Author Archive

Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

Let’s Get Real: Association Marketing Photos

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices


Every day, 55 million photos are shared on Instagram and 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook. Pinterest is the fastest-growing content sharing platform of them all.

We’re a visual culture. We create images with the cameras in our pockets. Our digital streams are full of images of real people in real situations shared by our friends, followers, fans and even brands. When we see an image that rings false, we take notice.

Who are you? Who who, who who?

photographerMeetings and hospitality consultant Joan Eisenstodt took notice of something disturbing: “Recently, while thumbing through industry and industry-related publications and viewing websites, I was struck by what I saw: men. And lots of them. In an industry purported to be made up of more women than men, the photos were of men!”

She started a discussion in ASAE’s Collaborate community about what images and illustrations say about an organization. In her blog post she asked, “Who is shown as representative of the profession or of the members or customers you want to attract?” Too many associations rely on stock photos that are stale representations of professionalism. Seriously, how many handshakes of men in suits do we need to see? Or, associations go overboard with images that represent their aspirations but not their reality photos of what one person called “the Rainbow People.”

Susan Avery, CEO of the International Association of Plastics Distribution, had the right answer, as usual: “How about actually using pictures of our members?” Her association hires a professional photographer to take photos at their annual convention. Staff supplements them with photos they take at smaller meetings. As a result, their marketing collateral reflects their membership and industry.

Stock photos are a crutch, not a solution.

This discussion reminded me of an excellent post written by Vanguard Technology’s Ray van Hilst: Say NO to Stock Photography for Association Websites. To show the deleterious effects of relying on bad stock photography, he illustrated (with photos!) how often we see the same “silver haired business man” on association websites. That guy is everywhere!

Ray pointed to a study showing that photos of real people outperform stock photos by 95 percent. Wow! And here’s another stat: content containing compelling images attracts 94 percent more total views on average than content without images.

Compelling photos showing real people, not studio models, are better for your association’s calls to action and image. Instead of using fake, generic photos, opt for authentic, unique images. Avectra does this well with AUDC photos. Every time I see them, I think, “Hey, I know her!” (Hi Rebecca!)

You can do it!

In another post, Ray explained how two associations get their members’ help in collecting real photos. Besides the annual meeting, he lists several other events that are also good photo-taking opportunities.

To avoid liability, get the permission of your members and attendees to use their photos. ASAE publishes this “Consent to Use Photographic Images” on their brochures:

“Registration and attendance at or participation in ASAE meetings and other activities constitutes an agreement by the registrant to ASAE’s use and distribution (both now and in the future) of the registrant or attendee’s image.”

You have a few options for gathering a collection of photos:

  • Hire a professional photographer. Be picky. Your image is on the line.
  • Send willing staff to photography classes. If their photos aren’t quite ready for public consumption, use them for member platforms and publications.
  • Get the help of members, as in Ray’s examples.
  • Or, use Creative Commons licensed photos from the Web. Assume that all photos you see on the Web are under copyright protection. But if they have a Creative Commons license, you can use them as long as you give attribution and link back. 

When I’m searching for a Creative Commons licensed photo, I start with Flickr or Google. Google recently made it easier to search for CC licensed photos. Go to Google Images, Search Tools, Usage Rights and then select “labeled for reuse.” The Atlantic and Modern Art Notes have lists of the museums and governments that offer CC licensed photos.

Your photos should represent and resonate with your target audience. And as much as I hate to say this as a writer, they’re (almost) as important as your marketing copy.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who takes mediocre photos of her culinary creations but good photos of her cat.


Association Member Benefit: Curated Subscription Services

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices


Amazon the Omniscient recently patented “anticipatory shipping.” One day it hopes to send you products you want before you even order them. They’ll use data about purchases, wish lists, browsing and searches in your area to take pesky buying decisions out of your hands. You can already get regular, automatic delivery of products with Amazon’s “subscribe and save” service.

Once upon a time, subscriptions were limited to magazines and “of the month clubs.” Now you can subscribe to services that deliver pretty much anything you need to your door or computer — razors, pantyhose, condoms, films, ebooks and more.

Tien Tzuo, CEO of a subscription billing platform, says the “subscription economy” benefits organizations too. “Most of the things that a company needs to survive – phones, storage space, even offices – can now be handled via subscriptions at a fraction of the immediate capital outlay.” Associations find it more cost-effective to subscribe to Software as a Service (SaaS) or Network as a Service (NaaS) – management systems, email marketing platforms and network infrastructure hosted in the cloud – instead of investing in systems, software and servers.

The subscription economy appeals to a society that is overwhelmed with choices and willing to pay someone else to figure it out for them. Smart companies are taking on a curator’s role to add value to subscriptions. For example, Birchbox is a monthly subscription service that delivers boxes of curated cosmetic samples along with how-to videos and a magazine.

Association (fill in the blank) of the Month Club

Can you guess what I’m thinking? Why can’t associations offer subscriptions of curated products too? Members are inundated with information and choices. Make life a little easier for them. Provide a members-only curation service. Associations Now does a simple version of this with their daily Lunchtime Links and Social Media Roundup.

curationYou could identify the best articles, blog posts, videos or podcasts for your members in a weekly newsletter or section of your website. Or, you could take it to the next level: offer subscriptions to a monthly or bimonthly service. For example, send subscribers a newly released book every other month, one that would appeal to professionals in your industry.

Imagine if ASAE had a members-only book club subscription. We might receive books by conference keynotes, like Quiet by Susan Cain or Decisive by Chip and Don Heath, along with books by association management experts. The subscription could also include online book club discussions with guest appearances by the authors. What a way to stoke conversation about industry issues!

What types of products or services do your members need regularly at work? A monthly delivery of professional supplies or tools? A quarterly delivery of goodies for their staff? Once you identify their regular product needs and interests, figure out how you can meet those needs plus add an element of delight.

A recent Inc. magazine article discussed the growth of subscription services for niche and local interests. An industry analyst said, “It’s the only way to buy a gift for yourself without knowing what the gift is going to be.” How can you help your members treat themselves?

Rethink the membership menu.

The association market has the technology and AMS functionality to manage all kinds of subscriptions.

  • Make subscriptions a members-only benefit. If members subscribe, they’re automatically charged a fixed amount every month or quarter. 
  • A quarterly subscription service is included in basic membership. If members want to increase frequency, they pay extra. 
  • You could offer a monthly subscription as part of a premier membership level along with other exclusive benefits.

One caveat: don’t mix up membership with subscriptions – that’s been a hot topic lately in a discussion about monthly memberships in ASAE’s online community, Collaborate. Subscriptions are transactions: an exchange of money for a commodity. Membership is a relationship, experience and community. Membership should be transformational, not transactional.

Ask members to help you identify needs and interests and design subscriptions. As long as curated subscriptions are aligned with your association’s goals and mission, they will add value and delight to the membership experience.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and one-time member of the Columbia House Record Club. 12 albums for a penny, who could resist!


Fill in Your Marketing Knowledge Gaps

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices


When you work in associations, you sometimes have to take on responsibilities that stretch your skill set. That’s a good thing! But, when you’re learning and practicing new skills, you don’t always know what you don’t know.

Take marketing. I used to be the resource person for local association staff who marketed membership as well as programs, events, volunteerism, engagement, political action and more. I thought I knew marketing. I had a lot of experience motivating and selling to people, but I was missing some key marketing concepts.

marketingAfter a few months of reading marketing blogs my eyes were finally opened. Benefits vs. featureswhat a concept! I soon realized, there was a lot I didn’t know. Here are some basic marketing topics that every association marketer should have in their skill set.

Marketing plan

A marketing plan or strategy helps you use your limited time and budget to work toward goals that align with your association’s strategic plan and integrate with other organizational strategies. ASAE has samples of marketing plans on their website. 


Listening can be formalsurveys, polls and focus groupsor informal, for example, spending a day with a member, randomly calling members or talking to members at events. By listening, you learn more about your audience and their problems, worries, interests and aspirations.

Data vs. Assumptions

We’re not our members. We’re in a bubble with our board and other leaders. We know too much about some things and too little about others. That’s why you must collect actionable data about your members. You need to understand their behavior and use that knowledge as a basis for marketing decisions.


In ASAE’s 2013 Marketing Trends Watch, one of the most important trends was “micro targeting and/or personalization.” Your members have different specialties, positions, career levels, ages, interests, lifestyles and participation records. Don’t treat them all the same. Segment your distribution lists and target your messaging so you’re only sending relevant information to each segment. 

Features vs. Benefits

I cringe when remembering the brochures I wrote back in my early days of association management. I thought I was highlighting benefits, but I probably described features. Copyblogger explains how to write about benefits, instead of features, and, more importantly, true benefits rather than fake benefits.


Testing elements of marketing campaigns doesn’t have to be as complicated. Many email marketing platforms make testing headlines, copy and design easier than it used to be. You should at least know what you’re missing if you don’t give it a try. Read about the basics of A/B testing at the Kissmetrics blog.


“Capturing the attention of members/prospects” was also identified by ASAE as an important trend impacting association marketers. Capturing that attention begins with the headline. On average, eight out of ten people read headlines, but only two out of ten read the rest of the copy. Copyblogger has advice on writing attention-holding headlines.

Calls to Action

The call to action is what you want your readers to do next, for example, read more, register, make a purchase or click a link. Informz’s 2013 Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report said, “One call to action per email is ideal; demanding too much of readers will distract or confuse them, and your links won’t be clicked on.” To learn how to write a compelling call to action, check out HubSpot’s ebook, An Introduction to Effective Calls to Action.


55 Percent of adult cellphone owners access the Web using their phones. 50 Percent of 18-29 year olds use only their phones to access the Web. These statistics are from the latest Pew report, yet they are nearly two years old. You can bet that a larger percentage of people have developed mobile habits since then, meaning, your marketing must be mobile-friendly.


If people can’t find you on Google, you don’t exist. Although search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex topic, especially since Google frequently changes its algorithms, you should learn the basic principles. Google’s and Search Engineland’s starter guides will help demystify SEO for you.

Content Marketing

Content plays a huge role in marketing your association and its benefits. Your for-profit competitors in the content marketplace dedicate substantial resources to content marketingdon’t lose the battle for eyeballs to them. The Content Marketing Institute will help you strengthen your efforts.

If you’re a self-taught marketer, like I was, subscribe to marketing blogs like Copyblogger, HubSpot and Duct Tape Marketing. A little knowledge will make a huge difference in your marketing efforts.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who believes you can never learn enough about marketing.



Re-energize Your Board and Community by Connecting and Listening

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Leadership


meetingAssociation boards make decisions about programs, content and benefits based on members’ needs and interests. They rely on data collected by surveys, polls, focus groups and other tools to learn about those needs and interests. But, board members (and staff) also bring their own experiences and anecdotal evidence with them to the board room, including stories they hear from other members.

This anecdotal data can be helpful since it may uncover needs, problems and interests that surveys weren’t able to elicit. However, the data can also be deceptive if it only represents the views of a certain type of member, for example, someone who has the opportunity to talk to a board member because they’re also active in the association or in the same age group or pay level as the board member.

Make 2014 the year your board becomes more intentional about how they collect data and stories. Cast a wider net so your data reflects a bigger portion of your membership and market. Do what the Triangle Interactive Marketing Association (TIMA) did: tell your members you’re “trying to listen more this year” and prove it.

Members like being asked for their opinions. It’s flattering, and it shows them that the association is focused on their needs and interests.

Tell your members you’re trying to listen more, even if you think you have been listening well. Ask the board, not staff, to deliver this message. Usually staff are the ones sending surveys and asking for feedback. Members are more likely to pay attention to a personal request from a peer or fellow member.

TIMA, a volunteer-run association, has no staff. Members run the show. In the announcement for their 2014 kick-off event, the board chair, Melissa Kennedy, said, “It’s your turn to make change happen. It’s your TIMA, so help us create an organization that helps you and the local innovative marketing community.” The TIMA board is all ears.

An interactive board, Triangle-style

I attended the kick-off event held last week in a private room at a local brewpub. Upon entering, two friendly board members chatted with me and gave me a name tag and tickets for the raffles and a free beer.

After about 15 minutes of networking time, the board took turns addressing the crowd. They each introduced themselves, talked about a few of their ideas for the coming year and told us what kind of help they needed to make their vision come true. The presentations were light and quick with a two-minute time limit, although Melissa said next time they’ll limit them to one-minute to keep the audience captivated.

The presentations reminded me of the beginning of an unconference when speakers sell their session ideas to the audience. Finally, I put faces to names and got a sense of each board member’s personality.

Later the directors stationed themselves around the room, each next to a big piece of poster paper with their name and contact info on it. Attendees were given sticky notes and markers and asked to post ideas, comments and ways they could help. Conversation was bubbling around each poster. Another idea is to ask directors to write three ideas on their poster and ask people to use star stickers to vote on their favorites.

Melissa said:

“The event was a great way to re-engage our community and kick off the New Year. We got lots of ideas about programming, community outreach and service, and great leads on partners and sponsors. I think the most positive result was that the event helped rally the board to create the best possible association for our members.”

She’s right about re-engaging. In the past year I haven’t been that active in TIMA, but I now feel re-connected and have already agreed to help one of the directors with her charge – recruiting and retaining volunteers.

If you host an in-person event like this, allow time for networking and fun. Raffles are always a big hit, especially when one of the prizes is a Kindle Fire HD.

Invite non-members like TIMA did. A deep discount was given to anyone who joined (or renewed) that night and for the next 48 hours.

To keep the momentum going after the event, give each attendee something on the way out that lists the board members’ contact information and a few micro-volunteering opportunities.

Virtual town halls

Melissa said next year they might add live video, tweeting and polls for those who can’t make it to the physical event. NTEN does something similar with its quarterly town hall meetings:

“We want to hear from you, and these quarterly Town Halls are a way to create a dedicated, open line for NTEN staff to provide updates and insights about our work, and hear from you (yes, you) about what you’re working on, how we can better serve you and your team, and discuss hot topics in the community.”

If your association is looking for a way to re-engage members, consider hosting an in-person and/or virtual kick-off event at the beginning of your next board year. You’ll energize both your board members and your community.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who thinks all associations should be interactive (like TIMA) and provide raffles and free beer.