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*Hint: Think Audio

You need to communicate with your members, attract new members, educate and inform the public. There are so many ways to get the word out there. Which do you choose? And how do you make it effective? Which types of communications are suited to which purpose? How much money should you budget for campaigns?

Audio Before Video

There is nothing wrong with video. It has its place and can achieve some valuable objectives audio cannot. The message I want you to understand is that video should not necessarily be the first production you should undertake. Video is difficult and expensive to do well. It requires a large, sometimes virtually limitless, budget and talented staff. Then, even when you get the necessary high-quality video, you must consider reaching the audience you want, and grabbing enough of their attention to sit down, watch, and absorb your message.

Those last few words are important.  Sit down.  Watch.  Absorb.  Watching a video requires you to pay attention to a screen, usually remaining in one spot while you do so. I don’t know about you, but when I have time to sit down and watch something, I’m usually reaching for high value entertainment. I’m choosing The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, ESPN highlights, or even that hilarious cat video my friend keeps telling me I HAVE to see.

Contrast that to a well-crafted audio show. Audio (and podcasting in particular) is designed for listeners to be mobile and still fully absorbed in the message. Listeners do not have to keep their eyes on the screen to be able to absorb the full message. So, you can do other things while you listen! And you can even turn tedious and boring activities such as a morning commute or household chores into productive time.

You can listen almost any time, while:

  • Driving your morning commute
  • Driving your evening commute
  • Watching your child’s t-ball game
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Vacuuming
  • Doing your expense report
  • Filling out your time card
  • Doing your daily run
  • Cooking dinner
  • Eating lunch

You get the idea. What I have not explained yet is that, because listeners are doing other things while listening to your content, and because you’re giving them interesting and more intimate content, they are more likely to listen longer. They are more likely to become aware of not only subject matter, but the lives of the host(s), interesting characters at the association, and the weekly segments they do.

So, how do you give them consistent interesting content? Think of a podcast. You are creating a conversation among people, experts, and colleagues in your industry. The format lets you dive into a topic on a much deeper emotional and technical level. You can and will make your association much more human–not just a place where their dues go every year. What do I mean by that? Take the CEO, Executive Director, or President. When you hear “CEO” an instant image comes to mind. You are probably thinking of a stiff collar and crisp suit. Corner office. The boss. Responsible for the bottom line. Maybe someone to whom you cannot always relate on a human level. This is someone you want to impress and probably slightly intimidates you. Case in point. A while back, I had the opportunity to interview John Graham, the President and CEO of ASAE, on our show Though the Noise. We covered a myriad of topics, from the executive certification process, to the annual event, and a ton more. A few months later I found myself at the ASAE headquarters in Washington, D.C. When I told people who I was, their eyes lit up and they would say “oh you interviewed John Graham, I loved that interview!” Being a curious talk show host I would ask what they liked about it. The answers were one of a few things: “I didn’t know he had twin daughters,” or “I thought it was really moving that after his father passed away is when he decided to come work at ASAE,” or “I had no idea he was an eagle scout.”

The information listeners take away from an audio podcast doesn’t surprise me anymore. It is usually the things that make us feel something, the human experience. But I did learn something new that day. In fact, I was astonished when I discovered later that the section where John talks about his father’s passing came more than 36 minutes into the show. I must repeat this for emphasis. 36 minutes in. Can you imagine watching any association video for over half an hour? What would it cost to make fifty-two 36-minute-long videos, and do you think anybody would watch that far in? Major television networks have trouble holding your attention for that long. Yet the human side of an association president (not a comedian, actor, musician, or entertainer) held people’s interest for at least that long.

There is one last point I would like to emphasize. I have seen first-hand what happens when you tell a potential guest “it’s audio only.” A huge sigh of relief, you can hear it through the phone. I have done podcasts with very senior people in their flip-flops and shorts. Audio takes off all the pressure of having to “look good,” and it becomes easier to get guests to agree to be interviewed. The tie can come off and the hair can come down and the guest can really open up and get into the subject matter, which often happens to be why they are personally involved in the organization. They can talk about first-hand accounts of how the organization has benefited the membership and all the good work its doing. But not just in a bullet point format but with their personal stories. “I remember when XYZ member joined up years ago and they had three employees, they came to our conference and events and now they have 40.”

To sum up, audio is more affordable to produce, and can create an intimate connection with your audience, it’s designed for a captive audience in a mobile setting so it can be longer format and still be heard, it turns boring chores into productive time, allows for much deeper coverage of your guest and topic, and it is less intimidating to potential show guests.

Again I do not dismiss video. But every day I see so many missed opportunities to effectively use podcasts and audio content to maximize organizations communications. Start with audio.  You’ll thank me later.

Ok I get it. You’re the head of an association. You have a marketing budget. For the marketing and communications plan you MUST do some or all of the following things:

  • Build and maintain a web page
  • Host one or more trade shows, award ceremonies, and/or other live events every year
  • Create one or more videos for your annual event
  • Develop and maintain social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Gather information and news to publish in your weekly/monthly/quarterly newsletter

I am about to give you yet another thing to do. Start a podcast.

In other articles, we’ve discussed many reasons to start an audio podcast. It can create an intimate connection with your audience. Usually your audience spends more time with a podcast than with other forms of marketing because they can do other things while listening. It turns boring chores into productive time, allows for much deeper coverage of your topic, and it is less intimidating than video to potential show guests such as members, policy makers, donors, experts and others. I am going to go into another key reason why an audio podcast is essential to getting your message out to as many people as possible. It’s all about the guests.

Yes! When it comes to guests on a podcast like this, associations have a very wide playing field. You can reach out to so many people to come spend some time talking with you in an intimate, let your hair down setting. Start with the obvious–experts and specialists on your staff who will have lots of stories and information to share, guests from outside the organization, high profile members of your association. Soon you will think bigger. Like anything else your show will slowly get better and better, and the market impact will increase. At that point, all sorts of guests will want to be a part of it. Members of Congress, other elected officials, executives, authors, and celebrities are always looking for exposure. Your podcast gives them what they are looking for, and it’s win-win, because those people have their own followers who are sure to learn about your association. Having listened for at least that one episode, they may turn into loyal listeners. Other associations are also great sources for potential guests. I have seen this happen on many, many occasions.

Break it down. Suppose your association has a mailing list of 35,000. You invite a guest from an association related to your field, for example a convenience store association may invite a guest from a beverage association. The guest’s association also has a mailing list of 35,000. You both promote the episode to your mailing lists, and now 70,000 people have exposure to one of your episodes that will be (like every podcast episode) available until the end of the Internet (or until you choose to take it down). Now compound that by a weekly show. 70,000 x 4 weeks = 280,000 potential listens in one month. Obviously, not every person on the mailing list will listen to the show. But if only 15% open the mail and only 5% actually listen, consider the fact that the shows are available until the end of the Internet. With good search engine optimization, people will continue to listen for many years, and, most importantly, prior shows will still be available when the next association guest sends out the episode to their mailing list. Some of our clients have had exponential growth right out of the gate going from 500 total downloads in the first month to over 20,000 by the end of the year, with little to no marketing other than to their own and their guests’ mailing lists.

I have talked about your podcast reach in terms of numbers of listeners. And yes, that is one reason guests and their mailing lists are an important motivation to make podcasting a part of your marketing plan and a way to measure success. But consider this thought: let’s say you are an ice cream association. If the CEO and executive team of Breyers, Häagen-Daz, Drumstick, Nestle, Turkey Hill, Hershey’s, and Ben and Jerry’s listen to this show, would that be a success? In addition to the number of listeners, the quality of listeners that podcasting makes possible is enormous. Just think of the benefit to the association of having industry or group leaders as your podcast audience. In developing shows for associations, we find the outreach to industry leaders is a key component of a great podcast appearance.

Lastly there may be that Gold or Platinum level member that you have been dying to have a conversation with but just cannot seem to get in for a real conversation. Imagine calling that person or their assistant and inviting them on to a show that has already hosted 3 elected officials, 2 of their competitors, and maybe 3 of their clients. That could potentially get you in the door or rather they will walk through your door.

Of course, there are many other reasons to have an audio show or podcast developed for your organization. Member engagement, outreach, awareness campaigns, personalization of a brand, etc., but maximizing the quality of your guests and expanding your reach to include all your guests and their organizations is a modern day reality of marketing efforts and goals.

Communications people in associations are always trying to find new ways to engage members: throwing events, publishing newsletters, creating magazines, making flashy, creative videos and so much more. “Communications” simply means having a conversation with our members — attempting to show that we hear them and understand their issues and that we are working hard to enhance our–or more importantly–their industry. We create all this content and hold these events not just because we want to show we are working for them, but also because we want to understand the issues that are important to them. What’s important? What are the trends? What does the research say? –and on and on. We have analytics, CRM systems, surveys and much more. All these modern tools are wonderful for data but what it all comes down to is a conversation between members and the association. The data is great but let’s not forget the human factor. Why do I bring this up? Because it’s all about conversations. But more importantly, the quality of conversation determines its impact.

Does anybody know who wrote the article in the monthly newsletter? You may have a favorite columnist or writer that always has good analysis and insights into future trends. It may be that “Member of the Month” bit towards the end where readers learn about what exceptional members are doing. Or it could be something else you always turn to immediately because you like the style of writing. The readers know where to find what they like and it becomes habit for them to check it out each month. These are good conversations.

Now let’s step it up a notch. A podcast, when done effectively, comes out at least once a week. That’s four times more often than the average monthly newsletter. Every week, you get to know the hosts a bit more. The sound of their voice, what they thought of the convention last week, what their views are on the upcoming legislation, what that new survey means in plain terms for you, and so on. But more importantly, you know through listening that the host is a mother of two and her co-host is a grandfather. She was the VP of Sales for an industry leader and her co-host still works in the industry. You not only receive expert analysis from industry guests, but you hear the tone of their voices, their personal stories, learn why and how they got into this line of work, what motivates them, you get to laugh with them, hear both their current stories and their stories from back in the day and so much more. This creates intimacy and memorable moments. Listeners are engaged and develop a desire for more. And a podcast can deliver more. Because podcasts, when done correctly, are essentially evergreen (always timely and not outdated), and because of the way they are published, they create an easily accessible series. Listeners who are grabbed by one episode can now binge listen. And the podcast you created 8 months ago or 2 years ago is still fresh to a new listener. On top of this, your hosts are continually developing their interviewing skills and the content will become more and more intimate.

On the Through the Noise show, we had a communications director open up and tell about what the organization went through when one of his co-workers was killed in another country. How he knew the person and her family. How he remembered when she was hired and how much she liked the job. What it was like when he got the news and thinking about how to do a “press release” trying to sum her life up in a few hundred words.

This kind of content can be told very well in many formats, print, video etc. But audio paints the picture in a uniquely personal way. Hearing the tone of his voice and the way he talked about his colleague painted a vivid picture of the scenario.

There is a desire from many advertisers and marketers to attempt to create habits and trust within a brand. The trust in a brand whether it be a toothpaste, automobile, service, or association has to have a certain visceral connection. To do this you must be honest with your listener. Howard Stern, whether you love him or hate him has always boasted his show is always honest. And I think few would disagree with that. With that, he has been very successful to say the least. He taps into the raw emotions of a broad general public.

Associations and non-profits have this same opportunity through audio. Every organization has a niche audience that wants to hear what’s really going on in their industry’s universe. Stories of success, failures, industry analysis, what does it mean, what does my future hold? All these are compelling to them and done correctly the audio podcast format creates the most vivid, compelling, and honest pictures of all media. And it’s that intimacy that makes the content memorable and keeps listeners coming back for more.