Saturday, February 28, 2009

Should your association reorganize around content?

What do you think of when you hear the word “publications”? Do you picture a stack of cartons delivered to your office which, when opened, have the distinctive aroma of fresh ink on paper? Does your organization have a publications department which has staff who use software such as InDesign, and think in terms of photos as being in CMYK and paper being specified by its pound weight?
Next, take a look around your organization. Do you have a meetings department that organizes your association’s conferences and conventions and coordinates the various speakers and presenters who will attract attendees? Do you have a continuing education department that presents face-to-face and online educational events? Where is the content that is posted on your organization’s website created? Is it done by someone in your IT department? Government affairs? Membership? Meetings? All of them?
The traditional view has always been that each of the above functions requires distinct skills, interact with different vendors and serve different purposes. But, in order to succeed in today’s competitive environment, association executives must realize that they are no longer in the publishing business, or the meetings business, or the continuing education business. They are now in the highly competitive business of content delivery.
Let’s look at one such example. A large association publishes several successful peer reviewed journals. Management of these periodicals is handled by the staff of the publications departments, the staff of which interact with the journal editors, keeps the peer review process moving, and produce and mail the finished product. The conference department is soliciting presentations to be given at meetings held throughout the year. The papers are then put through a peer review process to determine if they are worthy of being included in the program. Those that are selected are then published in the proceedings of the event.
Is there really any difference between the peer review process utilized by the publications staff and the peer review process utilized by the meetings department? The process is the same, only the deliverable is different. In one case the product is a printed publication received in a member’s mailbox, in the other, it is a presentation given in a face-to-face format and then followed by a printed or digital copy. The workflow management of creating and delivering the content is identical in both instances. Yet, there are two departments creating content and duplicating each other’s efforts and skill sets.

External Threats

Most associations view their content-driven products as one of the most, if not the most, important member benefit they offer. Most people join associations in order to receive the publication or have access to events. But, associations are now facing competition not only from other associations serving their field, but from commercial organizations which deliver content and information without requiring the payment of dues. In fact, in many cases, the content is free and available to anyone for just a few clicks of a mouse.
Therefore, associations must be certain that they retain their value and one way to do this is to assure their members that they are getting the best content available from their association. This means content that can be trusted for accuracy, reliability, and credibility. But, it also means that the association must be able to deliver content that is not readily available from other sources. This is what brings value to your members.
It is important to remember that content is what attracts readers to your magazine and it is the presence of those readers that attract advertising. Content is what attracts attendees to your meetings and conventions and it is those attendees that bring in the exhibitors who want to meet them.

Something to Think About

Here is the radical idea: shut down your publications, meetings, and continuing education departments and create a new “content department.” Let each of the members of the current staff who interact with content providers (writers, editors, instructors, presenters, etc.) work together to identify the best and most credible writers and presenters. Let those who purchase the printing of your magazine also purchase the printing of your association’s promotional material, conference proceedings, and other goods requiring putting ink on paper. Those with the expertise to negotiate for and manage hotel rooms and meeting space should apply those skills not only to your organization’s meetings, but also to its face-to-face continuing education events. Finally, the content department should be the single point that determines what and where information is placed on your organization’s website. After all, your website, too, is nothing more than another content delivery product produced by your association.
Applying this model may be painful at first, but it will result in a more coordinated effort for the creation and delivery of the content and information that is so vital to your association’s success. It also may have the added long-term benefit of saving money by more efficiently utilizing staff skills and negotiating better pricing with suppliers.

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