to someone who is more suited to them, regardless of your command chain. Writes Fast Company: “As you plan your day, ask yourself: Is this something that I really need to do myself, or could someone else do this instead?” If this makes you reach out to a colleague, then that’s a good thing. A 10-minute phone call can supersede 30 minutes of emails sometimes.

 

For Add Something, their advice made me chuckle a bit. “Add an exercise class, book a trip, plan a get-together with friends.” Can’t do, can’t do, can’t do. Okay, well, actually, I do have a virtual yoga class at 5:45 pm today. At our last staff meeting, our CEO got such a good reaction to his request for favorite holiday cookies that he’s now asking for recipes to compile into a guide. That is one very enticing and tasteful addition that can be replicated in many ways.

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‘What Keeps You Effective?’ The Questions You Ask Customers Matter Greatly.

In his keynote at BIMS 2020 two weeks ago, National Journal president Kevin Turpin spoke about the transformation that his company underwent 10 years ago, from publisher to information services organization. “There were a number of strategic things we did to get here today,” he said. Foremost in that was asking the right questions.

“We had a really deep dedication to getting to know our audience as best we could,” Turpin said. “Knowing what their top challenges are, how those challenges are changing? ‘What are the new things that are getting into your budget that wasn’t there five years ago? How are you managing the office differently?’

 

“We spent a year with our customers, asking them a set of questions over and over. The most important one was, ‘What keeps you effective?’”

 

Previously, Turpin had spoken more broadly about transformation. “When businesses are trying to recreate themselves and change, they spend too much time inside, in strategy meetings, batting around ideas that they think will work. We don’t spend enough time going around. How are [our customers’] jobs changing? What are they thinking about? What are they investing in this year? This will give you solutions.”

 

Of course, “going around” means something different these days—phone, Zoom, social media, Slack. But the idea of asking important questions of your customers remains paramount. Sales consultant Ryan Dohrn just wrote about this in an article on Editor & Publisher, saying “What keeps you up at night?” just isn’t good enough anymore.

 

“Your questions simply have to be better. One of your main questions that makes me nuts and that I hear in my ad sales training is this: ‘Tell me more about your business.’ C’mon, you’re better than that… And then, ‘What’s your budget?’ You can do better than that.

 

“Those are three questions we do need to ask, but maybe ask them in a more vibrant kind of way so that we don’t sound like every other media salesperson that’s calling on that customer,” Dohrn wrote.

 

I recall another sales consultant who liked to visit the offices of her clients and observe what sat on top of customers’ desks—that would tell what projects were most important. That also can’t happen now, of course, though we can see what books might be on someone’s shelves or what hangs on their walls.

 

“Here are four [questions] that I really like to ask,” Dohrn continued.

 

1. “When you agreed to meet with me, what business challenge or problem were you hoping that I could help you solve?”

 

2. “If I could give you a magic wand that you wave, what business challenge could I help you solve?”

 

3. “When you think about competing here in our community or others in your competitive set, do you want to be seen as having some sort of a presence out there? Do you want to be competitive? Or do you want to be dominant?” (He said that the three options will lead him towards a budget that’s more actual.)

 

4. “If everything went perfectly with your marketing campaign with me, what would the perfect end result be for you?” or “If I’m going to keep you for a lifetime as a customer, what do I need to do?”

 

Number four is interesting because we just had an events panel speak at BIMS, and much of their advice was knowing what results you want to see from your event before scripting it.

 

In a 2020 Association Benchmarking Report, only 38% of respondents said they are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of members’ needs. And only half believe they have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs.

 

“What’s the first question [customers] ask you every time you check in?” Turpin asked. “Those top three feed into ideation. Let’s take the challenges of what we learned in spending time with top clients. This is where our transformation is going to go.”