Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa


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Is Your Association Super Bowl Caliber?

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Super Bowl Sunday is the last Sunday in January. Super Bowl is that event where the price tag of a 30-second commercial is over $2 million. Super Bowl Sunday, the pride of a company's marketing department, is when those new commercials for both new and familiar products and services are rolled out and showcased. As an association executive, when is your Super Bowl?

The purpose of that $2 million Super Bowl ad is to make the cash register ring... louder. These advertisers realize they have to spend money to make money. What are they spending their money on? Creativity. New ideas. Something, anything new and different from the competition.

How much money have you as an association executive spent on creative ideas and doing something different to make your cash register ring? Probably not much, if anything. Association executives prefer not to rock the boat. As long as there's no controversy, then everything is fine. The late Bill McGowan, CEO of MCI, would refer to himself as, "the guy around here who shakes everything up."

If you asked your members what three new things or noticeable changes they have seen from your association in the past year, what would their response be? Ask yourself if your marketing people would be able to cut it with any of those companies fiscally sound enough to advertise on Super Bowl Sunday.

Here's the $2 Million Project to drop on their desk: Develop something to WOW our members. If they succeed, give them a raise. If they can't compete with the pros, then ask yourself, "What are they doing on our payroll?"

If a Super Bowl commercial bombs, that company is interviewing new ad agencies. If your marketing team bombs, they probably still have their jobs. Challenge your marketing people to earn their keep. These are the people who should be continuously generating new creative ideas to run by you that bring value to your membership.

As a marketing consultant, there's a big gap between corporate America, the "dot coms" and the association community, the "dot orgs." If I don't come up with a dozen innovative ideas to generate revenues for my corporate clients, I'm history. Associations are notorious for living and dying by the mantra, "Same old, same old." The sad thing - and lucky for associations - is that members continue to put up with "sameness." In your personal life you don't. You're constantly looking at "new;" the new bells and whistles on everything you buy such as your car, electronic equipment, clothing, and even in the hotels you sleep and the restaurants you eat. One association exec said to me, "We're lucky if we come up with a new idea once a year."

Here's the challenge or mandate for your staff: Create something NEW for your members that will knock their socks off. It sounds easy, but it won't be. I recently shared a half dozen new ideas with an association executive and his staff. The staff's eyes lit up with optimism. The exec wouldn't take the risk of trying something new. How do you think this affected the morale and motivation of the staff? Many execs have a CAE behind their name. Why do I think Risk Taking 101, Newness 201, or Creativity 301 were not part of their curriculum?

Here are some solutions for you to consider implementing:

  1. Change something. Take a risk. See if it works. If you're not making mistakes, you're not trying.
  2. Challenge yourself and your staff to create and implement new ideas and projects. Create a "New Idea of the Month Club."
  3. Continual learning. Train yourself and your staff in "New and Different." Are your publications long overdue for a new look? Is it time to augment the value and format of your annual meeting? For example, successful associations offer half-day and full-day professional development workshops with an additional fee (revenue generation) the day before the meeting actually begins.
  4. Survey or pose controversial questions to your members on line. The typical response rate is 2 1/2%. For every 10,000 members, 250 will provide feedback on a specific issue. The feedback received is going to make you and your staff think hard and work harder. If you're too complacent and prefer to keep things as they are, then you're shortchanging your membership... you know, those people who pay your salary.
  5. If you can't do it yourself, then outsource it. As Nike says, "Just do it!"

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa
(703) 931-0040