Thursday, September 26, 2013

What business, financial pros can learn from association leaders

A recent article of mine (with companion video and benchmarking research), drew from interviews with over a dozen top execs at North American associations. As many of you probably know, trade associations are at a crossroads right now. Many of their core members—Boomers—are aging out of the workforce and the up-and-coming members of many professions don’t use the word “join” the same ways previous generations do. What’s more, the web provides many of the same information for free that associations used to charge a pretty penny for and social media has allowed Millenials to be better connected and on a more global scale, than even the most extroverted of boomers and Generation X’ers.

So are trade association about to go the way of the 8-track, the PC and the Blackberry? Not so fast. Our research shows that about 40 percent of them have enjoyed membership growth over the past three years. The better ones are getting pretty good at adapting to changing times and are finding new and clever ways to connect with always-on-the go members and think long and hard about what their key value proposition is. In most cases, it’s by being the most trusted and No.1 voice of their industry. They’re deep into data mining to see what makes their members tick and they’re finding new ways to generate revenue besides the good old fashioned dues bill.

So what’s in it for me?

Just substitute the word “client” or “customer” for member and much of what top associations are doing could be very transferable to your business or practice. I also thought you’d be interest in how one of our clients is smartly integrating articles with companion video and proprietary research to provide a deeper content learning experience for their stakeholders.

As always, more tips can be found on our blog and the FREE Resources page of our website.


There are a lot of smart people out there. Don’t limit yourself just to your own industry and professional peers. A good idea is a good idea, regardless of who or where it came from.

More tips can be found on the FREE Resources page of our website.


Tags: what business leaders can learn from trade associations, boomers retiring, Millenials well connected

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Adapting Without Caving in

What B2B marketers can learn from wrestling’s reinstatement to Olympics.

With Syria, 9/11 and the new Apple iPhone introduction dominating headlines this week, you may have missed another important story that’s been stirring international controversy since February. The sport of wrestling—real, unscripted, grappling by remarkably fit men and women—overcame a death sentence by the International Olympic Committee this winter and was reinstated (video). That rarely happens.

This means wrestling, a sport which dates back to the ancient Olympics over 3,000 years ago, is back on the Summer Olympic program, at least through 2024. Even if you don’t know a half-nelson from a headlock, there are some valuable lessons here for any marketer who thinks their brand and products are so entrenched in the marketplace that they will never be challenged or lose relevancy.

Big time wakeup call

In February, wrestling, which has appeared in all the modern Games dating back to Athens in 1896, was axed from the 2020 program after the IOC executive board made an assessment of the performance of all 26 sports in the 2012 London Olympics. Just like that. Cut. After 3,000 years.

Our comment at the time, “IOC Grappling with Irate Customer, Member Base” was the most widely read and circulated post in the six year history of this weekly blog. We’re big sports fans here, but we rarely cover athletics in this forum unless there’s a business angle.

Sucking it up

Rather than throw in the white towel (wrestlers rarely do), or publicly criticize the IOC for its short-sightedness, the world wrestling community sprang into action via social media, traditional media and face-to-face outreach. For once, countries as diverse as the U.S., Russia and Iran found some common ground (some would say common enemy). The global grappling community flooded the IOC website and amassed a list of petitions, signatures and endorsements on its behalf from 35 of the 50 U.S. governors and from leaders from over 100 countries. Outdoor competitions and exhibitions were held in major cities around the globe to showcase the sport to average, everyday citizens.

Rather than defend its legacy status as one of the original Olympic sports, wrestling took its demotion as a “wakeup call.” In short, it was time to modernize the sport and make it easier for the average Olympic viewer to understand, with more offense, less stalling, more female competitors and shorter time periods. All while preserving the sports’ basic integrity.

Even former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld got into the act. Rumsfeld, a former Princeton grappler, wrote an open letter to the IOC and an emotional op-ed piece for the Washington Post and other media outlets.
“Wrestling is a universal sport that anyone can participate in regardless of geography, weather, race, gender, or economic background,” Rumsfeld wrote in February. “All that is needed is a flat surface, two competitors and a referee.”

“This crisis gave us the strength to change and we finally found we can change," observed Nenad Lalovic, new head of the international wrestling federation (FILA).

“I would like to offer my congratulations to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge. “Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months. They have taken a number of steps to modernize and improve their sport, including the addition of more women and athletes in decision-making positions; rule changes to make the sport more exciting and easy to understand; and an increase in the number of women’s competitions.”


Every once in a while a company, group or leader gets knocked from atop its long-held pedestal, accepts its new reality without making excuses, and finds ways to change and adapt to a new environment without sacrificing its core values. As a sports entertainment product, Olympic-style wrestling—real, unscripted, grappling—is not perfect and still has a lot of work to do. But the discipline, focus and resilience that so many of the sport’s leaders learned as young athletes, will help them find the path of least resistance through the new environment of TV- and mobile-friendly Olympic competition/entertainment. Don’t be afraid to change, or assume you’ll never have to. But when you do make changes, explore all viable options carefully and never stray from your core values.

More tips can be found on the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: Olympic wrestling, Jaques Rogge, IOC, FILA, Donald Rumsfeld, Nenad Lalovic, US Iran Russia agree

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Every Day Is Labor Day; Are You Listening to Me?

As we rub the late summer sand, sunblock and slumber out of our eyes today, let’s remember what yesterday’s Holiday was all about—taking a break from work during a “work day” to honor those in the workforce.

While these three-day national holiday weekends can easily stretch into four or five days, I know I’m not alone when I say it’s getting harder than ever to get back into groove. Funny thing about it—most of us were checking email, posts, tweets and fairly tethered to our mobile devices over the long weekend, so it should be easier to get caught up, not harder, right? Not so fast.

We may have been “checking in” while out of our normal work routine, but we weren’t trying to hold back the information deluge.

Also, the so-called work day has lost its conventional boundaries and the pressure to stay in touch has never been greater. The pace of doing business is also faster than it used to be and the amount of information that the typical worker must manage is infinitely larger than before. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or the summer intern.

I’m not sure if all this technology is making us more efficient, but at least there are more ways to communicate with each other and connect with someone if they’re ignoring you on one of their phones. Problem is, you never get a break and your brain never has a chance to recharge for optimal efficiency and fresh ideas.

Understanding different communication styles

I recently did a piece for Association Adviser, which has a following of over 5,000 trade association execs. 
While working on the article, it became clear that workforce communication styles are changing and we’re never going back to the “command and control” top down style in the association world. It seems the same holds true in the corporate and government sector.

Jeff DeCagna, chief strategist of Principled Innovation, told me that 21st century [association] leaders increasingly rely on “collaboration, listening and nurturing,” rather than command and control.
At a big association gathering I attended last month, Susan Cain, best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, said that introverts are increasingly finding their way to the corner office. She also said you need to understand that introverts on your team aren't "lesser contributors or less successful in social interaction." Instead, they process knowledge and interact with their surroundings in a quieter way. "They tend to be passionate, but somewhat shy and value periods of solitude which allow them to be [optimally] creative."

Getting personal

My wife and I had a heated debate the other night about who’s not paying enough attention to the other. She claimed I no longer have the ability (or willingness) to listen to what she’s trying to share with me. I claim she no longer has the ability to summarize information or divvy it up into digestible chunks that I can handle after a long day of being communicated to. I’m try to follow what she’s sharing, but get overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of details and nuance she can pick out of things that happen to her during the day

Does any of this sound familiar?


Whether it’s in your work, your family or volunteer settings, we could all do a better job of respecting each other’s personality types (i.e. introverts vs. extroverts) and communication style (free-flowing conversational vs. bullet-point and concise; emphathy vs. problem solving).

If you naturally dominate the room, learn to let others into the conversation as they may have great insights to share with the group. If you’re naturally shy, learn to speak up. If you’re a great story teller, maybe you can work on giving the abbreviated version first, and reigning back on the details unless your conversation partner truly asks for them. And if folks are telling you that NOT everything in life can be condensed into 140-characters or a few terse bullet points, then maybe allow those around you to share a few details and some color. It’s not only how they communicate information, it’s how they tell you they’re feeling.

Make each day about doing great work, not about laboring to communicate.

More tips can be found on the FREE Resources page of our website.


Tags: Association Adviser, Jeff DeCagna, Susan Cain, Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking men vs. women communication