Communicating is the Only Thing

communicating is the only thing

By David Wyatt

I’LL START WITH the obvious: 2020 and 2021 have brought a new operational mode for associations and for the members you serve. Everyone is operating in crises – and staying relevant is not only a challenge … it is a make-or-break proposition for all associations, industries, organizations and workers.

As we have been isolated from one another, and largely unable to meet in physical spaces in our normal ways, we also find ourselves “out of sight, out of mind” such that communication isn’t another thing. It is the only thing. Communicating with our members and employees effectively impacts everything from membership and retention to worker attrition, productivity, success at the legislature and the success of our programs. And all of that adds up to your members’ sense of value from the dues they pay your association.

The thing about a crisis is that, while disruptive, it can show what your association is made of to your membership, partners and employees. How you behave in those trying times is a glimpse into your worth, your expertise, your temperament and how you serve. Right now is when you can really show why your association is invaluable – and your members won’t understand that unless you are in touch.

As COVID-19 response, social justice and other #TXlege issues continue to eclipse business as usual, you need to know how to get your message through with confidence … even when you don’t know what’s around the corner. Here are some of the best practices we learned and helped support with associations and other sectors throughout the past year and a half:

In a crisis, it comes down to if your people care about you.

This year, we all saw a lot of industries and associations in crisis.

Some failed and some floundered. But the ones that survived and even thrived did so in large part because they had done the work beforehand of learning about their workforce and customers – establishing trust and a sense of mutual respect. This was the glue that kept people loyal and as companies had to pivot. Where people cared about the brand, they were willing to follow.

But of course, just having the appreciation for your membership doesn’t cut it. You need to say it and you need to show it. Reliable communication on platforms your members frequent – with compelling and concise storytelling – is key. You may think your newsletter is great, but if your open and click-through rates aren’t strong, you may need to rethink your efforts. Thought leadership in trade publications, video, podcasts and live streams may be worth exploring IF your stakeholders use those platforms.

Communication is essential.

“Marketing is the first thing to go” people like to quip. But as it turns out, when push comes to shove, communication is a discipline that stands firmly in the middle. In a time when we’re separated physically amid great uncertainty, it is communication that keeps people informed and confident and productive. Think of the industries, colleagues and other brands in your life that took the time to tell you what they knew, what they didn’t and their plan to keep you safe and comfortable throughout the pandemic. That created loyalty and value whether or not you realized it along the way.

When delivering unquestionable value to your members via communication, you must be timely, respective of their time and attention, attuned to their needs and make each transmission a must-view for them. The best messages are always concise, compelling, authentic and thought provoking. Every time you connect with your audience, you want them to remember why they belong to your association – and how they belong within it.

MacGyver had the right idea.

The 1985 series starring Richard Dean Anderson as the guy who could get out of any tricky situation with his ingenuity was fun to watch because it seemed just within the bounds of reason. In 2020, we’ve been reminded of just how cunning people can be. Watching our respective industries and colleagues piece together platforms and new best practices from other fields with their innovative mindset has taught us that the settings and tools are unimportant.

It is not uncommon to have your association’s communication efforts revolve around what you have always done or what leadership likes to see (or even what other associations do). But if you are tired of putting them together, there’s a good chance the recipients are tired of reading them. What matters in terms of getting things done is keeping your members’ interests at heart and to feel empowered to turn over every stone (and, if you have to, blow them up with a battery, some chewing gum and a paperclip).

Most importantly, communication is a two way street.

The turmoil of the ongoing public health crisis, social justice conversations, political unrest, disrupted supply chains and the “great resignation” has unquestionably changed your association and your relationship with your members, who are operating in a whole new world. If you expect to remain among their priorities and to serve them in a robust way, then you need to be asking them regularly what they need, how they want to hear from you, what keeps them up at night and how you can be of service to them.

And then you need to keep that conversation going.

David Wyatt is Senior Vice President at Elizabeth Christian Public Relations (ECPR), a public relations firm specializing in projects involving media relations, video production, legislative and grassroots efforts, social media planning and execution, business development, event planning and crisis communications. He can be reached at .

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