Risk-taking, Storytelling and Knowing Your Audience Come to the Fore in Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021

“The best outfits in the game are really studying their audience. We know from years of audience data, people are much more likely to remember a brand if they are attached to a good story. Storytelling can create ways of reader engagement that are simply more memorable than going to a brand’s website.”

That equally “memorable” quote came from Denise Burrell-Stinson (pictured here), content marketing leader, former head of creative, at the Washington Post Creative Group, leading off the just-completed Day 2 of Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021, Associations, Media & Publishing Network event for association professionals. Good storytelling was just one of the many themes  highlighted during the event.

Another was that publishing pros need to take risks and try new things. It helps to have a boss like keynote speaker Scott Stuart, CEO of the Turnaround Management Association, who at the pandemic’s outset, quickly established an atmosphere where his staff could feel free to take those risks.

In March 2020, Stuart said that they quickly assessed the situation and “made decisions. We knew we needed to take risks, to be bold and be early—if we were going to create a new model. Why? We determined this wasn’t going to be a two-week event. It [was going to make] an entire year of programming not relevant.”

Out of that came a whole new world, literally, for TMA. “We had to reimagine what member value was,” Stuart said. “So we created new programs. The Chicago Chapter was doing Power Hours with Toronto. The UK Chapter was meeting with San Francisco. There were bourbon and wine tastings, Bingo and poker tournaments. We didn’t just survive; we elevated our profile and became leaders in our space.

“We were unafraid to take risks, so there was creativity and leading by example. It was paramount to everything we tried to do. And then members started to be unafraid to take risks. And we had the highest retention rates we ever had. People understood for the first time the value proposition that they could avail themselves to—the programming all throughout our system; any chapter was now available to them. The virtual environment elevated that.”

Stuart elaborated on what TMA learned from going all-in on the pivot to virtual and how they are already seeing benefits for future events.

“We made a number of changes to our conferences. We were very hit or miss about a bunch of them in the first opportunity back in the fall. We took the learnings from that and in that second conference opportunity we equaled our sponsorship dollars we would have had in an in-person environment,” he said. “Now we go back in-person [knowing] we were so powerful in what we deployed.”

In fact, Stuart said groups started approaching TMA in April asking to buy sponsorships for events in 2022. “We made value urgent in the virtual environment. We showed that in our pivot that with our global membership there was probably more value in virtual.”

The second session sounded some similar notes. “You have to try new things and then adjust, see what really works,” said Jenny Teeson of the International Live Events Association. “Dive deeper, find what it is” about what you tried that worked—or didn’t. “Maybe bringing a person back for a specific membership group if you have a great speaker. There’s no magic solution—it’s trying different things and seeing what sticks.”

Nicole Quain of MCI USA picked up on that idea of seeing what your audience values and delivering more of it—but in a reconfigured way. One phrase she used could easily become a mantra: Repurpose, don’t just regurgitate. “Deliver bite-sized content. After a good hour-long webinar, pick 30-second or one-minute clips [to offer later]. Try to be fresh with it. Slice up content that can be optimized for a [specific] channel.

“The key is knowing your audience, their likes, dislikes, patterns of behavior. How does your audience engage with certain channels?” Quain added the importance of staying up to date. She pointed to Clubhouse. “It’s a new platform, audio-based. You can stop in and have conversations. It’s a whole new thing to tackle. You have to be willing to the research.”

Other suggestions Quain and Teeson offered included:

– Give snippets of information to tempt a future bigger delivery—Quain’s example is John Mayer releasing one song now for an album coming in July. “Why is he just giving us one song? He’s streaming engagement.”

– Stay in touch after virtual events. Send a thank-you email. “Survey their thoughts, do your due diligence to make them feel warm and fuzzy,” Quain said.

– Remind your audience that content was relevant and useful—the more they’ll want to come back. Maintain engagement. Share and create new groups based on that topic.

On Day 2,  Burrell-Stinson spoke to the group about rewarding brand loyalty and the importance of talking to your audience.

“Everything we learned, how we got through 2020, really came from people who said, who believe, ‘constraints inspire creativity,’” she said. “This is an opportunity. We can do it big. We can do it better. It requires a level of dialogue, people saying, ‘I don’t know, but let’s plot the path together.’ When you have that conversation with your partners, it engenders a deeper relationship, a more fulfilling and productive one.”

Burrell-Stinson added that there should be a “sync and a synergy between the brand and the approach,” also emphasizing the need for good storytelling, no matter of it’s content creators or content marketers. And while the pandemic pushed the Post to have more conversations with its audience, a post-pandemic world should only encourage that more.

“For a publisher, for anyone making content, the deepest, most granular understanding of your audience, that’s not a ‘nice to have’ that’s a mandate,” she said. “When you go about engaging in partnerships, when you’re trying to reach that audience, what you know about the audience is going to be the foundation of your success.

“It starts with insights. It means at any given moment, understanding what the hot topics are with our readers. How do they respond to our content?” she says. “Each reader at Washington Post has a story of how they interact with a story. The ultimate measure of reaching readers is how they take action. Data is more important than ever. At any given time, our creativity was informed by hard numbers.”

We’ll have more about Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021 in coming weeks.

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