Will Associations Go the Way of Print Media?

42-18373074SCIP just announced that its formal merger was consummated with Frost & Sullivan’s Institute. This merger is a sign of the times: it’s hard for associations to survive in this tough economic climate. But I think it’s more than that: the association model is changing not just due to competition from other associations, but for people’s time and easy access to connections formerly made through associations via social media.

Historically associations mailed trade journals and relevant news to the membership; and conducted in-person events such as conferences, educational programs and city chapter meetings. Member volunteer time was crucial to keeping costs down and content up, and still is. The association staff needed to be sensitive to the association’s industry, but association management was the key skill required.

Today the transaction cost of in-person meetings has escalated as people are stretched to do more with less, and can’t get away from work as easily. They can also find relevant information and connections especially through social networks liked LinkedIn, Twitter and industry formed Nings. These changes are sorely felt by associations in reduced attendance at annual conferences and chapter meetings. Annual conference revenues are the bread and butter of most associations. Like other associations, most SCIP chapters record poor attendance. The more progressive include complementary associations such as Robert Bugai, SCIP’s NJ Chapter Chair who hosts semi-annual networking meetings with 10 other organizations. The Denver chapter of the Association of Corporate Growth attracts strong attendance. It has local association support, an excellent PR machine and strong word of mouth fuelling intense interest. It is known to offer some of the best networking connections in the Denver metro.

SCIP has responded by offering fee-based Webinars and an on-line news bulletin, which contains a “New & Notable” section by Bonnie Hohhof, worth the price of membership for those who take the time to read it!  However, all major educational programs are in-person.

I belong to AIIP (Association of Independent Information Professionals) which hosts a listserv (AIIP-L Discussion List), alone worth the price of membership. Individual members ask questions of each other, share information and words of encouragement—an excellent, ongoing form of connection. AIIP’s member directory is public and searchable. The publicity is fuelled by strong word of mouth and through such journals as FUMSI, a portion of which is edited by Marcy Phelps, current President of AIIP. AIIP actively exhibits at complementary association’s conferences such as SLA and SCIP. The booth is staffed by volunteers and paid for through reciprocal exhibition at AIIP’s annual conference. Webinars, free to members, are given by members. AIIP volunteers often ask other members how the association can serve them better. I predict this model will survive these tough times since it is evolving according to the needs of its members through good two-way communication.

Associations need to adapt their model to their membership in these changing times since the old value proposition won’t work. Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. Multiple, affordable means to connect members electronically
2. Free services that are interactive, like Webinars
3. Continuous PR blasts about the profession’s benefits to both users and providers of that association’s constituency
4. Strong industry knowledge by association staff (like Bonnie Hohhof at SCIP)
5. Steady corporate and service provider sponsorship (financial and time)
6. Cooperative affiliation with complementary associations or industry associations which value your association’s skill

As a long-time SCIP member, I hope that the Frost & Sullivan Institute’s marketing machine and reach extends SCIP and the competitive intelligence discipline to be more recognized and valued by those who use competitive intelligence in its many forms.

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7 Responses

  1. I really like your blog. I am an aspiring CI analyst and read it all the time. I currently work for a law firm where I do entry-level CI work. I think associations are great, but they should have membership categories that allow those of us who are just starting out the opportunity to join for a lower cost, like SLA does. (I really want to join SCIP, but my company won’t pay for a membership yet and I have not been able to get the extra $ together for the membership fee on my own.)

  2. First, Jennifer please don’t waste your money on SCIP. Wait until you have an employer that will foot the bill, and then go. The value just isn’t there otherwise, in my opinion. If you must, sign up for a year, go to the conference, take the courses, and then you’ll have had what SCIP has to offer.

    Second, my father once told me that associations exist primarily to provide cover for company execs to talk to each other without being accused of anti-trust activity. Anything else they do is sauce for the goose. As an employee of a trade association I’d say there’s a large grain of truth to that assessment, but I would add that doing trade shows is nearly as important as providing cover.

    While one can meet some great people online, if you want to meet people in your industry and develop relationships over time I think an association can provide value.

    The problem is that many of them simply don’t cater to the membership but instead a small segment of it. Saddled with politics and baggage, they excel at keeping the old guard comfy while doing very little to enable growth amongst the newbies.

    I put SCIP in this category. The newbie is considered a student, suitable for attending classes and hiring consultants. The old guard are those who teach the classes and work as consultants. Newbies are not encouraged to make the jump to being old guard. So, to the extent you wish to attend classes and hire consultants, you will enjoy SCIP.

    Lastly, I like to say I don’t put Ellen in the old guard category – she’s a delightful & insightful exception to the rule.

  3. Oh, and I forgot to address the print media bit.

    A large chunk of print media has been, and will continue to be obliterated by the internet.

    The smart ones will find ways to communicate prints advantages to protect existing markets, and will find new markets. They’ll also work like hell to understand ‘new’ media and work with it.

    The not so smart ones will cut costs and focus on efficiency.

    So what does this have to do with associations?

    Social media is to associations what the internet is to printing, as you said.

    Some associations will learn to leverage social media to add value to their events and other services.

    Others will route their news through Twitter, start a group on Linkedin, and call social media ‘done’. Then they’ll cut costs and focus on efficiency.

  4. Jennifer….you make a good point that SCIP should consider a reduced membership fee for people just starting out like you, since cashflow can be challenging.

    Well Steve…let it all hang out…what do you think SCIP should do, based on your assessment? Especially w/social networking? I see more activity on LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook, mostly outgoing. But as mentioned in the post, the SCIP On-line is valuable if you really want to follow CI. It captures relevant articles, blogs etc.

  5. Ellen – wasn’t sure you did trackbacks, so here’s a link to my answer: http://www.swduncan.com/archives/2009/09/18/what-should-scip-do

  6. […] A while back Ellen asked me to suggest what scip should do. […]

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