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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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Reaching audiences and driving revenue: Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021 keynotes urge creativity

In his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, best-selling author Daniel Pink gives our typical day three stages: a peak, a trough and a recovery. He wants you doing analytic tasks in the morning, administrative tasks—emails, expense reports, etc.—in the midday, and insight problems in the afternoon. “…We’re less vigilant [then] than during the peak,” he says. “[But] that looseness—letting in a few distractions—opens us to new possibilities and boosts our creativity.”

Two of the keynotes for our June 16-17 Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021—a virtual event for association publishing professionals—Denise Burrell-Stinson, head of WP Creative Team in the Creative Group at The Washington Post, and Scott Stuart, CEO, Turnaround Management Association, also emphasize 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 on a recent Associations Council podcast. “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 human connection is something Pink also addresses in his book, written before the pandemic but probably more on target now. “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,” he said.

With the water-cooler conversation still mostly out for now, finding a neighbor, a nearby friend, or just a visit to the local barista might be Pink’s restorative recipe. He calls afternoons “the Bermuda Triangles of our days,” citing a Duke University study that found that harmful anesthesia errors are three times more likely at 3 p.m. than 8 a.m., and Danish test takers who scored significantly lower in the afternoon than morning. “Regular, systematic breaks—especially those that involve movement, nature and full detachment—reduce errors, boost mood and can help us steer around this Bermuda Triangle,” Pink said.

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—creatively or otherwise—with Burrell-Stinson, Stuart and the third keynote as well, Scott Steen, executive director of the American Physiological Society, 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. Find more information and register here.

Listen here as Burrell-Stinson discusses the challenges and opportunities brought by the current publishing climate. And listen here to more with Stuart on how he’s led his organization through this pivot with creativity.

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Goodwill efforts, global audiences, information hubs, audio and… wine? What we’ll try to keep

“We struggled with our education offerings,” Scott Stuart, CEO of the Turnaround Management Association, recalled recently from the early days of the pandemic. “So we formed a subcommittee, and they [developed] 24 webinar opportunities for members between March and September. It was a pivot for our visibility [and a huge success], and now it’s a staple for our education. Crisis brings clarity.”

Crisis also bring innovation. Last week, The Washington Post published a story for their Outlook section titled What We’ll Keep. “The pandemic made us change our lives. Here are 11 ways we won’t change back.” Those ways include soft pants, spending time with pets, online ordering at in-person restaurants, appreciating essential workers, spending time outdoors, telecommuting and better home cooking.

Stuart, who will be a keynote speaker at our upcoming Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021 virtual event, June 16-17, gave a perfect example of an initiative that will be kept well after the crisis recedes. (Denise Burrell-Stinson, head of WP Creative Team in the Creative Group at The Washington Post, is the other keynote.) Here are a few other probable “keepsakes,” with the best saved for last.

Keep global audiences. Stuart also spoke about their new global audience. “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,” he 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.” Welcoming a global audience for virtual events will continue. Said Orson Francescone, head of the Financial Times’ FT Live: “[In 2019] we had 24,000 delegates at our conferences. [In 2020] with 223 online events—that’s webinars, conferences and award shows—we’ve had 160,000 ‘digital delegates.’ So suddenly those numbers are kind of blowing our model out of the water…”

Build more hubs. Coronavirus news hubs brought large new audiences to publishers. “We knew commercial impact was ripe for impact from this… and we knew this was something we had to address quickly,” said Kathryn Hamilton, vice president for marketing and communication at NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association). “From a communications perspective, my biggest takeaway [from an initial call with our leaders] was that we… needed to create a microsite where all this content could be easily found. Thus the COVID-19 site was born and visited, again and again.” Does the idea of a hub for expanded coverage only have to be around COVID? A temporary hub on another vital topic could work well for your industry niche.

Earn goodwill. We like uplifting stories, so why stop when the pandemic ends? “We know that a lot of our members are doing good things,” Hamilton said last year, mentioning Delta airlines relocating a work site in less than 48 hours to accommodate workers. “So we’ve invited our members to share their good works with us.” Alicia Evanko Lewis of Northstar Travel Group told us that she created a Silver Lining Social campaign that engaged industry members to share their positive stories amidst the upheaval. It has been a huge success. Marlene Hendrickson, senior director, publishing and marketing, American Staffing Association, suggested lifting your log-in requirements for your COVID resources. There might be other important events—good and bad—that come up where easy access could enable good feelings,

Offer more audio. Text to audio has accelerated during the crisis. Dutch news website The Correspondent recently launched a new audio app for members. “We were a text-based site mostly, and our members asked us if we could also provide audio, because it’s easier to combine it with different activities like traveling or working out,” CEO Ernst-Jan Pfauth said. “We figured, well, it’s not our mission to provide text. It’s our mission to be a daily antidote to the news grind, to give an insight into how the world works. The medium isn’t that important, so if voice works better, let’s introduce that.”

Commit to more digital resources. While print is still important for most associations, the last 12 months has required a bigger commitment to digital. “We had to make sure that [our members] were aware that their print issues were being reduced, but at the same time, they weren’t really losing anything from their membership,” said Nicole Racadag, managing editor at the American College of Radiology. “Instead this whole digital publishing model was going to be a value-add for them. They were going to get more content more frequently. We worked with the marketing team to make sure our table of contents was being sent to all members so that way they knew they could access the content online, even though the main June issues, for example, were not going to be printed. Our early web statistics show that users were going to acr.org/bulletin to browse content.” The potential here is enormous.

Double down on content. When the pandemic hit, Morning Brew launched a guide telling readers how best to work from home. It quickly became a pop-up, three-days-a-week newsletter, The Essentials, with tips on how to be active, healthy and happy during quarantine.” It attracted more than 75,000 subscribers in the first three days. In November, after 80+ issues of The Essentials, the newsletter got a makeover to become Sidekick. Looks like it’s still going strong. “Another example of our mission and how we’re being a resource to readers…,” said Alex Lieberman, CEO and co-founder. “We are thinking differently about the media landscape.”

Use sommeliers. One of the most reliable moving parts of virtual conferences is wine tastings. It seemed to check a lot of boxes for the last year: networking, joy, learning, diversity. So why stop? In-person events can easily kick off a networking happy hour with a 20-minute talk from a local sommelier about what we might be drinking tonight. For hybrid events, could be a way to give both audiences a similar experience and would be nice to have her or him around as a resource.

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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.