Use Real Faces and Address Underserved Groups; EXCEL Award Finalists Offer Replicable Examples

Awards season has definitively kicked in at the Associations, Media & Publishing Network . We had our Neal Awards celebration for B2B journalism on Wednesday and this coming Wednesday, June 16, our EXCEL Awards celebration takes center stage. (And then on June 22 and 23 we will showcase our CODiE Awards.)

As I wrote last week, much of the impetus to launch our AM&P Network was the idea that each group—B2B media companies, niche publishers and association publishing professionals—can all learn from each other. There’s no better example of this than the awards.  Last week I highlighted several of the EXCEL finalists and the lessons they imparted, and I said this should be a series.

Welcome to Part 2. Today I spotlight more of the EXCEL Award finalists and what they’re doing right that others can emulate.

It also will be worth your valuable while to attend the EXCELS presentation. There will be myriad ways to connect there, be it networking, staff gatherings or just to cheer on your favorite finalists. Register for the overall event—Reset, Reinvention and Revenue—here, the EXCELS celebration here (it’s free) and see all the EXCEL finalists here.

Use real faces. American Bankers Association’s Banking Journal Magazine is a finalist for Dedicated Issue for their August 2020 issue titled, We Were Economic First Responders. The cover art (pictured here) shows La Fonda Williams working on PPP loan applications at her desk at First Sound Bank in Seattle. The photo is so good that, at first, I was looking for the Getty credit. Marketing consultant Amy Africa once pleaded with us to use real faces from our businesses instead of canned ones, and you can see why. We respond to emotion, she said. “We have bartenders in our brain and they’re constantly mixing cocktails to become faster and smarter and more involved. We are not thinking machines that feel; we are feeling machines that think.”

Make it easy for your members to amplify. The National Association of Realtors is a finalist for the category of Best Campaign – Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives. Their project was called the NAR Fair Housing Consumer Ad Campaign. On their website they have a page titled Fair Housing Assets that includes a very well-done 30-second video—“We are Realtors, experts at what we do, advocates for what we believe”—print ads of all sizes, animated socials ads—“This Post Won’t End Discrimination in Real Estate. People Will.” and “We All Share the Same Home”—Zoom backgrounds, a billboard and a poster.

Address an underserved niche. The Credit Union Executive Society (CUES) is a finalist for General Excellence in Newsletters for its quarterly publication, Advancing Women. “Information and inspiration for current and aspiring female credit union executives and those who support them.” There are articles—10 Strategies for Overcoming Impostor Syndrome; NextGen Know-How: Beware of Compare—videos—Solid Salary Negotiation Strategies for Female Leaders at All Levels; Making Space for Women on Boards—and podcasts—The Evolution to Modern Leadership.

Use your website to engage and maybe even thrill. The Society of Actuaries & GLC is a finalist in the Best Magazine Website for The Actuary Magazine. This proves that no matter your subject, you can show exciting—and valuable—content. One of the features is Climbing Koko: Meditations on Life, Career and Mountain Climbing. “When I look back on my life since college, I can broadly divide it into four phases/focuses with four clear goals,” writes Jing Lang. “1) Writing actuarial exams (obtaining fellowship); 2) Career advancement (promotions); 3) Diverse learning (becoming a polymath); and 4) Introspection (a variety of creative endeavors).” We also get “Actuary Out of the Box”; “Digital Nomad”; “An Actuary Looks at Climate Change”; and “Thriving in a Changing Environment.” Seek out members who can provide a different perspective. Diversity has so many meanings these days.

Go “beyond” with your podcast. The Association of American Medical Colleges is a finalist for their Beyond the White Coat podcast. A podcast can be a good place to explore, play against or yes, go beyond any stereotypes that may exist about people in your industry. “Times are changing, and along with it, academic medicine must change, too,” they write. Titles for the AAMC podcast series include: Persevering During a Pandemic: Connecting With So Others Might Eat; Black Men in Medicine: Meeting the Challenge; and Vaccine Voices: Promoting Equity in Vaccine Access. Karey Sutton hosts one of the episodes which is good to hear—we need more women podcast hosts.

Find the social media that your audience engages most with. For Best Social Media Feed, the Project Management Institute is a finalist for their PMI Social Media Program: Imagination. Its Imagination Content Instagram page has 558 followers and 584 posts. (In a Sidebar poll last week, Instagram was named by the most respondents as the platform that the biggest majority of their audience engages with them on.) In one post, there’s a picture of a book and these words: “Poets use words the way analysts use data: to describe the world around them. Head to the link in our bio to discover why reading poetry can make you better at reading data.”

Again, register here for the June 16 EXCEL Awards celebration to see more innovation and ideas.

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EXCEL Award Finalists Offer Replicable and Powerful Examples for Other Association Publishers

With the EXCEL Awards celebration set for 4 pm, Wednesday, June 16, I looked through the finalists to see what interesting ideas work on multiple levels and are replicable. Well, this might just have to become a series with all of the innovative and exciting work that we’re honoring. It will definitely be worth your valuable while to attend the presentation.

Besides seeing the incredible work that your association colleagues are doing, there will be myriad ways to connect at the EXCEL Awards, be it networking, staff gatherings or just to cheer on your favorite finalists and winners.

Register for the celebration here. Attendance is free. See all the finalists here. Here are some replicable and effective ideas from a few of the finalists:

Amplify important and lesser-known stories. For Best Microsite, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is a finalist for its Rising Up microsite focusing on women scientists—“Trailblazing scientists tell their stories.” It leads with an inspiring tic-tac-toe board of scientists and then goes into their amazing stories with engaging intros. “If someone tells you that you can’t do something, then that probably means that you should go and do it. Don’t let other people hold you back.” Andrea Dutton, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, studies ancient coral reefs to understand what’s in store for Earth’s coastlines as sea levels rise. Read more about Dutton.  And this: “Racial bias is something that’s difficult for many people to see and to talk about. I’m looking at something that’s everywhere, yet it’s invisible at the same time.” Jennifer Eberhardt studies unconscious psychological biases at Stanford University, and her findings have been used to reform police departments and challenge the constitutionality of death sentences. Read more about Jennifer Eberhardt.

Use more video. Oh do we love to push that magic play arrow, especially when it’s a well-done video. Apparently, nobody does it better than the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association because they have three finalists in the Video – Single Entry (Education) category for their AOPA Air Safety Institute. “Reality Check: What Are the Costliest Insurance Claims?” is a straightforward, professionally done video with a polished spokesman. It’s all easy on the eyes and ears, especially compared to what an article telling us this inside-baseball info would be. And it has a sponsor—AssuredPartners Aerospace—always a good thing.

Go big on your blog. For Best Blog Site (Overall), the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s HVAC Blog is a well-deserved finalist. Some of their posts are in front of the paywall, and some are “member exclusive.” There’s one post that especially caught my eye: How Do I Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? Beyond just making a statement, the article interviews people in the field who are making a difference: “According to Jennifer Pierce, general manager of Clay’s Climate Control located in Linwood, N.J., DEI training is the key to identifying your unconscious biases… For example, a ‘Culture Day’ is created at Clay’s Climate Control where staff members are encouraged to celebrate their differences.”

Branch out on special issues. In the Best Single Topic Issue, it’s good to see a range of topics among the finalists: climate change (Project Management Institute); inspiration (Council for Advancement and Support of Education); artificial intelligence (National Investor Relations Institute); mental health (ASCD); civic engagement (American Alliance of Museums); and, of course, DEI (International City/County Management Association). One tip that I’ve heard repeated is to try to integrate these key topics into many issues. For instance, diversifying your sources and writers in every issue can’t be overemphasized. Similarly, AI—while making for a great issue—is such a huge topic going forward now that it needs to be discussed in respect to many topics.

Create a book for a big occasion. In discussing why the Federal Bar Association decided to put together a most impressive, coffee-table book to be the centerpiece of their centennial anniversary last year, executive director Stacy King flashed a better-days-are-ahead smile. “Attorneys love books. They really do. Since we’ve been doing all these Zoom calls, I never realized how many of my leadership has just books on books behind them. Everyone has that prestigious bookcase with all of their books. The other [reason] was that when the [centennial] was over, we really wanted to make sure we had something to celebrate, something about the bar for years to come. We also wanted it as a marketing tool to raise our profile.” Every association has anniversaries, and they mean more than a date on the calendar. Plan now for an anniversary coming up in the next five years.

Find the social media that your audience engages most with. You might not associate the Military Officers Association of America with great social media, but there they are as a finalist for Best Social Media Feed. Their latest Instagram post flashes a wonderful collage of recent covers with this copy: “The June issue of our award-winning monthly magazine is coming soon to your mailbox! Are you excited to dive in? Members can also access it online through the link in our bio.” By the way, in a Sidebar poll last week, Instagram was named by the most respondents as the platform that the biggest majority of their audience engages with them on.

Again, register here for the June 16 EXCEL Awards celebration to see more innovation and ideas.


Not Being One-Size-Fits-All, Social Media Campaigns Benefit From Finding Their Best Platform and Voice

“Hi, I’m Sandra Arevalo,” “and I’m Rahaf Al Bochi, and we’re registered dietitians/nutritionists for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to eat right on a budget. Many people overspend by wandering aimlessly through the grocery store…”

This is the beginning of a powerful two-minute video from the Academy titled Eat Right on a Budget. It was part of their 2021 annual March National Nutrition Month campaign. Their 2019 efforts won a coveted Gold EXCEL Award for Social Media Campaign (Educational). It’s easy to see why after looking at how comprehensive—and diverse—their campaign is.

The Academy offered a campaign Toolkit with tip sheets and handouts, games and activities, PowerPoint presentations and select content available in six languages—English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Filipino. And just as importantly, they offered their audience a choice for which social media platforms to engage with. There were weekly Twitter Chats and images to tweet out; slogans like “Learn culinary skills” and “An RDN can help you meet health goals” to post on Facebook timelines; hashtags and slogans to share on LinkedIn; and a slew of Instagram assets to post.

The theme was Personalize Your Plate. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health. We are all unique with different bodies, goals, backgrounds and tastes! And a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can tailor a healthful eating plan that is as special as you are.”

Similarly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in social media campaigns as well. In the Feb. 5 issue of Sidebar, we asked, “What is the social media platform that your membership most engages with you on?” Instagram came out on top at 30%, followed by Facebook at 22%, Twitter at 17%, YouTube at 9%, and Pinterest and LinkedIn at 4%. (“Other” accounted for 13%, and I regret not asking folks to specify that.)

That’s quite a range of preferences. The Academy’s strategy of showing short two-minute videos falls right in line with most advice. “How does an association use social media as a jumping off point to pull people into their content, particularly paid offerings?” Rasheeda Childress asked in Associations Now article last year.

Dan Stevens, president of WorkerBee.TV, Inc., “recommends a drip approach,” she wrote, “where you offer a tiny snippet—micromarketing—to pull people to your site… and into the full story on your ecosystem and your brand, where you can monetize with advertising or pay per view. Whatever mix you use on social media, the key is to make sure that it makes sense from a revenue-generating perspective.”

Here are five social media campaign strategies from Ben Kerr, chief strategy officer for Somethin’ Else—with some AM&Plification added in to personalize.

1. Take a long-term view. “Advertising is all about bursts of activity, but social strategies should be at least 12-months long…” In an Instagram post three weeks ago, the League of American Orchestras put together an attractive multi-image page that looked like a magazine cover with a “Join Our Team” banner added: “Be a part of the award-winning Symphony magazine team! The League is looking for a Production and Design Manager, who will also support The Hub and marketing needs; link in bio. #TeamOrchestra.” In their most recent post, they quoted the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, who spoke at their 2016 conference: “Diversity is not our problem, it’s our promise.” This organization also won an EXCEL social media award last year for their Giving Day.

2. Build momentum. “To build momentum you always need to be offering some kind of new news—in the broadest sense of the word. You should be presenting an idea differently and trying to make that appeal to your audience.”

In its award-winning website redesign, OPIS made social media a big part of its awareness campaign. “Social media is becoming [a major] part of Google rankings,” said Ashlee Bovello, marketing programs principal at OPIS’ parent, IHS Markit. “Be sure to link back to your site [in your social postings]. Put social media icons in your footer not header. If it’s in the header, it’s easy for them to go off into social media land and forget why they’re on your website to begin with.”

3. Treat influencers with care. “Write them a brief and collaborate with them, but don’t create the content yourself. Let them do their thing.” Micro-influencers can be valuable ambassadors who can create and inspire authentic passion for a brand. So brands should systematize their use of influencers… Tomorrow’s influencers will be more segmented, a trend that would benefit AM&P members. In a recent study, more than 50% of people 35 and under said they are influenced in their purchases by bloggers and vloggers (video bloggers).

4. Strike a balance between creation and amplification. “It’s important to consider your ratio of budget spent on these two elements on a case-by-case basis. Too often, brands have a blanket rule that they will spend 15% to 20% on the creative and 80% to 85% on the distribution.”

In increasing a webinar’s revenue by 40%, the Association of Clinical Documentation Integrity Specialists ran photos of their Meet the Dream Team on Facebook posts. On the day of the webinar, Melissa Varnavas, editorial director, events and education, posted a photo on Facebook of her and colleague Mary Ann Genovese, headphones on, ready to go. They also used Twitter to get their message out: “Learning to target metrics to move #outpatient #CDI efforts forward with @ACDIS Live!”

5. Consider the value of complementary channels. The Casualty Actuarial Society won a gold EXCEL award two years ago for a campaign titled Actuaries in Pop Culture. (Last year they won for #ActuariesinMUSIC.) In a Twitter loop, they pointed to an actuary in the opening scene of Zootopia. “I can hunt for tax exemptions! I can be an actuary!” And in Along Came Polly, Ben Stiller played a risk assessment expert who falls in love with the titular Polly, played by Jennifer Aniston. And an actuary even won on Jeopardy that year!

If you can reference Jeopardy, you’re a winner in any book.


2020 EXCEL Winners Exhibit Ways That Associations Can Amplify Value and Showcase Members

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons won a 2020 EXCEL Award for an incredibly moving feature article by Kendra Mims titled The PSF Past President Helps Young Author Find ‘A Brave Face,’ about an Iraqi girl brought to the United States to be treated for severe burns. “After a year-long process of hurdles, prayers, phone calls and media outreach, Teeba finally arrived in Cleveland with her grandmother, and the Marlowes offered them a home. She received treatment under the care of the Plastic Surgery Foundation immediate-past President Arun Gosain, MD…” In March of 2019, 17 year-old Teeba released a book, “A Brave Face,” that discusses her journey through reconstructive surgery. She credits Dr. Gosain (pictured here with Teeba Furat Marlowe) for helping her improve her confidence through the years by reducing scarring and restoring facial function.

What a wonderful story! And a great way to spotlight a member of the ASPS and the special work that he’s doing. And we wouldn’t have known about it without the EXCEL Awards. Hollywood may have their Oscars and they’re up to year 93 for the presentation in April, but the EXCEL Awards has an amazing history of its own—these are the 41st EXCELs this year. And we want to know your stories so we can add to the great lore.

Today, Friday, Feb. 12, is the final day to get the early-bird rate for your 2021 EXCEL Awards entries. Check out all the categories here. But by no means is this the final day to enter. The regular nominations go to Feb. 28 and the extended deadline is March 7. We hope you let us in on the great work that you did in 2020, when we all worked so hard to bring some normalcy, excitement and value to a most abnormal year. It’s time for some recognition!

The above story conveys just one way how an association or society can showcase its members. Here are four more ways that 2020 EXCEL Award winners accomplished a task that amplifies the value of the association:

Convey information.
The Southern California Golf Association won a 2020 Gold EXCEL Award for their SCGA Rules Crew videos. These are two-minute, slickly done videos that portray a rule on the golf course. The one I’m watching now is called Time’s Up! ”The SCGA Rules Crew explains the new Rules regarding time for search outlined in Rule 18.2a.” A woman hits a ball into the trees, and her playing partner says, “Remember, we only have three minutes to find your ball.” “Three minutes?” the woman who hit it says. “I thought it was five.” No, it’s definitely three.” “That doesn’t make any sense—what can you possibly do in three minutes?” “I’ll show you.” And she goes about picnicking, reading the local paper, talking to her mom, and go on the SCGA site to find a new partner. Then their slogan comes, “Your passion. Our purpose.” There are 10 of these now on the site.

Show the power of an infographic.
The Casualty Actuarial Society won a 2020 EXCEL Award for their CAS Student Central Infographic. In a recent report, infographics scored incredibly high for click-to-open rates when included in an email. People respond to them. In this particular one, CAS is able to convey a wealth of information in a very palatable way. It shows what CAS does, the difference it makes in a career and in salary and gives advice what to focus on now. “In the U.S., college graduates on the casualty actuarial track start out earning significantly more than the average college graduate.” This was a great way to reach students who probably pay more attention to this than to, say, a regular article or photo.

Promote your association in a fun way.
One look at the homepage for the 2020 Gold EXCEL Award-winning I Spy Physiology Blog: Spotting Physiology in Everyday Life from the American Physiological Society suggests this is a very cool place. A woman hiker is ascending a mountain with a gorgeous green backdrop behind her. The blog has several sections—Diet & Nutrition, Exercise & Fitness, Most Popular, Contributors, COVID-19. One blog that jumps out is headlined Horror-ibly Wrong Physiology in Scary Movies. “Unrealistic Blood: On the screen, blood is a bright red liquid that squirts out of wounds when a character is killed. Blood gets its red color from red blood cells that are filled with oxygen. But without oxygen—such as when someone dies—it changes to a dark reddish-purple hue. Also, when exposed to air, blood will also start to thicken into a gel-like substance, unlike the watery blood seen in movies.”

Give voices to members.
The Rotarian Magazine won a 2020 EXCEL Award for a column titled, How I Met My Sister. “One morning, I got a text message from my brother, asking me to call him before work,” Sarah Long’s story begins. “I asked if he was OK. Fine, he assured me. ‘So, I have this Ancestry account,’ he said.” At times, we can do well by writing member spotlights, but there are other times when it’s better to let our members tell their own stories. We can also look to add more diversity in this way. “Being found by a sibling highlighted what I didn’t know about my family, but it also reminded me of what I had always been lucky to have,” Long writes. “Stories. Photo albums. Letters from my grandfather…” This column really humanizes the magazine for its readers.


Winning Podcast Shows That You Can Achieve High Quality in Short Time

Cue the up-tempo music. “Welcome to ASME TechCast, bringing you the innovators, the innovations and the issues that push the envelope of engineering.”

Then we hear John Kennedy’s iconic, New England-tinged voice. “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they were hard.” Then we hear more famous space voices—“one small step…”; “the eagle has landed…,” and then some not-so-famous ones. Because this stirring podcast—titled Engineering the Apollo 11 Lunar Module—spotlights the engineers who made the1969 moon landing happen.

That episode won ASME a 2020 Gold EXCEL Award (from another division here), and they just started the podcast in 2018—showing that you can achieve high quality in a short time. (And the podcast doesn’t have to be long—more below.)

“We had to ask ourselves, ‘What is our mission? Why do we want to do this?'” Chitra Sethi, executive editor, media, for ASME, said during a session last year. “Is music important? [Yes.] Do you need a logo? [Yes.] And what format do you want? Solo, segmented, interview?”

They chose segmented. “Music can help your podcast connect,” said Sethi. “And what’s in a name? Everything. It took us weeks to pick a name. We had Geek Speak and Mechanically Speaking. Once we picked ASME TechCast we had our designer create a logo for it.  We launched with a pilot episode on diversity in the industry” featuring an Interview with a woman engineer.

Talk about being ahead of your time. And speaking of time, they realized after recording a few episodes that a long podcast was not in their cards—or 8-hour workday. “We did like a 45-minute interview that we had to cut down to 12 minutes,” she said. “We did not have the time for that going forward so decided to try to keep the recordings short.” Now the podcasts average about 10-12 minutes with this winning one just a quote or two over 10 minutes.

While in-person events may not happen for a while, podcasts are getting even bigger audiences. So if you don’t have one yet, this may be a good time to start one.

Here are some of Sethi’s DO’s and DON’TS:

Conduct a pre-interview with your subject. Help them shape their story. Question: Can they tell it themselves or do they need an interviewer to draw it out of them?”

Choose your where-to-record wisely and always listen before you record. Wear headphones of what the actual recording will sound like.

Include a call-to-action on every episode for something you want listeners to do.

Promote episodes on social media.

Track your metrics—how many listens, how long are they staying, where are they dropping off?

If you are speaking, find your personal mic distance.

Have a strong introduction. Just like everything else that’s digital today, people want to be engaged quickly—especially now.

Practice your part.


Don’t touch the microphone once it’s set up.

Don’t go on without setting a script agenda.

Avoid the yesses, nos and uh-huhs. This isn’t like regular conversation, Sethi said, though it does need to sound off the cuff.

Don’t read from the script.

Avoid long recordings. You will spend too much time editing it down.

Here are more tips from others:

Fit your schedule to your audience. You don’t have to pump out a podcast every week. Think what your true podcast value is, what the audience is, and whether a time-limited series is a better fit.

Over-explain how to listen. There’s still a gap in podcast awareness and listening, particularly among older audiences—who listen least, but like Facebook, will most likely be jumping more on board. Podcast creators still need to explain to potential listeners how to find, subscribe to and download their show.

Celebrate your launch. Put ads throughout the month on your website, in your newsletters and magazine. Go crazy on social media and, ahem, talk it up on Zoom.

Look inward for talent. Ask your staff, in all areas, who might be interested in hosting. You never know. They probably know the subject, which is a big bonus.

Capitalize on your legacy brand but… There’s a temptation to launch a new brand around podcasts, rather than using your legacy brand. Not smart. But, Althen recommends giving your podcast its own url.

Get some advice on selling ads or sponsorships. The SIPA Discussion Forum might be the best place for that.