August 3, 2012

The gray area of transparency

Social media can make an association board meeting messy. Just ask the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Debate is stirring in journalism circles online over its decision to ban the live tweeting of its board meeting.

Here's the quandry: It wasn't a board member tweeting, nor was it a reporter from an external news organization. It was a student reporter for UNITY News, the in-house news operation for the UNITY 2012 Conference, which brings together an alliance of identity-specific journalism associations and is where the board meeting was being held.

I don't know if the reporter was technically a member of NAHJ, but let's assume she was. How does an association board properly handle the challenge of live media at its meetings?

For board members: Regarding board members themselves, I've written here before that I think the answer is education about what must remain confidential and about how and why live tweeting can interfere with effective board decision making. (At the very least, a tweeting board member is a distracted board member.) But I'd stop short of an outright ban.

For outside press: In the case of reporters from outside publications, the answer is simple, as an association (generally) doesn't have an obligation to open its affairs to the public. Tell them they can read the press release.

For at-large members: But it's the area in between that's gray, when an at-large member wants to attend a board meeting and communicate proceedings to members in real time. At-large members have a legitimate claim to be made aware of their association's governance proceedings, but an association board has a legitimate need to conduct its meetings in an environment that enables candid discussion and debate.

As Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre pointed out, "The reason to have a board is to select representatives to discuss and agree on policy in a way that would be too time-consuming and inefficient in a plenary of the membership. Minute-by-minute reporting would tend to turn a board meeting into something like a plenary."

That's an argument that probably makes a lot of sense to an association executive or anyone who, like John, has served on a nonprofit board, but it likely won't resonate with members rallying in the name of transparency. A decision to close the doors or ban media should not be taken lightly.

Those of you out there who have faced this situation at your associations: How have you handled it? Where is the line drawn? How do you strike a balance between transparency and effective board business?

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June 8, 2012

Is Polling Still Worth It?

I feel like I've been buried in poll numbers even more than usual, from Wisconsin governor recall results to public confidence in the economy to American Idol. But are polls really trustworthy anymore, when you have one-third of the public living cell-phone-only and most of the rest using caller ID on land-lines to help them avoid any surveys, even when they support the cause or campaign (guilty as charged!)?

Because so many associations poll members and potential members on everything from dues raises to advocacy positions, I turned to the man who knows more than almost anyone about the veracity and challenges of accurate polling: Bill McInturff, co-founder & partner, Public Opinion Strategies.

Bill, who is speaking today as part of the "Decision 2012" General Session at the ASAE Financial and Business Operations Conference, leads--along with partner Peter D. Hart--the largest polling company in the country, Public Opinion Strategies. The firm handles polling for NBC News/Wall Street Journal and works closely on polling challenges with the two primary industry associations, the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASR) and American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

"You can believe poll results but still have dwindling confidence," he told me. "There's no question that with the glut of polling, credibility is a little lower, because people are hearing wider, more diverse results of what different polls are saying. And there's no question that the basic confidence they have in polling is very different than it was 20 to 40 years ago. They're certainly asking more questions about methodology.

Despite those troubles, "if it's done correctly, it's still broadly accurate," Bill says. "It's still the best way to collect customer and other information about public opinion, and people don't tire of needing that information."
It will cost them more, though, to get it. According to Bill, the price of polling has risen for three reasons: (1) "federal laws and mandates dictate that you cannot use auto-dialers for cell phone numbers--you have to call cell phones by hand; (2) cooperation rates are much lower, so you have to call more people to get a completed survey; and (3) you have to collect the data ... using increased labor costs."

To better ensure poll veracity, Bill--who was the lead pollster for John McCain during the latter's 2008 presidential bid--advises associations to "be good consumers and make sure you go through a discussion with the pollster about methodology," asking about compensation rates for cell-phone-only or other respondents, how the "convenience factor" of women answering the phone more than men is handled, and how the data have been weighted and by how much.

I'll be writing a second blog post shortly that shares Bill's responses on whether associations can trust that the viewpoints of respondents reflect those of non-respondents as well, the potential for social media to offer new surveying opportunities, and more. I invite comments about your own association's successes or challenges when polling. And maybe you can snag Bill after the session to get more of his input, too. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your insights so generously at this busy time!


May 24, 2012

Guarding Your Message

I was listening to a communications specialist who was at ASAE's Membership, Marketing, and Communications Conference yesterday, and she was confiding a message-gone-wrong story at her association.

In her case, members had given immediate and highly vocal feedback that they believed a certain call for an advocacy action by the organization and its membership had strayed from or even "betrayed" its core mission, thus alienating and confusing important donors and leaders.

It reminded me of the Komen Foundation controversy regarding pulled funds for Planned Parenthood programs, as well as comments by political strategist James Carville, whom I had interviewed recently about the art of smart messaging. (Carville will be a General Session speaker with Republican strategist Karl Rove in August at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, so look for interviews with him and Rove in an upcoming Associations Now spread.)

"That debacle was an enormous and, as far as I can tell, unanticipated glitch," Carville said as we wondered why organizations still make serious communication mistakes, even with high-priced PR firms advising them. "Their overall messaging and the pink ribbon were brilliant. That became so identifiable that they were about women's health, and ... they had a real positive outfit. But then they came across as if they were some kind of political advocacy group, and that was particularly damaging. That was a glitch where they did something that was inconsistent with their overall messaging."

Carville talked about the need to vehemently "protect your message with everything you do."

"That's why I always add the dynamic of culture," he said, adding that the key elements of your primary message must be deeply embedded across your organization and lived by everyone on staff 24/7. "Where Komen, as a good example, went off track was that women's health wasn't put first; politics or ideology was put first," or at least appeared that way. That clearly had donors and supporters feeling profoundly betrayed, and I personally wonder how long it might take for Komen to recover, if indeed it can rebuild the lost trust through believable messaging and actions.

I'm interested in whether other associations or nonprofits have opinions of why and when associations mess up their messaging and are forced to execute crisis communication interventions. Feel free to share here and to sanitize players as needed for the sake of discussion.


April 18, 2012

Earth Day Offers Visibility, Fun, Engagement

It's Earth Day this Sunday and National Volunteer Month for a few weeks more, so loads of associations and their member companies and professionals are organizing, educating, celebrating, volunteering, and just plain participating in this worldwide effort to bolster environmental conservation.

Here's a snapshot of what some are doing or already have done--and it's not too late to join in yourself!

Start by downloading the free Earth Day 2012 Toolkit , where you can also learn about and be inspired by "A Billion Acts of Green," the world's largest environmental service campaign. And if you're in DC, you may want to check out the massive party scene happening at the National Mall rally and concerts either in person or online (live-streaming at

Sounds like some more partying will go on over at the 2012 Mighty Kindness Earth Day Hootenanny on April 22 organized by the Kentucky Chiropractic Association. The fun is combined with a more serious purpose: promoting a new state license "Go Green with Chiropractic" plate that aims "to elevate the chiropractic industry and its environmentally friendly nature in Kentucky" and raise some money as well.

The Eco-Dentistry Association will host its first tweetchat for dental industry professionals and consumers worldwide "to discuss the essentials of a high-tech, wellness based, and successful green dental practice."

The American Bar Association's Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) in sponsoring the One Million Trees Project-Right Tree for the Right Place at the Right Time nationwide public service project. Started in March 2009, the project "calls on ABA members to contribute to the goal of planting one million trees across the United States by 2014 - both by planting trees themselves and by contributing to the partnering tree organizations." It also is promoting nominations for the 2012 ABA Award for Excellence in Environmental, Energy, and Resources Stewardship.

Entertainment Cruises is partnering with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has partnered with Entertainment Cruises to offer an Earth Day brunch cruise to enjoy Washington, DC, views while learning from the NAAEE about green energy, environmental initiatives and its upcoming conference.

More than 1,000 volunteers of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) are engaging in 10 signature Earth Day projects from prairie re-vegetation to exotic plant species removal on public lands across the U.S. on April 14 and 21. These events have some powerful sponsors, including American Eagle Outfitters, ARAMARK, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Exelon Foundation, Johnson Controls, Sony, and Southwest Airlines.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has released the First Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative, which details how the consumer electronics industry has dramatically increased its recycling in 2011 and advanced the goals set by the eCycling Leadership Initiative (also called the Billion Pound Challenge). For instance, participants of the initiative arranged for the responsible recycling of 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, a 53% increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010. The number of recycling drop-off locations for consumers also was bolstered from to nearly 7,500 from just over 5,000 a year ago. And CEA launched to educate consumers about eCycling and energy consumption. By entering a ZIP code, anyone can locate the closest responsible recycling opportunity sponsored by the CE industry and/or third-party certified recycler. The initiative aims to increase electronics recycling to one billion pounds annually by 2016 and providing transparent metrics on eCycling efforts. A billion pounds of unrecycled waste electronics would fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium.

The American Medical Student Association and Medical Alumni Association at Temple University are planting seeds and preparing a "Medicinal and Edible Learning Garden" and education event to discuss natural medicinal remedies.

The National Parks and Recreation Association is urging people to take advantage of waived entrance fees at U.S. national parks from April 21 to April 29 during National Park Week. Download your free Owner's Guide to America's National Parks. I know a few associations that are planning staff picnics and hikes at local parks and Great Falls National Park in sync with this promotional event.

The New York City Association of Hotel Concierges (NYCAHC) and its affiliate members will celebrate MillionTreesNYC at a "Dig In for Earth Day" tree-planting event May 5 in partnership with Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks and New York Restoration Project. Since the program's inception in 2007, thousands of New Yorkers have helped plant over 400,000 trees, with NYCAHC planting more than 2,000 of them.

American Forests' easy online calculator and offsetting options make it easy to offset your home or car pollution (I offset my minivan's emissions for about $17 last year through AF). Earth Day Network also offers an eco-calculator.

Whatever you do, just consider doing something green this weekend and join your colleagues in making the planet a bit healthier for us all!

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March 7, 2012

Are Your Internships the "Best on Earth?"

I'm sure I'm not the only parent scrambling to set up a summer full of camps, nanny-sharing, sibling-sitting, and bartering in order to cover childcare for the summer months. For those parents with high school and college-age kids, though, the key word is "internship."

Thus, I had to laugh when I saw Sierra Club's funny "Best Internship on Earth" video pitch, designed to recruit older students and young adults to help with everything from trail maintenance to nature education.

I wondered how many organizations--whether associations looking for project assistance this summer or charities needing event volunteers--had taken time to develop creative outreach materials about their internships. I can tell you: Not many. Interns have the strike against them that they are temporary employees and therefore can be worked hard, cheaply, and without too much thought.

As a veteran of many internships in my younger days, I can say that the while the experiences of working briefly in various organizations vary wildly, the impressions made by those companies and nonprofits on me have lasted a long time and have been discussed with many people. Are you leaving your interns with terrific memories of their short time with you? What are they saying to their friends--your potential future employees--once the summer or fall comes?

Make it "good gossip" by asking the intern what he or she hopes to gain from the experience and what he or she most enjoys doing (talking to people? Problem-solving? Working on a team? Generating ideas and then being given appropriate freedom to execute them? "Trying out" a career in association work?). Try to ensure that at least half of the internship allows the individual to do those things while still completing your necessary work.

Give lots of feedback--frequently! Make the person feel like a welcome addition rather than another chore competing for your time. Listen and ask questions. An objective set of eyes and suggestions may be just what's needed to make a project exceed expectations.

Watch the Sierra Club video and think about what you might do to generate buzz and excitement (humor doesn't hurt either) about an often-underpaid temp job. You never know when you may be working side by side with that person on a much more long-term basis.


September 7, 2011

An Anniversary No One Will Forget: Associations Vary in 9/11 Treatment

So many associations are gearing up to share tributes, assess their industry's progress, and conduct community service projects in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that it's impractical to list them all. That said, I do want to share some of the tools, communication efforts, and creative projects in case some organizations are still pondering what their staff or members might want to do:

Created a microsite of resources. The American Psychological Association (APA) has set up a microsite with resources to "help people cope and build resistance" during the emotional days around 9/11.

Partnered for a TV special/podcast/on-demand show. APA also partnered with "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" to co-develop a TV report called "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," which ran September 1 and is available on iTunes as a free podcast and in Nickelodeon's video-on-demand offerings throughout the month. A related discussion guide helps parents and teachers talk to kids about the tragedy and tough emotions.

Developed a so-called "impact kit" for reporters--a compilation of stats, resources, and trained commentators who can discuss an event from the perspective of its impact on an industry, profession, or locality. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has organized materials around terrorism and insurance to aid reporters covering the 10th anniversary, including prepping its board president for media interviews and promoting I.I.I.'s white paper on "terrorism risk and insurance." A strong quote in its press release will likely get good response from media: "The 9/11 attack was the largest payout in the history of insurance until Hurricane Katrina in 2005," says President Robert Hartwig said. "Insurers became the nation's economic 'first responders,' and as construction progresses on the site of the former World Trade Center, insurance claims dollars continue to play an essential and highly visible role in rebuilding lower Manhattan while also mitigating the overall economic impact of the 9/11 attack."

Conducted a 9/11-related study. A good example was released this week by CoreNet Global, an association of corporate real estate and workplace professionals. The study concludes that 9/11 "had a permanent effect on the workplace," in part by accelerating the trend toward "distributed work" conducted by workers in multiple locations. "The focus on risk management as an intrinsic strategic planning and management function also grew stronger," according to the association. "Business disruption planning became a common element for many corporate workplace and asset managers as a result of 9/11," says spokesperson Richard Kadzis. "Elements of this planning include mobile work plans for employees, facility collocation policies, redundant facilities, energy back up, business continuity plans, and off-site data storage."

Combined old-time traditional communication tools with social media tools to promote public service. The Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has launched a billboard and Internet campaign called "Remember Through Service" to mark the day by highlighting the service of Michigan Muslims to the nation and to "provide an accurate depiction of how Muslims contribute to the broader society." Individuals highlighted include a doctor who was a first responder to Ground Zero, a Detroit police officer, an assistant prosecuting attorney, an assistant principal in an Ohio public school, a Vietnam veteran, and a volunteer doctor at a free medical clinic. You can see the billboards here[LINK TO] and related YouTube videos[LINK TO].

Volunteered like crazy. The goal is more than 50 million--that's the magic number for how many volunteers the government, community partners, and others hope to engage in community service projects such as park cleanups, mentoring, and food drives. Any organization still interested in community service projects can go to for a list of opportunities.


April 27, 2011

Rosabeth Moss Kanter Urges CEOs to Learn from the Royal Wedding

I'm a longtime fan of Harvard University's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and she pulls through for me again with her latest HBR blog post titled "Why CEOs Should Watch the Royal Wedding."

I had wondered how I could put a business spin on England's bigger-than-the-2012-Olympics event tomorrow, but I've also been thinking more about yesterday's sessions at the MM&C conference. Now Kanter has shown me the way.

In case you're unclear, we're talking about the ballyhooed nuptials of England's Prince William to Kate Middleton, which may manage to pull our ally out of its economic slump by the sheer scale of the event's marketplace of commemorative plates, mugs, apparel, towels, and everything else imaginable.

Kanter calls the global uproar--an estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch--"one more example of the coming of the experience economy, in which people pay for the chance to participate at particular times (Farmville, anyone?), and expenditures on goods and services come in bundles tied to particular events."

Specifically, she identifies three "strategic insights" more relevant to CEOs than the color of the Queen's hat, and here I paraphrase and urge you to read her full explanations:

First, the selling of so-called "soft stuff"--happiness, unity, shared experience, ritual, meaning, and tradition--can touch customers and members in a way that brings them running with their wallets open. "The joy factor ... is a better business theme to emphasize than the fear factor," Kanter notes.

Second, take the experience and share it on many levels, using many media methods and tying it to causes that matter to your customers. In other words, excel at brand management. While most news outlets have joined in the ruckus and are broadcasting the event live worldwide, Kanter points out that even the usually reserved royal PR propers are working Web 2.0 tools with vigor.

You'll be able to catch livestreaming on the Royal Wedding website, tweeting at the Clarence House royal wedding Twitter feed, and blogging by St. James Palace.

Panicked that you forgot to send the couple a "prezzie?" No worries. These "modern royals" are into cause as much as many other we've-already-got-what-we-need-thanks couples today--they're urging well-wishers to donate to a charity in their honor in lieu of gifts.

Third, be aware that not all attention to your events is necessarily good. Here, Kanter warns that big do's "focus attention not only on the message but on the cost of getting out the message, which can undercut the message."

I can see that's true. With an unverifiable but widely estimated pricetag of around $30 million, the Kate-and-William wedding did prompt my British in-laws to make a passing remark about the number of poor people who could be fed and clothed for that amount. And who among associations hasn't heard the occasional complaint that a nonprofit event shouldn't be so showy or expensive (as defined in their terms, anyway)?

As we've examined the latest trends and skills needed to rock the marketing and communications worlds this week during the MM&C conference, we've seen loads of good and bad examples from the association community and the corporate world.

And to me, the lesson that still reigns supreme--whether promoting a worldwide event or evoking genuine emotions and actions through good storytelling--is that content remains king.

Kanter doesn't say that straight out, but "soft" or "hard," stripped to bullet points or gussied up for a global showcase, tailor-made content is the core value to our customers and members.

I'll try to remember that while eating scones and sipping tea from the commemorative cup sent by my mother-in-law while I watch a 5 a.m. pre-wedding show likely focused on Kate's possible dress designer and the royal glass carriage.


Empowerment starts with getting out of the way

Josh Bernoff

The title of Josh Bernoff's latest book is Empowered, so it's no surprise that that idea emerged as a theme this morning at ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference with Bernoff, senior VP of idea development at Forrester Research, delivering the opening general session. To be honest, I didn't expect the learning lab I attended next to have much connection to empowerment, but I was pleasantly surprised that it did.

Bernoff (pictured above) told a story of his experience being helped by Best Buy's Twelpforce and explained how the company organized itself around empowering any employee, not just those in customer-service centers, to help customers with questions. He called these empowered employees HEROes (an acronym for Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operative) and asked attendees if their organizations were giving their HEROes room to act.

In some organizations, "rogue" employees are resourceful in that they use emerging technologies to accomplish tasks but don't feel empowered to use them toward business objectives. Bernoff cited research that says one in five employees at nonprofits fall in the "rogue" category, a higher rate than in for-profit organizations. In other words, fewer nonprofit employees feel empowered to find innovative ways to do their work.

Bernoff also encouraged associations to deliver customer service through customer collaboration. "Peer-to-peer communication is more important than top-down communication," he said. (Find Bernoff's slides here.)

The learning lab "Delivering the Hits: Using PR to Tell Your Story and Change Minds" immediately followed the general session. Todd Von Deak, CAE, and Brendon Shank from the Society of Hospital Medicine told the audience of their success in telling their members' stories to the media. Storytelling was the major theme. "Good stories will find their way to coverage. Bad stories are just bad stories," Von Deak said.

The key to telling good stories? Focus on your association's members, not your association. Good professional stories aren't much different from good children's stories—they both feature characters, challenges, and results—but "your organization is not the best character in your stories," Shank said. "Nor is the CEO," Von Deak added. They argued that a story or quote from a volunteer or member will be far more compelling than one from a company spokesperson.

And thus the theme of empowerment came up again. In both sessions, Bernoff, Von Deak, and Shank urged association leaders to get out of the way, to let their staff and members shine through. The type of association professionals hearing that message at MMCC—the director-level types focused on marketing, membership, and communications—are the ones most likely to understand this idea, but they'll face the challenge of taking that message back to their bosses and colleagues.

For more insights from MMCC, check out or follow on Twitter via the #MMCCon hashtag.


April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Chance at Relevancy

Earth Day can be a fraud, a feast, or a fizzle.

It can be a great rallying date around which to publicly re-enunciate your organization's commitment to sustainability and showcase actions you've taken that back it up, or it either can be dissed as a greenwashing exercise or simply ignore it.

But are the latter two options very smart business choices with all of the studies showing the growing influence of eco-conscious consumers, the heightened watchfulness of media and citizen journalists, and the myriad hard data that have emerged about the positive ROI of a well-planned social responsibility strategy that syncs with organizational mission and core competencies?

If that kind of strategy sounds time-intensive to chart, it can be. However, it takes effort to plan any strategy, so I don't think that concern should be seen as much more than an excuse, especially when this approach jives so well with most our community's common goals of operating efficiently, attracting and retaining talent, holding tight to our budgets, bolstering innovation, engaging members, and building brand value.

It's heartening to see the many press releases from nonprofits and associations today as they urge members and consumers to switch to paper-free bill paying, plant a tree, volunteer, recycle, insulate, and more.

Less heartening is that so many associations are silent today. I promise you that no matter what industry or profession your group represents, your members--maybe not all of them, but certainly a growing percentage--are indeed moving toward greater sustainability. This is a chance for your association to be relevant. This is a chance to show value in a new way. There are serious opportunities here for any organization of any size in any location (you'll find some examples at to help members strengthen their businesses and professions.

So celebrate Earth Day today. Acknowledge it with authenticity. Tell staff, members, and others what you already are doing to help lighten your environmental footprint (that kind of self-audit is the first step anyway), and ask them what else you could be doing.

You may find the sustainability journey to be an enlightening road to greater relevancy.


August 31, 2010

Rebranding: Lessons for the Rest of Us

I remember when March of Dimes kicked off its new branding several years ago, so it was interesting to read the terrific article in this month's Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows which media vehicles worked and which failed in terms of accomplishing the organization's many specific goals for the campaign. You can read more about the following three lessons learned in "March of Dimes' Evolution in Online Fundraising:"
1) The vetting and targeting of influential and "advocate bloggers" was worth it.
2) The purchase of online ads placed near popular search engine words and terms took creativity and smarts, in my opinion.
3) The failure of a popular web video that was "cool" but didn't get the right job done shows that tracking and reflection can reveal false assumptions and prevent future marketing mistakes.

Kudos to the organization for their candor about the campaign. We all benefit from sharing such insider information.


June 15, 2010

Associations as translators

A column on found its way to me through the Twitter grapevine last week, and it calls out a problem in the public-relations field that I think associations can answer.

In "Bad medical writing hurts public health," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, writes that the pains of the newspaper industry have a potentially dangerous ripple effect on public health. In short:

  1. Newspapers and other media are cutting skilled science writers for financial reasons and replacing them with inexperienced writers.
  2. Medical associations host large meetings where researchers and companies present findings of their studies, and they invite the media.
  3. Brawley says drug and medical companies are naturally inclined to heavily promote their research or products at these meetings.
  4. Inexperienced journalists are easily fooled into writing about overblown or misleading medical research (and sensational headlines drive page views, which is cause for only further trouble).

This merits mention on a major news site because it potentially affects public health, but the dynamics of the situation are present in any field, not just medicine and healthcare.

There was a time when the media was the objective referee between the sources of news and the consumers of news, but clearly that role is eroding, not only as newspapers lay off skilled writers but also as the journalist's mantle is taken up by citizens with blogs and Twitter handles.

Associations can step in here and help fill the role of referee. While an association should actively promote the achievements of its industry, it should also temper sensationalism by being a voice of clarity and authority in that industry. (Perhaps akin to the association curator role that is much talked about.)

Medical and scientific organizations do this well in their journals through the peer-review process. It's understandable, however, that the buzz of a conference can stir up hype. Behind the scenes, this is when an association's PR professionals should be making themselves known to the media as expert resources.

It's easy to forget that the public (and the media that serves it) don't have the same expertise, knowledge, and vocabulary as your industry's members, and your association is in the prime spot to serve as translator and educator for those outside your realm.

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February 3, 2010

Score Some Success with Super Bowl Creativity

Mind if I change the subject a sec? I want to talk sports a minute—Super Bowl football, specifically. Some members do, too. In fact, the Super Bowl can be a fun way to huddle with members, score some free press, and tackle a few tough social problems simultaneously.

Here’s what I’ve seen some of your colleagues doing pre-kick-off this weekend to creatively highlight their organizations. Maybe there’s still time to throw together a special play of your own…. Feel free to post at the bottom.

Whoa, despite a $3.2-million price tag for 30 seconds of ad time and tons of buzz about the hilarious eTrade babies, the American Heart Association and King Pharmaceuticals are getting early kudos for running their always-great ad about fighting heart disease. This year’s goal: Drive people to AHA’s virtual tool for assessing high blood pressure risk. Watch it at It’s funny, too.

Instead of a fancy ad spot, the American Urological Association (AUA) Foundation and the NFL have partnered to use the Super Bowl as a chance to encourage men over age 40 to "Know Your Stats about Prostate Cancer," the second leading cause of cancer death for men in America. The AUA wants guys to visit its site to read new guidelines

Continue reading "Score Some Success with Super Bowl Creativity" »

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July 31, 2009

Quick clicks: Almost August

All kinds of good stuff in the association blogworld this week!

Jeff De Cagna is in the process of creating a map of the development of the association blogging community. If you're a blogger, you can fill out his short survey (it only took me about a minute).

Management guru Tom Peters spoke to the American Hospital Association about the importance of effective leadership, and he shares the questions he asked them on his blog.

Deirdre Reid at Reid All About It (have I mentioned that I love the name of her blog?) captures some legal trends associations need to keep an eye on.

The Association Management Group's blog has some thoughts on updating your bylaws. And while you're at it, Rebecca Leaman has some ideas for how you can also create a more powerful mission statement.

Stuart Meyer at the Association 2020 blog thinks the "distracted generation" will become very engaged with associations (read this post for his list of "the three strangest places I've seen kids texting," if nothing else).

Jeffrey Cufaude makes a powerful point by switching the order of two little words.

Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog has nine tips for communicating with your community members in a text-based format--as many of us in associations do.

Lynn Morton at the Social Networking for Association Professionals blog loves her job.

Lauren Fernandez wonders how and when PR professionals should express their opinions in a public way. Her comments may be aimed at PR folks, but the questions she raises certainly apply to any of us who might be considered "representatives" of our associations.

Ann Oliveri at the Zen of Associations blog shares some interesting information on the psychology of change management.

Bruce Hammond made it back alive from his annual conference, and he has some thoughts on the importance of face to face learning experiences.


July 24, 2009

Are you making it easy for your members to volunteer?

It’s safe to say that many (if not most) associations are struggling with two realities these days: attracting younger members and engaging members as volunteers. The old understandings about joining an association and serving in a committee or leadership structure aren’t foregone conclusions the way they once were. This is particularly true for younger workers who want flexibility, recognition, and interesting work from the get go, and may not instantly “get” the value proposition that a professional association brings.

We know that volunteers are more likely to renew, attend annual meetings, and engage more deeply with our organizations, so we have a vested interest in structuring successful volunteer programs. But what are we doing to respond to these new realities? Though many associations have made concerted efforts to attract younger, more diverse volunteers through outreach and marketing campaigns, the single thing that could make the biggest impact may be thinking differently about the volunteer opportunities we offer.

ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer describes typical barriers to volunteering, among them: inconvenient location, not offering short-term assignments, the volunteer opportunity costing the volunteer money (due to travel or other unreimbursed expenses), and not offering virtual opportunities.

Think about your own association’s typical volunteer roles, and answer the following questions:

• Are most of our volunteer opportunities within multiyear committee or officer structures?
• Do we require face-to-face travel or engagement for the majority of our roles?
• How many project-based or short-term assignments are available?
• Do we offer virtual, asynchronous ways to volunteer?

A solution that addresses many of these barriers may lie in your association’s social media strategy. There are numerous ways that short-term, virtual, convenient assignments can be crafted within the tools you’re already using to build community or communicate. Here are a few options that have worked well for us:

• Leading month-long book club discussions on our wiki or Ning
• Serving as organizational “docents” in Second Life
• Greeting new members of our Ning every few days for a month
• Short-term guest blogging
• Offering an informal “UStream” live event about a particular topic

All of these options allowed us to tap into our members’ expertise and provided opportunities that were exciting and rewarding. In some cases, these short-term assignments have been the gateway for a particular volunteer to serve in longer term volunteer assignments (such as a Special Interest Group officer or board committee member). In all cases, it brought the member closer to our organization, fulfilled an identified need, and diversified our volunteer pool.

What are some ways that you are creating opportunities that make it easy for your members to volunteer?

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July 22, 2009

A Sample Blog for Media

I like the pressroom blog created by the American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs to help journalists identify the most important research published in ACS’ 34 journals. It has beautiful images, a straightforward and often a tad humorous writing, and a helpful column sharing recent tweets from the organization’s Twitter streams. Take a peak if you’re considering what a press blog might do for your communications strategy.


April 25, 2009

Associations in Action regarding Swine Flu and Potential Pandemic

With reports breaking all Friday regarding hundreds of both Mexican and American citizens sickened or even killed by a new form of swine flu, associations in the health care and agricultural communities have been busy confirming information, alerting and surveying members about any potential swine flu-related patients, and calming an anxious public even while acknowledging that much—including the original source of the illness--remains unknown.

"At this point, it appears to be human-to-human transmission only," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in a press statement Friday. "We've been in contact with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), and there have been no reports of outbreaks among animals, although their members are certainly aware of what's happening and are stepping up surveillance for the virus with federal and state animal health officials."

According to officials, “there is little or no risk of catching swine flu from eating pork or pork products, but as always, proper food handling and hand washing should be practiced.”

The AASV is regularly updating its Web site at with news for its veterinarian members and the general public.

The American Lung Association in California quickly blogged about the six documented cases of this new strain of swine flu in the San Diego area and Imperial County, as well as two cases in San Antonio. It noted that rapid flu tests cannot tell this type of flu from seasonal flu, “and the current vaccine may not be protective. Tamiflu works, as does Relenza.” The post, found at, also notes that “while there are likely more cases in the U.S., there are no large-scale outbreaks.”

As of this Friday night post, however, CNN is reporting that 75 high school students in New York City are being tested for suspected swine flu.

The National Pork Board also has issued a helpful 4-page information sheet about swine flu at

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control has information on the human swine flu investigation at


March 20, 2009

Guiding Members through Economy-Focused Media Interviews

In response to the down economy, the League of American Orchestras has created a free, downloadable Support Kit for members that could be a helpful model to other association and nonprofit leaders.

The kit includes special management advice, a 24/7 free financial management webinar by the League’s chief financial officer (who based it on a popular presentation at the group’s 2008 conference), and—of most help to all associations—a media guidance document to help members relay the organization’s most important messages to business reporters.

“The key is to take the time to prepare and practice delivering clear messages … for making the most out of a media opportunity in this environment,” states the document. It then spends five, clearly written pages walking a member through the process of identifying and voicing confidently the desired points.

Frankly, I’m surprised more associations haven’t done more quick media training with their members—I’m certainly seeing many additional materials offered in online newsrooms by national staff. Kudos to the League for coming up with inexpensive, informative materials that will help members cope with the economy at the community level.


February 6, 2009

Messaging Through Manicures

I’ve got to hand it--literally--to the American Fertility Association. Its unique Manicures & Martinis infertility prevention program at a Manhattan nail salon gets this month’s applause for most creative outreach event.

The event, which drew long lines of young women “not quite ready to conceive but who might [want to] one day,” “exceeded all expectations,” according to the organization’s press release. As part of a unique-venue series that features health care professionals in conversation about infertility protection, attendees hear the message and “enjoy a complimentary manicure and martini or a Fertilitini, an all-organic, alcohol-free beverage, whose recipe is the winning entry from a nationwide contest.”

I love that AFA spurned traditional conference facilities in favor of identifying hot hang-out spots by the young women they want to target. Similar events are scheduled at other salons, health clubs, and boutiques.

Says Executive Director Ken Mosesian, "We were hoping to have 20 women register for the event. We registered 25, had an additional 25 show up, and had a waiting list of 34. I was taken by the thoughtfulness of the questions…. This was a clear demonstration of just how much this information is lacking and desired."


December 29, 2008

Stuff That in Your Stocking—Generating Buzz Via “Naughty and Nice” Lists

Whatever your politics, I got a kick out of the 2008 Alliance for Justice Naughty and Nice list compiled from citizen-generated nominations to the list. What a light-hearted, graphic way to review the year’s golden and tarnished moments, and tie them both to the holidays and to the serious work of the nonprofit’s mission. The project also inspired lots of engagement from supporters--and it was sent to me three times by colleagues in various locales who found it amusing.

“We were swamped with your creative and thoughtful responses,” notes the staff in its introduction. “You lauded or loathed elected officials, progressive leaders, appointed judges, oil companies, champions of the 2008 campaign, and even Hollywood stars.” Hard to resist taking a peek, isn't it?

Lesson? Gift your organization with some good buzz by cleverly leveraging the holiday season to create content worth covering.


October 22, 2008

PR campaigning in reverse

The content might make some readers a little squeamish/angry/indignant, but the methods described in this article are, I think, worthy of note.

The article by Kevin Sullivan in today's Washington Post describes a plan hatched by writer Ariane Sherine, and later endorsed by the British Humanist Society, to respond to Christian-themed advertisements on London buses that talked about the fiery fate of nonChristians with an ad campaign featuring slogans such as "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."


Before the angry emails and comments start flying, I'm not writing this post about the merits or demerits of Christianity, humanism, atheism, or any other set of beliefs. I admit, the audacity of the slogan caught my eye and made me read the story, but if it was just the work of an organization, I wouldn't consider it particularly noteworthy.

What is interesting is that it is a campaign that was planned and then grass roots funded. They came up with the idea, the slogan, the look, and the placement plan, and said: "Here it is, if this is something you would want to support, send us a donation and we'll make it happen."

I think the traditional model is (1) conceive of the need or write the case, (2) solicit donations, (3) create campaign based on donations received. By creating the campaign first, it's a more powerful ask.


August 25, 2008

Annual Meeting Hotels--Green and Sustainable

The hospitality sector has long been community-minded, and now many of them are including the planet in their “community,” with special programs, services, and operational practices and goals to lighten the environmental footprints of hotels and other accommodations. I heard about some of these actions from annual meeting attendees staying at the 15 official hotels in San Diego at the recent Annual Meeting & Expo.

Among the variety of sustainable amenities and practices—not all of which were available at each hotel--were the following:

· Reusable towel and linen options
· Biking and walking maps that help you avoid driving
· Water conservation measures such as low-flow faucets and showerheads
· Solar film on certain guestroom windows to reduce heat and UV rays
· Energy efficiency fixtures and light bulbs
· Recycling (sometimes in-room is available now)
· Wellness kits for travelers
· Organic or locally produced food and beverages
· Eco-messaging on hotel television channels
· Organic or sustainability-certified flowers and plants
· Donations to associations and nonprofits operating sustainability-oriented programs such as diversity initiatives, natural resource conservation projects, supply chain management assistance, and more

Other hotels by these leading brands are experimenting with additional options, such as retrofitting facilities for increased energy efficiencies and reduced carbon emissions, preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles and carpools, nonprofit partnerships to offset emissions or help obtain green or sustainability-oriented certifications, organic cotton linens and toiletries, grants for “volunteer vacations,” and employee/guest community engagement programs.

Attendees at the annual meeting were already been asking our staff about such practices in Toronto and Los Angeles, sites of the next two ASAE & The Center annual meetings. Please consider asking those questions at the front desks or concierge stands at hotels during your future business travels as well. Vocal customers, such as meeting planners, will help accelerate the move of hotels toward even greater social responsibility.

Meanwhile, congrats go to our partnering hotels at the meeting for communicating greener and more socially responsible options to recent attendees!


August 7, 2008

How-to videos

You've quite possibly already heard of CommonCraft, well-known for their videos explaining the uses of social media ("Blogs in Plain English," "Wikis in Plain English," "Zombies in Plain English"). But their new video on the U.S. presidential election process, above, is a great demonstration of the ways that video can be used to explain things other than social media.

I was just last night reading about an association that's considering a series of "how-to" podcasts for their members, on things like applying for certification/accreditation and arranging an education session at their annual conference; video could add a visual element (and visual interest) to such how-to demonstrations. And associations with an interest in spreading the word about their professions or industries to the public could also take a page from the CommonCraft book. Could a simple how-to video show YouTube users the value of the profession you represent--or show students why they should consider your industry for their future careers?

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July 30, 2008

The secret session on social media that’s not secret.

I know social media is hot. Hey…I might even be staking my career on it. But multiple social media sessions during every timeslot? Whoa.

And yet, with all the hype and even a secret session, the best kept secret is a social media session that's neither a secret, nor about social media.

Media Relations is Dead...Long Live Media Relations! on Tuesday at 2:15 pm features three new media veterans. And one of them is a true social media star.

Who are these veterans? I first met speaker Frank Fortin, communications director for the Massachusetts Medical Society, two years ago as he was launching a feature-rich online community. He was ahead of the curve then, and he's ahead of the curve now. Chris Jennewein has nearly 20 years of experience developing online sites for U.S. newspaper groups. 20 years! And Brian Solis--besides being an AdAge Power 150 blogger (#38) and author--is one of the original thought leaders who paved the way for social media. He continues to be one of the most influential voices in the emerging social media industry.

This is a must-attend session for everyone with marketing, communications, media relations or public relations in their title. And since I tend to be late...could you save me a seat?


June 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Meeting ideas, customer service

Happy Monday!

- There have been some interesting meeting ideas up for grabs in the blogosphere lately. Matt Baehr suggests offering an "unsession" room at every meeting, while Nancy Wilson points out that reusing conference bags can be both green and a creative networking tool.

- Ben Martin ponders whether the process of becoming a board leader tends to squash productive dissent among those future leaders.

- Wes Trochlil has a great question for associations out there that are conducting surveys or other data-gathering projects.

- Bob Sutton shares a wonderful story that shows how a customer's problem can create an opportunity for even better customer service. On a related note, the 37signals blog reminds you that the customer just doesn't care whose fault it is.

- Jeremiah Owyang shows some really interesting examples of how to track a particular issue and how it's being discussed among bloggers, Twitterers, and on the web more generally. (Note that the issue in question relates to the Democratic nomination battle, but, setting politics aside, I'd think these same techniques could be useful to any association.)

- How often do you get to see association management presented as a dream job? (Admittedly, this article focuses more on the industries these trade associations represent than on the profession of association management, but still, it's nice to see some association professionals recognized in this way.)


May 15, 2008

Anyone Need Closed Captioning on Their Videos?

VITAC, a provider of closed captioning and other accessible media services, is launching a “CaptionsON” awareness campaign that includes providing up to 150 hours of pro-bono captioning service to nonprofit organizations who respond between now and June 8, 2008. Given that the lengths of videos vary, the company projects that 600 to 1,300 videos could be captioned.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for nonprofit organizations nationwide to ensure that their audiovisual material, intended for general audiences or their clients, students, or employees, is accessible through captions," noted Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which also administers the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) and co-founded the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). "CaptionsON will have a positive and profound impact on the deaf and hard of hearing and hearing communities alike."

Visit the CaptionsON site for details.


April 30, 2008

Stories as Influencers for Socially Responsible Behavior

Compelling stories have emerged as potent tools in forwarding discussions about what values members gain when their associations are involved in socially responsible practices, programs, and goals. At both my morning and afternoon tables at the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, association professionals barely took a breath between sharing and commenting on each other’s stories, whether they had to do with an organization’s actions or an individual’s choices. Frankly, it’s a challenge to capture every anecdote for later thought or follow up, but one colleague told me that he had taken almost 25 pages of notes in less than six hours!

I’m feeling especially attuned to the power of storytelling today because I’m halfway through the excellent book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, which I thought would be good prep for the summit. Also, co-author Joseph Grenny—whose last best-seller, Crucial Conversations, was referenced several times at my table today-- is speaking August 19 at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting and Expo.

According to Influencer, “people will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required.” Stories that guide people to those conclusions must contain both “a clear link between the current behaviors and existing (or possibly future) negative results” and “positive replacement behaviors that yield new and better results.”

Those of us at the summit today heard such “high-point stories” recounted on the stage, in the coffee line, and from attendees at some of the 14 connected sites across America. I liked the examples given by CEO Scott Steen of the American Ceramic Society. First, Scott described the rapid membership growth achieved by the National Association of Counties after it cleverly arranged a deal with a corporation that allowed the association to provide prescription discount cards to members for free distribution in every county in America.

Second, he cited the National Academy of Engineers’ inspiring work with members to identify 14 “grand challenges” such as making solar energy affordable and reverse-engineering the brain. The organization then spotlights research and grant money focused on those topics. “They’re saying to their members, ‘Here is where to go to make a difference as an engineer,” explained Scott, adding that the organization is using the initiative to “define their mission in the world and show how engineers and their industry are making huge differences.” I can’t wait to hear what comes out of Thursday’s “dream” process….


December 13, 2007

The Power of a Dog-gone Good Story

Wells Jones, CEO of the much-lauded Guide Dog Foundation, is a great storyteller. That's not a label many nonprofit leaders work hard for, but Wells has found that stories can get you places that appeals letters and political allies cannot: into people's wallet, mind and heart.

I was interviewing him recently after our Key Philanthropic Organizations Committee (KPOC) meeting, having already talked to him once before about his foundation's successful revision of its governance practices. We had spent a good chunk of the KPOC meeting talking about leadership, organizational excellence and the differences and synergies between our Seven Measures of Success book and a new publication, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

We were all intrigued by the differences in data about leadership between these two books and even Good to Great's Jim Collins, who had been involved with both publications. One thing none of these books did, though, was explore in any real depth the types of communication techniques that great organizatonal leaders routinely find most effective: compelling storytelling.

So I asked Wells how he created the storytelling culture that is so apparent on his Web site and how his staff and volunteers collect and use those powerful anecdotes to show the real impact of the organization. You can read his responses in the profile department of ASAE & The Center's new philanthropic Web section, but in the meantime I wanted to share what he said was his favorite program-related story.

"This story relates to a Marine who lost both of his arms in Iraq above the elbow, so he wears two prosthetic arms," Wells said. "And he also has some balance issues. We trained one of our dogs to work with him to help provide balance, fetch items and do various tasks that the Marine needs to get done.

"So he’s outdoors with his dog one day, and they are having down time--he’s playing Frisbee with his dog--and when he throws the Frisbee, the dog brings it back, like all of our dogs do. But then one time when he throws the Frisbee, one of his arms goes with it. The dog goes over and looks at the Frisbee and then looks at the arm, looks at the Frisbee and looks at the arm. Finally, he makes up his mind and grabs the arm, which he takes back to the Marine. And the Marine is laughing really hard about this, thinking, 'What fun!' but then he realizes what the dog just did: The dog made a decision that his owner had to have the arm first before he could bring the Frisbee back. It’s a wonderful, wonderful story."

Now ask him to tell you the one about the two old-time war vets who have raised half a million bucks in just a few months....


May 11, 2007

Googling for awareness

If you spend any time playing with Google Earth (as, I will admit, I do), you may have noticed a small icon appearing in North Africa. The icon’s label reads “Crisis in Darfur.” And if you click on it, you can zoom in on more than satellite imagery—you’ll see in-depth information on damaged villages, destroyed schools, and displaced families in the region.

Working with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Google Earth is bringing the desperate situation in Darfur to the attention of its 200 million users. That’s powerful outreach—and I would think the interactivity of the Google Earth interface will have much more impact on users than just reading a news article about the situation in Sudan.

To see what Google Earth users will see when they zoom in on Darfur, you can check out this graphic from CNN.


January 28, 2007

Simplicity makes ideas stick

I just got out of the general session where Dan Heath described the six principles of sticky ideas (from the research that led to the book he coauthored with his brother, Chip, Made to Stick).

I’ll post more after having a little time to reflect, but the first principle really hits close to home: Simplicity.

The story he relates to illustrate is from Southwest Airlines. Just like you, I’d like to have a nickel every time a consultant used Southwest to make a point, but if you can take just a little more, I’ll be brief.

Heath says Herb Kelleher (Southwest CEO) is famous for simplicity. When asked what makes Southwest different from other airlines, Kelleher can tell you in 30 seconds: Southwest will be the lowest fare airline. When customer survey shows that on Southwest’s longest flight, they’d enjoy something more substantial than peanuts, the idea is shot down, because it does not help Southwest be the lowest fare airline.

Here’s how Heath summarized: “We’ll have the lowest fares even if it means we deliberately ignore customer preferences. By being that clear, [Kelleher] helps hundreds of people throughout the company make decisions.”

Heath spoke about another way to look at the point (and this one doesn’t talk about Southwest). He noted the practice in Hollywood of providing the high-concept pitch. Examples:

Lost alien befriends boy to get home.
Jaws on spaceship.

Heath then challenged the audience of association leaders: what would the high concept of your next meeting be?


January 23, 2007

12 tenets of social media marketing

Tying in to Scott's post earlier today about social networking, I came across an entertaining (and thought-provoking) post on the 12 tenets of social media marketing. Some standouts for me include “Thy communications must pass the ‘who cares?’ test” and “Verily, if you can become a useful source of information, your message may be heeded, or at least looked at ever so briefly.”

Of course, if that New York Times article is correct, all this attention to social networking may be over the top—but even if blogs and wikis eventually become uncool, it can never hurt to communicate in a way that makes people care and respond to you. We could all stand to do a lot more of that.

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January 22, 2007

Trust me

Edelman, the public relations firm, has released its eighth annual Trust Barometer, based on findings from a survey of 3,100 “opinion leaders” in 18 countries. Lots of interesting nuggets of information:

- The survey summary notes that “‘A person like me’ or a peer is the most trusted spokesperson in the United States at 51 percent.” A nonprofit or NGO representative comes in third, after doctors and academics. I found it particularly interesting to see that “a blogger” comes in dead last, at 9 percent; I wonder, however, if folks who read a blog on a regular basis stop thinking of the author as “a blogger” and start seeing him or her as “a person like me.”

- Edelman states that, “Trailing only ‘providing quality products or services,’ undertaking ‘socially responsible activities’ is universally seen as the most important action an organization can to do to build trust. ‘Socially responsible activities’ surpassed providing ‘a fair price for products or services,’ ‘attentiveness to customers’ and ‘good labor relations’ in most markets.”

For those wishing to delve more deeply into the findings, a fairly detailed PowerPoint presentation is available. Scroll to the bottom of this summary to download:

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December 22, 2006

The power of blogs

I believe that one of the most powerful—and underappreciated—things about blogs is their ability to give us an entirely new perspective on a city or a job or a person, a window into a life completely different from our own.

For instance, I bookmarked Scott Lynch’s personal blog because I enjoyed reading his first novel. But in addition to writing, he is also a firefighter, and he blogs about his experiences on the job. A recent entry gave me a peek into the challenges of that job that I had never considered:

“It’s difficult to think of our cuddly, cozy, familiar homes as inherently dangerous places, but believe me, outside of the Acme Razor Blade and Hydrochloric Acid Factory, homes are the most unpredictable and dangerous places you could ever think to have a fire. We keep so much stuff in so many weird places—through thoughtlessness, negligence, or unhappy accident—that can ‘enhance the experience.’ You want a ready-made hazmat incident? How many chemicals do you keep under your kitchen sink? Twenty? Thirty? What fun things happen when you burn them together? How about your bathroom cleansers? Your aerosol cleaners and air-fresheners? Stacks of batteries? Shotgun shells? Knives and swords? Weightlifting equipment? Good lord, what do you have in your garage? Weed killers, fertilizers, several different types of oil and fuel, wasp spray, spray paints, varnishes ... rakes, chainsaws, hatchets, knives ... you've got ’em. I've got ’em.” (Scott Lynch)

Now I have a whole new reason to respect firefighters and the work that they do, one that I may never have thought of if I hadn’t read the blog of a firefighter.

For associations representing professions or industries that are underappreciated or even unknown to the public—could a member’s blog help open people’s eyes? Not a carefully massaged press release, but a simple, first-person account of day-to-day experiences in your profession or industry. I’d be curious to see it happen.

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December 13, 2006

Lessons from the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society

The light-hearted World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society (WRPSS) is an extraordinarily successful experiment in viral/word of mouth communications. Although delightfully silly, WRPSS offers up some valuable lessons for those of us who--perhaps--take ourselves too seriously

WRPSS founder and managing director Doug Walker was the luncheon speaker this week at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Washington, D.C. Doug's day job is Interactive Strategist at an ad agency TBWA\Toronto. He identified four keys to their success: authority; mutation; participation; and, "accretion."

The WRPSS is the authority quoted by the New York Times when the childhood game of rock, paper, scissors is invoked to resolve gridlocked decisions by art auction houses and state court judges. How did they become the authority? They said they were. Interestingly enough, visitors attracted by word of mouth added their strategies and experience to a long threaded message, which in turn became a book. And, as we all know, publishing a book makes you an authority.

The idea quickly mutated, adding more of the trappings of an association, including paid memberships and meetings. What the founders learned was that they had to quickly mutate to keep up with their members' fantasy. Last year their annual world championship made all the network and cable news shows with the winner featured on every late night night talk show. Check out the NPR story on their mythological history.

Participation was key to their success. At the meet, they treated competitors like athletes and groupies like special interest groups. But the most telling lesson learned was "accretion." Walker said that participants grew the mythology, identifying with the group, and each step of WRPSS' development layered on the last. He said you could have never launched it as it now exists, but each activity led to the next or "accretion."

"A few people played their roles (leaders) and we attracted more and more people," Walker said. In fact, they were so successful a producer from Fox News covering the championship launched a competing organization.

The lessons from social media not only make for a powerful fable, but also a game plan for any start-up associations, lessons not unlike those now being learned by WOMMA.


November 22, 2006


The latest issue of Wired magazine features an article on Chevy’s experimentation with consumer-generated ad campaigns, a technique known as crowdsourcing.

Combined with an episode of The Apprentice, the results were astounding, but at a price. “On its own Web site, the Tahoe now stood accused of everything but running down the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

“At first, everyone assumed it was just another case of a big corporation not "getting it" about the Internet. Then, when the ads weren't yanked down immediately, they figured Chevy was too clueless even to notice what was happening on its own site. Only gradually did it dawn on people that Chevy had no intention of removing the attack ads.”

Chevy’s ad agency exec Ed Dilworth said, "You can either stay in the bunker, or you can jump out there and try to participate."

Instead of the usual member-get-a-member campaign, what if you sponsored a contest asking visitors to create their own membership ad on your website?

Odds are you would tell the next generation they are welcome and you would get some powerful messages about belonging, replacing those tedious lists of benefits.


November 14, 2006

The power of PR

I've long been a believer in the importance of public relations for associations. For trades, it would seem to be a major reason for their existence, especially as it is tied to government relations (the more important your industry is perceived by the public, the more important it will be perceived by government officials). Member education likely trumps PR in most professional societies, but in so far as the missions of these organizations usually point to the profession as a whole, PR is important. For both, it has the potential to increase membership roles, increase clout, and increase the sale of all products and services offered by the association.

I’m often surprised at the lack of attention PR gets in associations. There are many exceptions to this, of course; many of the food industry associations have really strong efforts, and the American Chemical Society comes to mind. But even for associations with large staffs, PR is often relegated to a single staff position and a measly budget.

I have a theory that I’d love to test out, but when I think about the sheer amount of research needed to pull it off I push the idea pretty far down on the old article list. The theory is this: If a CEO truly embraces the importance of PR, then the organizations he or she leads will be more successful. To research it would mean looking at CEOs who have led at least 2 or 3 different organizations. Develop criteria to measure “truly embracing the importance of PR,” such as increased PR budgets/staff, increased PR activities, and the organizational mindset and culture about the industries or professions they serve. Then, see how the organization has fared overall across some quantitative and qualitative objectives, such as membership numbers, budget, government relations goals met and the ambitiousness of those goals. Finally, look for possible explanations other than the PR focus.

Fortunately, I’m not an academic, so my research could end there. I’d think academics would want to look at a control group of CEOs and see how they have fared on the same metrics. In any event, while I think the research would be fascinating, and you should never say never, I can’t imagine ever going to that length. I’m afraid it will have to remain a hunch and, whenever in the appropriate discussions, I’ll push for the increase of PR activity.

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October 30, 2006

A reporter’s take on PR

The goal of media relations is to convince reporters and editors that your association’s news is worth writing about (or broadcasting). But rather than taking the time-consuming approach of researching a reporter’s interests and crafting an appropriate story pitch, a lot of organizations take the easier, but ultimately less fruitful, option of carpet-bombing a media list with untargeted press releases. Unfortunately, writing something in news release format does not automatically make it newsworthy.

Steven Perlstein, a business columnist for the Washington Post, had a very instructive rant in Friday’s paper about this very topic. If you’d like to see a reporter’s point of view on media relations, I highly recommend checking it out (and adjusting your approach to PR accordingly).