By Carla Kalogeridis
This year being a “census” year in our nation, it got me thinking about association publishers, and when and how we take a “census” of our members and readers—not just counting them, but actually gathering useful information to help us plan and create better media products.
The bottom line is that publication performance data is your ultimate tool for competitiveness and survival. Knowing exactly how you are performing and competing can tell you when to take action to prevent losing clout in your industry or funding from your association—if you have the numbers early enough to do something about them.
I happen to live and work in Michigan. Michigan is not going to be a shining star in the 2010 U.S. Census. How do I know that? Well, last December, the U.S. Census released preliminary numbers related to the U.S. population, and it does not look good for Michigan. The only three states to lose population from July 2008 to July 2009 were Michigan, Maine, and Rhode Island. This means that Michigan will lose a Congressional seat and our clout in Washington, DC. We also will lose federal funding to those states that gained population.
Now, suppose that Michigan is one of your association’s publications. If you’ve got accurate and recent data, you know what challenges are coming, and you can take action to deal with them. If your publication is well-read and respected, the survey will confirm that—and if the opposite is true, the survey will open your eyes to that fact as well. Then, if you are tasked with cutting back, you know without a doubt, which publications are scoring well with your members and which are not.
Just as the U.S. Census sticks to its 10-year schedule without fail, gathering information about your association publications’ performance and competitiveness on a regular basis (every 12 months for sure, six months is even better) will also allow you to take stock of where you were and how it compares to where you are today.
Using an expert’s help to craft and conduct a reader survey is recommended. When you write the survey yourself, you’re just too close to it, and you will (either on purpose or unknowingly) write the questions in a way to elicit the response you are hoping to get. Furthermore, surveys conducted by an independent expert hold much more clout with advertisers than those conducted by the association itself.
However, if you really do not have the funds to conduct a well-executed reader survey, doing your own survey is better than nothing at all. At least it tells the members you are listening. Ask your association colleagues to share samples of their reader surveys to give you some ideas.
And remember, the most important question is not: “Rank our publications in order of their usefulness to you.” The most important question is: “Where do you get your information?” You need to know what information sources (and delivery choices, e.g. print publications, newsletters, newspapers, blogs, social media, etc.) your members turn to most. That will tell you much more than holding a popularity contest among the association’s own publications.
Your publications land on your members’ desks and in their inboxes every day—there’s no better door-to-door than that. Measure everything about your publications that can possibly be measured—your future depends on it.
President, ARION Media Services