Climbing the Association Publishing Ladder
When superiors stay for years, how do aspiring staffers advance?
It’s been argued that the greatest job security in the publishing industry can be found at association magazines, especially at associations that have been around for generations. Even in FOLIO:’s Association Magazine Survey, published last November, a number of respondents cited stable employment as one of the most important benefits of working at an association.
If this is true, then what’s the tradeoff for that security? Do lower-level staffers have difficulty moving up if their superiors have been and will be with the magazine for many years? Where do they go?
“I find that the higher-ups consistently have more than 15 years experience, which can be very intimidating to aspiring journalists and editors fresh out of college,” says Diane Rusignola, assistant editor of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s ACC Docket magazine.
“Young staff members also get stuck with a lot of grunt work, and even if you don’t mind paying your dues, it’s hard not to feel underappreciated,” says Rusignola, “especially when promotions or raises are either very difficult or even impossible to achieve.”
Small vs. Large Staffs
As with other sectors of magazine publishing, finding new job or promotion opportunities has a lot to do with the size of the staff. At association publications, though, staffs are generally on the smaller side, Rusignola says. “If you want to work in editorial, or design, or production, and you’re at an association, it’s bound to be a small department. And in small departments, you often feel isolated, and that your boss will have her job forever, leaving no chance of advancing there yourself.”
Working on a small staff isn’t always bad, though, according to Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer, and group publisher, at the Society for Human Resource Management. “Smaller staffs sometimes offer more opportunities to do more things,” he says. “On the editorial side, there are opportunities for most employees to be part of making significant decisions. Editors can really get their feet wet, even in advertising.”
As the size of magazine staffs grow, so do the amount of promotion opportunities, according to Rubin. At SHRM, which publishes several titles, including HR and Staffing Management magazines, “plenty of people are moving up,” Rubin says. “While we have clusters of smaller groups of specialists, our edit staff is pretty large. We have a good deal of movement because we have a large enough staff to allow it.”
One way for aspiring staffers to advance is by taking on new projects, says Jeni Williams, a senior editor at Healthcare Financial Management Association’s hfm magazine. Williams and her colleagues recently launched an e-newsletter which, Williams says, gave them the opportunity to learn more about driving Web traffic and marketing new products to members.
“Teaching a class to chapter newsletter editors on how to write and edit their newsletters provided the opportunity to better develop my large-group presentation skills and to build a number of new relationships within the organization—skills that will help me in my current position and through my career,” she says.
When opportunities don’t present themselves within the association, look to external options like taking a writing class or college and online courses, says Kori Kamradt, assistant editor of the Society of American Florists’ Floral Management magazine. Rusignola suggests working with a mentor and/or volunteering. “Mentors can be found everywhere and by no means have to be your boss,” she says. “Also, volunteering for related publishing and association organizations not only increases your skills and experience, it also helps you network and adds valuable lines to your resume.”
Sometimes the best way to advance is staying put and having patience. “It may just take a while, sometimes longer than you’re willing to wait,” says Rusignola. “Bottom line, though: If you’re a stellar worker and are willing to have a talk with your boss or vice president, they can find ways of compensating you.”