Why People Love This Association’s Membership Mascot

At the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, Roamey the Gnome is popular guy. He travels the state, posing for pictures and talking KPhA membership. And it's all just playful enough to work.

There’s a saying in association management that “we wear a lot of hats.” Association pros, especially those of us at small-staff associations, are membership recruiters one day and meeting planners the next. We have a fundraiser hat on one hour and swap it for an industry spokesman hat right after that. Bob McFalls, executive director and CEO at the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, can add one more hat to his rack:

Gnome caretaker.

On the Roamey photo gallery on KPhA’s website or the KPhA Facebook page, you’ll find hundreds of smiling faces mugging for the camera with Roamey.

As reported earlier this month by Pharmacy Today, KPhA is one of the likely few associations in the world with its own official membership mascot: Roamey the Gnome.

Since last year, Roamey has been McFalls’ sidekick, traveling to pharmacies throughout the state, carrying KPhA’s message that “membership matters.” And everywhere he goes, he poses for pictures with KPhA members. Other staff and volunteer leaders travel with Roamey, too. He’s been all over Kentucky, McFalls says, and even as far as some national pharmacy-industry meetings in Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Washington, DC.

So, how exactly does a 12-inch-tall gnome engage members of an association? McFalls says Roamey is a “conversation starter.”

“We decided that we would do more outreach, knock on the doors, and reacquaint ourselves with our membership and also recognize that within any given pharmacy there’s likely to be a number of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who are not currently members, and so we want to reach out to them as well,” McFalls says. “So, Roamey helps us to do that.”

What happens during these pharmacy visits? “Roamey takes out a ‘Membership Matters’ folder that has various components of what the association is, the different programs and activities, the continuing education, opportunities to network with other colleagues,” and so on, McFalls says. “And Roamey’s a closer. He helps us close the deal, because we always finish up with a photograph.”

Credit McFalls for committing to the bit. He speaks of Roamey as perhaps another member of KPhA’s five-member staff, but if that strikes you as a little silly or over the top, well, that’s the point. “Because there is all that serious, hard work that has to be done, we have to have ways to connect and to have fun together, and that’s why we have Roamey,” McFalls says.

Clearly it’s working. Look no further than the Roamey photo gallery on KPhA’s website or the KPhA Facebook page, where you’ll find hundreds of smiling faces mugging for the camera with Roamey. Those pictures, shared on social media, serve to build the buzz around Roamey even further among the association’s approximately 1,900 members and beyond. He’s so popular that KPhA even sells some Roamey merchandise.

McFalls says he got the idea for Roamey from a couple KPhA members, a husband and wife who are big Univiersity of Kentucky basketball fans. They travel with a UK gnome and get pictures with people they meet far and wide.

I could dive into some analysis of how Roamey builds KPhA’s brand and the importance of Roamey as a symbol, but I won’t. I don’t think it’s that complicated. As McFalls said, Roamey is fun. Posing for pictures with a gnome is just silly enough to work. Not so odd as to scare people off, but just the right amount of lighthearted to get them to stop and listen and let down their guard. To borrow a term from the management and meetings fields, Roamey is an icebreaker.

McFalls could travel the state by himself and pose for pictures with members, but they probably wouldn’t get as excited about it or be interested in a keychain with McFalls’ face on it. (No offense, Bob.) One KPhA member told McFalls that Roamey’s “friendly and welcoming” demeanor was perfectly suited for pharmacists, who take pride in being consistently rated among the most trusted professionals in the U.S.

“I know that all of us as associations know members like to have photos taken or to be featured as active participants within that association, so my suggestion would be just to find a mechanism that works for you as an association to accomplish that aim,” McFalls says. “For us, Roamey is fulfilling that purpose on a scale probably a little better than I’d even anticipated on the front end. He continues to build energy and to be recognized now when he attends events where people have already been introduced to him.”

At the end its 2013 term, KPhA’s board president awarded personalized Roameys to each board member, which means there are now multiple Roameys throughout the state carrying the “Membership Matters” message, McFalls says. His goal now is for Roamey to get to all of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

“I think the fact that we’re doing door-to-door, handshake visits means a lot in this electronic age, where we do communicate a lot with our members and even potential members electronically, but we also want to press the flesh,” McFalls says. “That’s what Roamey helps us to do.”

Does your association have a mascot or some other symbol members can get excited about? How are you trying to engage members in the selfie generation? Let us know in the comments.

(Kentucky Pharmacists Association)

Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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