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Small Companies
If you’re like most associations, your member recruitment strategy probably goes something like this:
  1. Work very hard to get the largest companies in your industry to join, because their dues are the highest.
  2. Work even harder to get the medium-sized companies in your industry to join, because they are your reliable base.
  3. Let the small companies just find you, because the combination of lesser dues + resources needed to serve them doesn’t always feel worth it.

We understand this approach. We also know that associations must do a delicate juggling act. You need to make your payroll to stay viable, but you’re also nonprofit, charged with representing the industry.

In other words, you’re supposed to be doing it all, but your staff lacks the time and resources. So, you adopt a triage mentality, and focus your efforts on what seems like it will produce the greatest rewards.

But what if we told you there was an easily available opportunity that didn’t make your life harder and wouldn’t add more work? One that would allow you to better represent your industry AND grab a boatload of dues-paying members?

The answer is behind door number three, where the small companies are hanging out.

We’re going to show you exactly WHY you should grab them and HOW to make it worth your while.

Why Your Association Should Actively Recruit Smalls

One of our clients is a large association in the human resources industry, with about 36,000 members, and an 88% retention rate. After some discussions about their membership goals, we helped them create a campaign that would specifically target smaller businesses in the industry.

They got more than 50 new members in a matter of two months.

Here’s what the Senior Vice President and Chief Membership Officer of the association told us the other day during our weekly check-in.

“Right now, we have so many applications coming in from new members that we can’t even process them all. And we are on course to set an all-time revenue high.”

There are so many things that are great about this. First, they have an influx of new people. New people bring new blood and new opportunities. Because the CEO of that $4 million company you just recruited might be the decision maker at a $25 million company in a few years.

You never know the energy and possibility that can come with ANY new member—and that includes one that is 10 times smaller than the largest organization on your roster.

Plus, when you have a rich blend of large, medium, AND small organizations in the mix, you’re much better able to uphold your mission of representing ALL voices in the industry.

And then there’s the most obvious thing: Smaller organizations are low-hanging fruit. No-brainer revenue. The benefits of belonging to your association far outweigh the dues for most of these smalls. You just need to take the time to articulate the right message to them.

How to Handle Smalls? Automate!

We know what you’re thinking: This all sounds good, but it takes effort to recruit smalls. And if we don’t put in the effort to retain them, they’ll leave after the first year and blow our retention rate.

We hear you, and you’re right. That is a challenge. Fortunately, there’s a great answer: Automation!

You know how we helped our HR industry association client get those 50 new members? We ran multiple digital campaigns for them throughout the year. That’s it. No heavy lifting required.

We helped them craft a targeted message. It required a modest initial investment, and then it ran itself—and it continues to run itself.

That same automation can work for onboarding and retention workflow. You probably can’t afford to hire a member representative who is solely dedicated to the smalls. But you can use modern technology to streamline the process.

Targeting small organizations allows you to grow your association, thoroughly represent the industry, and plant seeds for future growth.

We understand the challenges. But we truly believe this is one of the least-accessed, BEST opportunities right now for associations.

We’d be happy to bounce ideas around with you, and help you envision what a targeted campaign to the smalls would look like.

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Recession is an economic concept, but it’s so much a part of the popular imagination that it’s also become a behavioral one. Even the word “recession” gives people a fright.

The experts may be debating whether we are officially in a recession, but people are already thinking differently about their money and how to spend it.

This applies to associations as much as it applies to consumer spending. Because the same people who buy consumer goods also make decisions about whether to renew their company’s membership, send employees to events, and invest in training or other professional development tools.

Whether your answer to the recession question is yes, no, or maybe so doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that your association is ready to respond to people’s behavior over the coming year.

We have 7 ideas for how you can adjust and prepare for another tumultuous season.

1. Find your sense of urgency.

Many associations don’t spend time thinking seriously about the fall . . . until the fall. Yes, summer is busy, and kids are most likely not even back to school yet. We know August can be a hot and lazy month. But what if you DID start now, instead of waiting until the fall? Get out ahead of a potential economic downturn by planning your entire marketing strategy around it, instead of waiting to see what happens.

2. Use data to flag your risks.

What story is your data telling you? Are you letting it guide your efforts? For example, people often sign up for membership just to get a discount for the annual conference. But then they don’t use any of the other membership benefits. So when the budget tightens, whether because of a real or perceived economic decline, what do you think is the first to go? That membership they barely used. Identify these members at risk of dropping off, flag them in your list, and market to them specifically.

3. Prepare to compete with an election for attention.

Between now and November 8, people will be inundated with nonstop messages from political campaigns. Emails, social media posts, videos, ads, texts, phone calls: Every channel will be jammed with political messaging. How will your messages stand out? You’ll never beat politics when it comes to sheer number of communications. How will you reach prospects and members in a meaningful way?

4. Think like a prospect.

We preach this in just about every newsletter. You need to think like a prospect. The marketing techniques that drive you crazy as a consumer? Don’t do those things in your own marketing! The endless email drip campaigns. The hard sell. The blanket messages that aren’t targeted to your behavior. You can’t stand these things, and neither can prospects!

5. Figure out how to offer a “sample” of your event.

We’ve been trained by retail and entertainment giants that anything worth our time comes with a preview, whether it’s a movie trailer, book or music sample, or list of reviews. Everything worth something now offers a meaningful window into the experience or a way to test before buying. Associations must begin offering the equivalent of the movie trailer. Otherwise, prospects fear you are wasting their time.

6. Keep communication jargon-free.

Lofty language that uses a lot of words winds up saying very little. Too many associations forego clarity in their quest to sound credible and worthy. But all those staid, insider phrases just come off like clutter. Instead, write like a human, talking to humans. Use clear, short, actionable sentences. Always check your reading level, and aim for no higher than Grade 8 (Flesch-Kincaid rates this newsletter as Grade 7, in case you’re wondering).

7. Train your resilience.

Resiliency is an interesting thing. It’s a mighty force that carries people and organizations through the ups and downs. But it’s not a given. You must cultivate it. What are you building right now that will last? What are you doing right now that will enable you to bounce back when the rebound happens? If someone asked you what makes your association resilient, would you be able to answer?

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There’s a new fear in town. To be clear, our lives are already full of fear, thanks to two tumultuous years and a lingering feeling that the other shoe is about to drop.

But the generalized fear that comes with being a person in 2022 isn’t actually what we’re talking about.

We’re talking about what your members and prospects are truly scared of when they see your marketing email, early bird offer, or social media post.

They’re afraid that you’re wasting their time. Squandering their attention. Making promises you can’t keep.

If we’ve learned anything the past few years, it’s that we don’t have to allow people trifling with our time. Plundering our calendars. Taking our attention for granted. We don’t have to put up with awkward social interactions or obligatory events. We barely even have to leave our homes and offices.

All we have to do is sit, click, and Zoom. And even then, we can probably multi-task and knock something else off our to-do list.


How Did Time Get to Be Like This?

Think about it: Do you even answer phone calls from numbers or names you don’t recognize?
Our outlook has become, “If I don’t know you or have a reason to trust you, I assume you are wasting my time.”

What has happened to cause the erosion of trust, and the fear that others are wasting our time?

The simple answer is that our behavior over the past 2 years has conditioned us to regard business-related events that require real-life interaction with suspicion. Or if not suspicion, second-guessing.

This is because we have learned to accomplish so many tasks virtually. “Alone but together” has become our default. Plus, we’re busy. There’s normal busy, and then there’s, “You need to do the job of three people” busy. Many people are stuck in the latter. Time away from the office is a luxury they can’t afford.

There is a more complex answer, too. And it’s that technology, media, and retail have trained us that anything worth our time (or money) comes with a preview, a list of reviews, or a “cancel at any time” option.

Want to start watching a new series on Netflix or Hulu? Watch a preview before you commit to even 30 minutes!

Want to listen to an audiobook? Listen to a 4-minute sample first, to make sure the narrator’s voice doesn’t annoy you!

Want to order a new air fryer, pair of pajamas, or phone case? Read reviews so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment!

Everything worth something now offers a meaningful window into the experience or a way to test it out.

Everything, that is, except the products that most associations market.


How to Combat the Fear of Wasted Time

A decade ago, or perhaps even a few years ago, your organization could count on the benefit of the doubt.

Now you have to hustle in the marketplace, competing with, well . . . just about everyone and everything.

That means you’ve got to figure out how to tell the story of your event in a way that allows prospects to get a meaningful glimpse. In other words, you need to think about how to offer the equivalent of reading the book sample or watching the movie trailer.

Posting an agenda online doesn’t count. A couple of testimonials won’t cut it either. The same-old highlights reel isn’t enough.

How will you reach a jaded, exhausted, and skeptical population? How will you connect? How will you build trust, so that prospects know you value their time enough to offer them the same kind of ability to sample the experience?

We’ve seen the marketing that most associations are currently putting into the world, and we can tell you: 99% of it is missing this element.

How will you be different? How will you provide that missing piece?


Rottman Creative can help with your marketing. You just have to trust us. We get stellar results for associations who are willing to think and behave differently. Give us a call and let’s start a project together now!

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. . . . Or not.

See what we did there? We assumed the benefit of the doubt. It’s annoying, right? Why would you trust us? You don’t even know us.

But if you’d like to get to know us, check out this free eBook New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing. We are also working on another free eBook called 4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement, which is a lot of fun and will be out soon!

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