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Association Publishing Priorities, Challenges and Hot-Button Issues for 2012

Publishers look to increase relevance and reach in a competitive market.



By Ioanna Opidee
03/01/2012

The most pressing issues facing publishers today all stem from one central concern: To deliver relevant, targeted and in-demand content to readers where and whenever they want it, to break through the wall of information overload and determine what exactly that is—which seems to be expanding and changing from day to day.

No small task. For association publishers that have to balance these pressures with already limited resources and staff, and a need to justify each endeavor against the interests of the larger association, its mission and stewards, these issues may compound.

An Organizational Shift

According to Amy Lestition, executive director of Association Media & Publishing, “More than ever, associations are racing to adapt new publishing vehicles and produce more and more content, to stay current for their community and quite often to do more with less.” To adapt, she says, many associations are implementing an organizational shift—realigning departments, for example, to put all print and digital publishing, communications and marketing content creation under one domain. Many have also created the new position of “community manager,” to focus especially on new media.

Learning to approach print and digital products in tandem has emerged as a central priority for the staff at Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat World. For the past 25 years, says editor Shala Carlson, the publication has been focused primarily on its quarterly print product. Starting this year, the magazine has upped its frequency to six times per year but has reduced its print edition to three, while interspersing three digital-only issues. The goal is to save on print and postage and reach a larger audience through digital distribution, but the added—and perhaps more substantial—benefit is the correlating change in mindset.

“Digital presentation is becoming more and more a part of our process,” says Carlson. “We are learning to think differently as writers and content providers. It is forcing us to think about the different tools we can use to tell stories and challenging us to be really creative and think about packaging and how these parts can complement one another and seem like they belong.”

Making this work has required a shift in workflow, “not in terms of who is tagged with which tasks but who is in the process when,” she adds. Part of this is identifying resources at the outset, tapping into the association’s stable of photographers, videographers and communications support staff to be part of the conversation from the start.

“As a nonprofit, stewardship is paramount,” says Carlson. “We are doing the most with the resources we have, putting our content in a form that allows us to push it out to more people.”

Making the Case for Spending

Leveraging an association’s existing resources is key, but often, additional investment is required. Gaining added dollars can be a challenge, but the Association for Retail Environments’ flagship magazine has found a way to make the case. Karen Schaffner, managing director, visual, says developing proprietary data and content with a strong business format is a main priority for her publication, Retail Environments, one that requires a combination of utilizing existing resources—access to members, for example, for data-gathering surveys—as well as a significant investment in hiring consultants and researchers.

“If you have information that is essential and that people can’t get anywhere else, then you’ve got a guaranteed reader base,” she says. “As the industry’s association, we have a responsibility to gather and disseminate data on the industry we serve, so the two—the association and the publication’s needs and benefits—are in alignment there. That information becomes available to other platforms as well.”

The magazine also kicked off a major relaunch last November, which tripled its circulation from 5,000 to 15,000. While the magazine previously targeted the association’s members—retail environments suppliers—the content is now primarily focused on those members’ customers, the retailers themselves, with an insert tailored to members. “We surveyed our members and saw that the best benefit we provide them is helping them get in front of prospective clients,” says Schaffner. “We developed a proposal to refocus the magazine and have it become a retail publication that would help our members and their clients communicate in a print and digital format.” The proposal drew universal approval from the board of directors, as it appealed to the association’s mission.

“You have to elevate the business conversation so relationships can be on a higher plane,” she says. “This is a very creative industry, and that’s their biggest strength. They need business tools that can help them state their case to top management, and one of our goals is to get them those sorts of tools.”

Navigating Digital Terrain

Like most, publishers, Retail Environments is also working to better understand the strengths of its available platforms. While print has traditionally been its focus, Schaffner says, “Our goal is to try not to think about print versus digital versus mobile but to be on all platforms and let our readers decide which works for them on any given date.” The title now has browser-based digital editions as well as mobile and tablet apps for iPad, iPhone and Android. It has ramped up its social media efforts to include more than 8,000 LinkedIn members, as well as an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Social media has been an audience development boon for many publishers, and even a revenue generator for some. The Association Media & Publishing Association was able to monetize the Twitterwall for its annual meeting through a sponsorship. According to Lestition, associations are on the lookout for sponsorship opportunities like these, through a variety of channels including webinars, videos and podcasts.

As Carlson says, it is a kind of sea change for publishers right now, one that can be very overwhelming, but opportunities abound for those who are willing to be creative, open and adaptable.

By Ioanna Opidee
03/01/2012







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