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‘Let’s see what they need now’; talking to audience gave these two leaders direction

“We’re looking to see how our creativity and ideas, and how we reach audiences can be a driver of revenue,” said Denise Burrell-Stinson, head of WP Creative Team in the Creative Group at The Washington Post. “When that’s done well, it’s a good marriage of business and creativity. We used to think that they have to live very separately… I’ve found that as absolutely not true. Everyone can embrace [those two attributes].”

I love seeing “ideas,” “creativity” and “revenue” in the same sentence. Burrell-Stinson (pictured), who will be a keynote speaker at our AM&P Network Associations Council Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021 virtual event June 16-17, laughed a bit when reciting her title—that’s a lot of “creativity.” But she made a lot of sense when crediting much of their success to listening to readers.

“One of the things we learned at the Post in 2020 is that there’s still an appetite for marketing content,” she said. “But it had to be done a specific way. One of the ways that we were able to get through that time and 2020 was by being in constant conversation with our audience. ‘What’s the best way to reach you? What’s the type of messaging that you want to know about? What do you believe has value?’

“They were like, ‘You know what, we still want to know about brands, but only if they’re helping people. We want to know that the brands that you’re working with have a POV on social justice.’ They want gender equity and racial parity all the way across the organization.”

That was huge for the Post to hear. Similarly, I remember interviewing Kevin Turpin, president of the National Journal, on his organization’s turnaround a couple years ago. He didn’t go quite as far as Burrell-Stinson—a lot has changed in society in two years—but he did want his staff to listen more.

“One thing we launched was a presentation center,” Turpin said, explaining that by talking to their customers they discovered that’s what they needed help with. “They were being asked to explain Washington in more detail. They knew the content but needed a workable format. We’re actually very good at that. Take what happened in midterm elections and create a 40-page sllde deck out of it. We’re still doing that for board meetings of Fortune 500 companies.

“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,” Turpin added. “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.”

While “going around” means something totally different in 2021 than 2019, those customer conversations have become even more paramount. It’s also important for everyone who interacts with customers to share what they’re hearing, from customer service to podcast hosts to receptionists, if there still is one.

“No one should ever feel that their sphere of influence is too small to make change,” Burrell-Stinson said. “If you’re working for a platform, a content creator, a digital magazine, the everyday results of your job are a contribution that ladders up to what the overall goals are.” As a fact checker early on in her career, she knew she was making a big contribution to the publication.

“During the early stages of the pandemic, “I was one of those people showing up and asking, ‘What is my job right now?’ I can’t sit here selling,” she said. “I really wanted to know that I felt right about what my job was.” Fortunately, the Post felt the same. “Let’s talk to our audience and see what they need right now.”

“We did this deep, intentional engaging of the audience. ‘Tell us what it is you need to know. Tell us what’s helpful. Tell us what’s respectful. Tell us what empowers you.’ And they did. And when we listened to the audience, we had our North Star. They told us what was going to work. When we had that information, we were actually able to take it to brands and say we’ve heard from this audience, they’re vocal, they’re smart and let’s do more than just market to them. Let’s really engage them on their terms.”

At our BIMS event in December, Turpin also emphasized those points. “We had a really deep dedication to getting to know our audience as best we could,” he 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?’”

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Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021 Virtual Event Takes the Challenges of 2020 Head on

Publishing during a pandemic has brought more than its share of changes and challenges. Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021 is primed to help you blaze a brighter, more successful path into the future. The conference features two days of inspiration, motivation and practical know-how to help you emerge from the challenges of 2020 and face 2021 with a reinvigorated mindset. We recently spoke with two of the conference’s keynote speakers.

Denise Burrell-Stinson, head of WP Creative Team in the Creative Group at The Washington Post, and Scott Stuart, CEO, Turnaround Management Association, both emanate excitement for the opportunity to impart their wisdom to the association publication professional audience.

“One of the things we learned at the Post in 2020 is that there’s still an appetite for marketing content,” Burrell-Stinson said. “But it had to be done a specific way. One of the ways that we were able to get through that time and 2020 was by being in constant conversation with our audience. ‘What’s the best way to reach you? What’s the type of messaging that you want to know about? What do you believe has value?’

“They were like, ‘You know what, we still want to know about brands, but only if they’re helping people. We want to know that the brands that you’re working with have a POV on social justice.’ They want gender equity and racial parity all the way across the organization.”

Listen here as Burrell-Stinson discusses the challenges and opportunities brought by the current publishing climate.

For Stuart, a light went on about the way they were reaching out to members. “I learned more about human behavior in the last year than I ever put thought to,” he said. “Most people in the world are introverted extraverts… We learned in the virtual environment that we need to be more focused on that personality attribute.”

Basically, he said that few of us are comfortable walking into a room of 500 just knowing a few people. The virtual environment has given those people a kind of pass and comfort level to pursue more of what associations offer. We need to continue to give them that pathway.

“We have had a value proposition—with our 54 chapters and more than 10,000 global members—that as a member you can avail yourself of any program that a chapter has at the member rate,” Stuart said. “I’ve been hammering at that for a while. In the virtual atmosphere, people saw it, and it became a reality… They now see the value of the greater organization that they’re a part of. And that pride cascades to everyone in the organization.”

Listen here to more of our conversation with Scott Stuart on how he’s led his organization through this pivot.

Save the date for Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021, June 16-17. Sign up for regular updates here.

 

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As keynotes for Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021, Burrell-Stinson and Stuart will share their crisis learnings

For the two keynote speakers for Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021, June 16-17, the clear common denominator is how much each of them learned during the pandemic and can apply now to make her or his organization better.

Denise Burrell-Stinson, head of WP Creative Team in the Creative Group at The Washington Post, and Scott Stuart, CEO, Turnaround Management Association, both emanate excitement for the opportunity to impart their wisdom to the association publication professional audience.

“One of the things we learned at the Post in 2020 is that there’s still an appetite for marketing content,” Burrell-Stinson said. “But it had to be done a specific way. One of the ways that we were able to get through that time and 2020 was by being in constant conversation with our audience. ‘What’s the best way to reach you? What’s the type of messaging that you want to know about? What do you believe has value?’

“They were like, ‘You know what, we still want to know about brands, but only if they’re helping people. We want to know that the brands that you’re working with have a POV on social justice.’ They want gender equity and racial parity all the way across the organization.”

For Stuart, a light went on about the way they were reaching out to members. “I learned more about human behavior in the last year than I ever put thought to,” he said. “Most people in the world are introverted extraverts… We learned in the virtual environment that we need to be more focused on that personality attribute.”

Basically, he said that few of us are comfortable walking into a room of 500 just knowing a few people. The virtual environment has given those people a kind of pass and comfort level to pursue more of what associations offer. We need to continue to give them that pathway.

“We have had a value proposition—with our 54 chapters and more than 10,000 global members—that as a member you can avail yourself of any program that a chapter has at the member rate,” Stuart said. “I’ve been hammering at that for a while. In the virtual atmosphere, people saw it, and it became a reality. So a member from a chapter in the UK and one in Toronto [will now attend each other’s events]. When people see that global reality, it gives them pride about the association. They now see the value of the greater organization that they’re a part of. And that pride cascades to everyone in the organization.”

Burrell-Stinson also believes in that pride and how that transcends internally as well to staff. “No one should ever feel that their sphere of influence is too small to make change,” she said. “If you’re working for a platform, a content creator, a digital magazine, the everyday results of your job are a contribution that ladders up to what the overall goals are.” Even in her days of fact-checking, she felt she was making a big contribution to the publication.

They both also mentioned the importance of creativity, not the first characteristic you think of for CEOs and brand marketers. “We’re looking to see how our creativity and ideas and how we reach audiences can be a driver of revenue,” Burrell-Stinson said. “When that’s done well, it’s a good marriage of business and creativity. We used to think that they have to live very separately, The person who was the creative mind was not the business mind, and the person who was the business mind could not be counted on to be creative. I’ve found that as absolutely not true. Everyone can embrace [those two attributes].”

Asked how the Turnaround Management Association was able to pivot so well to put on a successful virtual event, Stuart simply said, “Creativity. We know that a certain percentage will come [to an event] for education. We also know that people are Zoomed out.” They also want to have some fun; they’re used to going to Las Vegas for a TMA event.

“How can I give them a feeling that they’re not just stuck on Zoom,” Stuart asked. “We created 24 [short, interactive] sessions on industry topics, built a networking room, covered DEI. We had Colonel [Robert J.] Darling who was in a bunker with Dick Cheney on 9/11. We added a casino experience and dueling pianos, had an illustrator doing drawings while sessions were going on.

“We created variety and”—Stuart slowed down here to accentuate—“actionable optionality. [We brought] you as close to in-person networking as you could ever imagine. Sponsors saw they got value out of it. The only downside was that because people expected the ‘same old,’ it caused us to market louder to get the message out. But once people saw it, they were our great evangelizers.”

That’s something all of us strive for. How much better is it when someone else talks you up, especially a member? That connection to the audience is something Burrell-Stinson came back to time and again during her interview. Before reaching out, she said it’s important—especially during these times—for staff to feel aligned with the organization’s message.

During the early stages of the pandemic, “I was one of those people showing up and asking, ‘What is my job right now?’ I can’t sit here selling. I really wanted to know that I felt right about what my job was.” Fortunately, the Post felt the same. “Let’s talk to our audience and see what they need right now,” she said.

“We did this deep, intentional engaging of the audience. ‘Tell us what it is you need to know. Tell us what’s helpful. Tell us what’s respectful. Tell us what empowers you.’ And they did. And when we listened to the audience we had our North Star. They told us what was going to work. When we had that information, we were actually able to take it to brands and say we’ve heard from this audience, they’re vocal, they’re smart and let’s do more than just market to them. Let’s really engage them on their terms.”

You will want to engage with Burrell-Stinson and Stuart on June 16-17 and hear more of what we can take out of the pandemic to help our organizations to Reset, Reinvent (and grow) Revenue.