What magic will–
- Define your association as the go-to source for education and career development?
- Engage members to click, like, share, download, purchase, and participate?
- Generate revenue, increase recognition, and build reputation?
It’s a tall order, but no wands or capes are involved. A publishing strategy that unifies mission and messaging to deliver the information your members need accomplishes all that and more. The challenge lies in navigating an industry that is an epicenter of disruption and regularly reinvents itself.
If you follow my blog, you know that the .orgSource team is laser-focused on positioning organizations for success in the digital marketplace. A mantra that we consistently repeat is—from strategy to software, integrate everything.
The goal is to be an orchestra, not a collection of solo performances. Publishing, or content distribution, should lead the symphony.
Meet a New .orgSource Expert
To help our clients achieve that impactful performance, we recently added another expert to our team. Stephen Welch is a 25-year veteran of the rapidly changing publishing industry. As an executive and former CEO at the American College of Chest Physicians, he created a portfolio of publications that contributed to the organization’s significant growth.
Stephen is an entrepreneurial leader who headed multiple divisions and business units during his tenure at CHEST. Publishing, marketing and communications, membership, information technology, and international development were among his responsibilities.
Publishing is an area that can be difficult to navigate without an experienced guide, and we’re thrilled that our clients can benefit from Stephen’s expertise. Recently, I sat down with him to talk about what he sees on the horizon and how associations can remain thought leaders in their respective professions.
These are issues Stephen puts on his watch list for association executives.
Manage Digital Disruption
Although technology regularly eats paper for dinner, associations have been guarded about taking print publications to live entirely in cyberspace.
The pandemic accelerated that move. Now that groups have begun to put sophisticated platforms and systems in place, there is an opportunity to fully integrate publishing into the overall digital, content, and education strategy.
Digital publishing opens the door to a richer experience. Reading becomes a multimedia event that includes, video, audio, and links to other information. In the case of scientific research, large data sets and access to additional studies are available at a single click.
Online engagement has also shifted the way readers think about content. “The article has supplanted the issue,” Stephen advises. “People don’t read cover-to-cover anymore. They prefer specific, topic-based information. Meeting the demand to quickly develop and deliver that content through online and mobile platforms has been challenging for some organizations.”
Be Independent, Not Isolated
“While professional and scientific journals should remain free of political influence and in tune with the goals of the association, some groups misinterpret isolation for editorial independence,” Stephen notes. Although the journal often boasts the most cutting-edge content, it’s liable to get treated like a castaway on a lonely island.
“An innovative perspective should be reason enough to view journals as integral to the overall professional development strategy. I’m surprised by how many associations don’t include their editors in critical decision-making. If your journal publishes the latest and greatest research, wouldn’t you want to promote that knowledge at your annual conference and across the association?”
COVID-19 accelerated the need to rapidly disseminate the latest scientific findings. “In health care, anything that was related to coronavirus was verified and prioritized so that it could get to people quickly,” Stephen recalls. “COVID-19 also forced everyone to consider what should be available free of charge. It put the question of mission versus margin in the spotlight.”
Shake Up Sharing
The idea of universally sharing important scientific and technical information, or open access publishing, is creating a tsunami across the research landscape. Government and private funders are driving the movement.
Stephen explains open access publishing like this: “Typically, a processing fee is levied when an article is accepted. Upon publication, the content is freely accessible and can be reused, shared, and widely distributed for free. The concept has taken hold in Europe, and there is speculation that large US agencies such as the National Institutes of Health will soon follow suit.
“Although open access resonates with the nonprofit focus on public service, offsetting peer review and production costs can be challenging, especially for groups whose journals are a major source of revenue,” Stephen notes. “The concept is reimagining the game.”
Commercial publishers are experimenting with agreements that mitigate or shift the financial impact and provide benefits for authors. For example, Elsevier, one of the largest open access publishers in the world, recently struck a deal with the University of California that allows researchers, who submit articles to the company’s 500 open access journals, free subscriptions to all those publications plus discounted article processing fees.
Philippe Terheggen, the company’s Managing Director Science, Technology, and Medical Journals, describes some of the objectives like this: “. . . while our open access program includes regular research articles, we go beyond that – providing open access to data, hardware, software, protocols, methods, and conference proceedings. All of that is incrementally adding to the body of scientific knowledge and plays a very important role.”
Open access publishing signals an evolution in information sharing certain to have broad repercussions throughout educational and scientific communities. It is just one of many areas in this volatile industry that can represent either opportunity or challenge for associations.
Leveraging strengths can make this unstable environment manageable, and even advantageous. To begin, Stephen advises taking stock. “A publications audit can help groups assess what they are trying to achieve and develop a strategy to get there. It will reveal areas for improvement in efficiency, branding, and profitability.” Complex issues like these can be addressed:
- How do you stay in tune with changing member needs?
- Should you cut ties to print publications?
- How can the open access movement work for you?
- Should you self-publish or engage a commercial publisher?
- Is your current commercial publisher meeting your needs?
- If not, how do you identify the right vendor and establish a productive relationship?
The answers to these questions may point to significant operational and cultural shifts. CEOs and boards must assess what is best for the organization; then, be prepared to act and manage the ensuing change.
Stephen explains, “The biggest challenge for board leaders is putting aside individual interests for the benefit of the group. Helping volunteers focus on the big picture and the greater good is critical.”
Of the questions I listed above, the first is both the most important and the most challenging. There are still associations where the board profile does not reflect the member demographics. Our country is more culturally, ideologically, and demographically diverse than ever. Technology adds to the demand for a global perspective. Organizations with insular leadership styles will have difficulty moving effortlessly through an environment that is both increasingly variegated and completely interconnected.
Embracing diversity is the key to understanding this new world and developing content that reflects your constituents’ needs. By integrating multiple audience messages to reflect a single purpose and mission, a publishing strategy can make your content magic.