3 Key Strategies to Marketing Associations
Here at J. Walcher Communications, we enjoy working with associations on their PR and marketing outreach. We typically learn a lot about an industry that we may not know much about in the beginning, yet the strategies and tactics we employ to market them are similar and very familiar to us.
Over the course of the years, we have had long working relationships with the California Athletic Trainers Association, United States Parachute Association, International Council of Systems Engineers (all still current clients), as well as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (that’s the association for people who love to fly model airplanes), American Institute of Architects (San Diego Chapter) and a multitude of association boards we serve/have served on: Public Relations Society of America (San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter and National), PRSA Counselors Academy, American Marketing Association, Asian Business Association, etc.
Some of the key strategies associations should consider when marketing themselves are:
Your collective voice is very valuable; you’ve got a membership that works within one industry or has a shared experience or interest. Position yourselves as the experts about specific topics via informal polls and surveys, and release this information to the public. When I worked at the American Council on Exercise (an association of fitness professionals), we surveyed what was then thousands of personal trainers about what they saw as being the hottest fitness trends at the end of every year. Media began to expect that information and covered the study annually, resulting in hugely significant exposure for the organization.
Media Spokesperson/Thought Leadership
Let reporters know about your collective expertise and that specific members are available to comment on certain subjects. For instance, we’ve got systems engineers that specialize in fields as important and vast as health, defense, aeronautics and more. When the Ebola crisis hit and the health care industry was scrambling to figure out how to quarantine people, we set out an advisory offering the expertise of systems engineers that worked in the health care realm to talk about how a systems approach could help stop massive disease outbreaks. This resulted in op-eds, letters to the editor and stories in “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” “Dallas Morning News” and trade publication, “Hospital Impact.” The news generated also led to a cover story with three INCOSE members in “Professional Engineers,” a leading engineering trade publication.
A must for almost every association: your membership is your bullhorn. Give them the tools they need to further spread your message through social media. This might mean providing training when needed through webinars; national conferences; downloadable website materials (often, we’ve been asked to attend a conference to present on social media to conference attendees); writing engaging and articulate social media posts members can post directly, including the appropriate hashtags and handles; and reminding members continuously about how and why helping the association reach their communication goals will benefit them.
When the California Athletic Trainers’ Association was campaigning for a bill to pass licensure and needed to get large quantities of letters of support, we wrote tweets and Facebook posts that members could edit for their own voice and post.
In our experience, many associations have a contingent of senior members who want nothing to do with social media and don’t see the value. Embrace the ones that do and train them, engaging a younger – and growing! – membership base to help spread the word. Win-Win.