Recovering from the Free Content COVID Model

By Tracy Talbot and Chris Gloede

Prior to the spring of 2020, association content models generally included 1) gated content: content lives behind the member wall as a strategy for attracting and converting customers and strengthening member relationships; 2) open access: content lives outside the member wall and is used to build awareness and thought leadership, contact information is captured for lead nurturing; or 3) a combination of the two.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many associations substantially changed their content models, adopting virtual formats, eliminating membership access requirements, and reducing fees. Notably, virtual education and virtual conferences were commonly available to registrants for no charge.

Intentional changes to the distribution of membership content brought unintentional changes to the value of association membership. To support associations facing content-related revenue setbacks, association consultants, Tracy Talbot and Chris Gloede, developed The Content Roadmap to Recovery: Eight Ways to Recharge Your Revenue, a white paper offering guidance during this time of change.

The study’s research shows that 84% of associations opened previously-gated products and services to members, customers, and the public during the pandemic. The question for many is how to revise that approach while still meeting members where they are.

The white paper outlines eight strategies to help associations navigate this new landscape. Four key recommendations stand out:

1. Leverage Your Expanded Reach

With conferences available in virtual formats, associations quickly discovered increased registrations. Now with free or reduced fees, ease of accessibility, and time limitations relaxed, participation from new audiences is leading to increases in web traffic and the possibility of boosting recruitment.

While it’s tempting to presume all new participants are prospective customers, associations should use their mission as a guidepost when adapting content to expanded audiences. Evaluate the cost of expanded reach against the real impact to the new audiences. Ensure that new audiences offer meaningful potential and substantial numbers. Anticipate that new audiences will soon require their own unique content rather than existing content that is simply translated, edited, or repurposed and evaluate the pros and cons of investing in each audience.

2. Adapt Pricing for Different Segments

“Virtual events are no longer a digital replication of association annual meetings. To engage members and attract new audiences going forward, associations will need to create events driven by market need, and price them accordingly,” explains the paper’s authors. Research and understand the pandemic’s economic impact on your audience segments. Consider the use of targeted discounts for affected audiences rather than across-the-board price cuts. Create financial models using different pricing scenarios before making final decisions.

3. Maintain Organizational Agility

Not ordinarily known as rapid innovators, many associations were nimble and delivered new services as the crisis unfolded. The authors encourage associations to foster the entrepreneurial culture developed during the early days of the pandemic. Continue to create new programs, newsletters, and webinars, and much like for-profit competitors, associations should set expectations for fast time-to-market. The cross-departmental collaboration that emerged early in the pandemic leads to better product outcomes for members and customers.

4. Determine Content Potential

Balancing mission goals and revenue generation, associations must determine which products and services have the greatest potential to engage members long term. Using a data-driven approach, marketing analytics can provide key insights on customer behavior to inform leadership discussions. Track issues, topics, and programs that are resulting in downloads, views, shares, purchases, and registrations and determine which programs are driving engagement. If your reporting is not robust then now is the time to assess and redesign.

While the road ahead remains unpredictable, more than ever associations have the power to support members by leveraging their rich content and providing enduring value.

Ricochet has created the Content Roadmap to Recovery: Eight Ways to Recharge Your Revenue, which outlines how to leverage digital, education, event and other content to increase member value. Find the report online at

Tracy Talbot served as McKinley Advisors’ Senior Vice President for Marketing, where she helped associations expand marketing capacity and optimize resources. From organizational marketing strategies to program, product, or conference campaigns, Tracy and her team provided clients with the needed resources and guidance to modernize associations’ marketing efforts. She is currently an independent consultant helping associations solve membership and marketing challenges. She can be reached at [email protected].

Chris Gloede is the Chief Consultant for Ricochet Advisory Services, a consultancy serving professional associations. Chris helps associations leverage modern marketing technologies and strategies to build stronger connections to prospects, clients, and members. Previously, Chris was the first Chief Marketing Officer of the American Bar Association where he created a culture of innovation, helped the organization recover from the recession, and reversed decades of membership decline. He can be reached at [email protected].

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