The Sparkle of Going All Digital
Publishers blaze new trails, share lessons
Lately, it seems association publishers are getting serious about digital transitions. And, by serious, I mean, actually turning print publications into new media and web portals. We’re seeing organizations blaze new trails, leveraging new technologies in some pretty exciting ways.
New data from Deloitte’s 2013 Consumer Media Survey indicates that readers are more rapidly moving to digital platforms for their news and newspaper reading, not as quickly for magazines and other media. In our conversations with association publishers who had moved to all-digital or combination print-digital platforms, the reasons cited for the move vary but primarily focus on a need for more timely accessibility for global audiences and a desire to engage younger and more mobile readers, rather than for financial savings, as some might suspect.
Recently, we’ve worked with a number of publishers who are considering the all-digital move, and we’ve found that planning for and anticipating the changing environment was critical to success. But even noting that, sometimes you have to just jump in and learn along the way. So before you take the plunge to a web portal or all-digital, consider these lessons learned that are worth sharing:
1. Transitions take time. This should be no surprise, but many organizations underestimate how long a print-to-digital transition will take. It’s usually eight to 12 months or more. When one association publisher replaced its monthly print magazine with a web portal to enhance the timeliness of content, the conversion took eight months; for others it’s longer, especially when introducing content and format changes. Don’t underestimate or over promise on delivery.
2. It’s all about content. Moving to all digital requires different content strategy, writing style and tone, as well as content platforms. Invest the time to build a clear content strategy for each aspect of your media plan. It’s not uncommon to get focused on design and the mechanics of platforms and overlook how those changes affect content. Reading habits are changing, so be strategic as you plan for a new content approach and ensure an integrated effort that links print/digital/web/social.
3. Unless you have extensive in-house resources, tap the expertise of business partners that specialize in creating interactive web portals. The time and expertise needed to make the transition is a resource drain and time consuming. “We saved money,” notes one publisher, but not in terms of staff resources. Get the help you need to be successful.
4. Don’t get too comfortable with any one medium. If we’ve learned nothing else it’s that media formats/platforms are continually evolving so you have to adapt. Three years is “long term.” Figure you will always be tweaking. Test how your audiences access content on the web or other platforms, seek their feedback through valid research and then continue to refine for maximum value. One association publisher identified 120 beta testers—people who had complained about navigation and accessibility of its website—and used that data to launch its new digital portal.
5. Writing for the web on a daily basis requires significant staff resources; be sure you can handle the workflow because the writing/posting never stops, as one association editor cautions. You have to be sure your staff can manage the pace and that they have the right skill sets to get it done. Otherwise, dial back your expectations.
6. Plan for the “it’s all about me” generation. If you want your audience to use it, you have to sell it. Once you are ready for the launch, develop a marketing plan that will advise readers of the move to all digital, focusing on the many enhancements that affords, reassurances that print will remain in the short term, etc. For readers to embrace the digital move, they need to understand what’s in it for them.
7. Invest in training for ad sales staff. Making the case for online ads is different from print. Sales staff needs to know how to sell the value of accessibility, expanded tracking and stats, and enhanced media options. In most cases, advertisers immediately think online should be less expensive; it’s a harder sell, and at lower rates, than print.
8. Cultivate cheerleaders. Moving from print to digital is a big step for many, and change is never fast or easy in large organizations. Sharing information, plans, key benefits, and more with editorial boards, top management, and other stakeholders helps build support and can help you head off
Over the past 12 months or so, we’ve seen some impressive examples of digital portals designed to deliver more of the real-time or nearly real-time news and information that audiences want. We’re expecting even more exciting evolutions in 2014. Get ready for a new ride, and contact us if you’re considering a digital move; we can help.
Clients reveal how a strategic evaluation of member
communications helped them better align with their missions
Two years ago, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) took a critical look at its communication offerings and wondered whether they were on the mark with members and with the times. “The organization had never conducted an evaluation to ask members what types of information they wanted and how they wanted it,” says Melissa Ferrari, director of membership and marketing services. “A number of practices, including a printed newsletter, had been in place for many years. There was not a benchmark or measurement to determine its effectiveness in communicating with members.”
SfN wasn’t, and isn’t, alone. Concerned they may be bombarding members with multiple and overlapping communications, a number of associations have recently embarked on these in-depth studies of publications, e-newsletters, marketing materials, websites, and social media.
Getting members the right amount of information they want when they need it, and in the right voice, while also ensuring quality design and content, is extremely challenging, as any association communications professional can attest.
It was that “voice” that SfN refined following its communication audit. “We changed the tone of our communications to ensure member value is clearly communicated,” says Ferrari. “Instead of sharing SfN news, we lead with ‘what’s in it for the member and why should they care.’ We have applied this filter across all of our communication platforms. It has helped us to flush out member value, build member value, and more effectively communicate member value.”
While a communication audit conducted in the 1990s likely included a flagship magazine, a journal, a print newsletter, and perhaps, a website, today’s audits also include multiple e-newsletters, podcasts and webinars, and in some cases, customized content delivered based on members’ needs. This level of sophistication in association communications makes audits essential to success.
“Publishing technology has been changing quickly and constantly, and we were experimenting with many new ways to communicate with our members,” says Lois Douthitt, senior director of publishing and member communications for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “We wanted a more strategic approach before we pursued them further. We also wanted to know if there were best practices from other
A customized audit helped APTA develop that strategic approach. As a result, APTA is now planning a redesign of its monthly magazine “to, among other things, better incorporate digital platforms and mobile access,” says Douthitt. “We’re also considering consolidating different digital newsletters into one regular communication with members.”
Recognizing the Need
The first step in making a change is recognizing you have a problem, points out Debra McGuire, CEO of Michigan Academy of Family Physicians. “Oftentimes, there is a tendency for an organization that has an effective plan in place, as well as highly rated communications vehicles, to continue to operate in a manner that carries on tradition but lacks innovation—the latter of which is vital in today’s fast-paced world,” points out McGuire who commissioned a communication audit of Michigan Townships Association when she was employed there.
“It’s critical to be able to extrapolate relevant data and put that data to work in a way that moves the organization forward,” she continues. “Translating research findings into strategy and tactics that benefit the organization, even when it means having to change the way things are being done, opens the door to being able to think in new ways, which is key to being more valued by those whom we serve.”
Are You Hitting the Mark?
Consider these clues you may be due—possibly overdue!—for a communications audit:
◗ Certain constituencies/audiences complain that they are under-represented. For example, newer, younger members feel content isn’t written at their level.
◗ Content in print publications, on websites, and in e-newsletters is repetitive and overlaps with inconsistent messages.
◗ Communications lack any design cohesiveness. It’s hard to tell whether communications are coming from the same organization.
◗ Members receive more than three emails from your organization each week. “As systematic and organized as we were trying to be with member e-mails,” says APTA’s Douthitt, “we wondered if members thought they were getting the right volume and right content from us.”
◗ Social media postings are sporadic at best and your organization has, consequently, been unable to develop an active following.
◗ Members are starting to opt out of electronic communications and you’re seeing fewer clickthroughs in e-newsletters.
◗ Members are complaining that your website is difficult to access and navigate. SfN overhauled its website following its audit. “We plan to do some member focus groups at our annual meeting,” says Ferrari. “Informal, initial responses have been great.”
◗ Ad revenues are down or flat across communications.
Show and Tell
Striking infographics help break down barriers to reader engagement
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So goes the iconic line from the 1980s classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and it has never had more relevance than in today’s constantly connected world. Social feeds deliver new material to readers every second, so if your content doesn’t grab them right away, it won’t have an impact. Visually arresting content, such as infographics, can be a great way to hook readers fast and keep them coming back.
As new options for rich media abound, we reached out to several association publishing and media professionals to find out why the infographic remains a popular choice.
Deliver Your Message
Infographics help tell your story while boosting brand awareness and driving traffic to websites and social media platforms. We live in a world overloaded with data, so it’s important to be able to get your message out clearly and effectively, says Fernando Medrano, manager, design and production, at the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA). Strong infographics do just that, drawing in data-hungry readers and satisfying those with even the shortest attention spans. For HIDA’s “Medicare Accountable Care Organizations: Improving Quality, Reducing Costs” infographic, Medrano helped to create a bright and balanced visual that offers HIDA members key takeaways on changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act.
At the American Society of Clinical Oncoloy (ASCO), communications are typically copy heavy, so “infographics are a nice way to synthesize information and deliver it…in more succinct, bite-sized pieces,” says Susie Tappouni, ASCO’s director, science communications, communications and patient information. The association’s “Clinical Cancer Advances 2012” infographic explains the year’s progress and promotes its annual study. It’s an effective alternative to multiple pages of text, says Tappouni.
Infographics have become a regular tool for the National Apartment Association (NAA) to embrace emerging digital and social trends, says Julie Barden. Nowadays, “everything is immediate… [so] why not capitalize on this movement and promote content that wouldn’t normally attract the usual suspects?” she says. NAA’s web team put together the colorful and informative “Cost of Operating U.S. Rental Housing” infographic to engage members, as well as those who may not be familiar with the association.
The most effective infographics champion simplicity and clean design and messaging, say experts. Another essential element is an attention-grabbing headline that tells clearly articulates why the reader should care.
“I try to avoid too much text, too many ideas at one time,” says Medrano. Every component has to have a clear connection to the message so that content matches what that headline advertises throughout.
Rather than the flashiest artwork, opt for images that will help readers better relate and understand. But don’t oversimplify either, says Tappouni. A good infographic should “allow the mind to arrive upon a conclusion, as opposed to being told outright what the message is,” she says. Readers don’t like to be spoon-fed the information.
Just as important, says Barden, is a visual balance from top to bottom, a mix of color and white space, and good icons. And it helps if the design can mimic the topic at hand, for example, in the “Cost of Operating,” Barden used an image of wood paneling as the background for strong color and texture and to tie into the topic of apartment operation budgets. “There’s not really a science to making [infographics],” she says, “but it is important to make sure you have focal points sprinkled throughout.”
Infographics in a Pinch
If your organization doesn’t have the design capabilities—or the time—to create a dynamic infographic in house, these easy-to-use programs can do the work for you:
Piktochart creates premium, interactive infographics using more than 115 available themes and allows you to share and measure results. (Basic package free, pro packages start at $14 monthly)
Wordle assembles word clouds from any text or website with an RSS feed and allows you to adjust color schemes, typefaces, and more. (Free)
Text is Beautiful uses word frequency to create informative text visuals in a variety of styles, such as concept webs and clouds and correlation wheels. (Free)
Idea Swap: Many publishers are finding ways to incorporate late-breaking news into their publications. How do you tie current events to your content development strategy?
“The American Student Dental Association develops content for our print publications months in advance so it’s difficult to plan for coverage of current events. We most often weave current events into our online media by making connections on Facebook and our blog.
“For example, after the bombing at the Boston Marathon earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about Mr. Rogers’ famous quote: ‘In tragic times, look for the helpers.’ I connected the sad event with dental students’ drive to help people and their calling to be health-care professionals.
“It’s great to connect our content to events that make national news, but it’s even more powerful to get a member’s perspective on such an event. Since we have chapters at every dental school in the U.S., we have a natural network across the country to tap into when something like this happens.”
American Student Dental Association
“Until this year, I avoided following an editorial calendar like the plague. I liked being “topic.” But this was our 100th anniversary year, so we planned the entire year in advance, which left little room for late-breaking stories. We pushed through a couple of timely features by tying them to the issue’s editorial theme.
“What we really took advantage of was our redesign, which allowed us to use guest columns and short news blubs in our front news section to stay current. Because of our design, we can slip in a short news blurb a day before we go to press and we look like we are not ignoring late-breaking developments.”
Leader’s Edge Magazine
The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers
“At NTEN, we know it’s easy to get caught up in the shiny new objects of social media and technology in general. And often there are shiny things in the news. This means we have a great opportunity to use those conversations to return the focus to strategy, planning, and the goals that should drive our work and decisions around technology.”
Amy Sample Ward
Chief Executive Officer
NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network