How One Association Went “Wild” To Stay Relevant

A bestselling memoir and its film adaptation have spurred growing interest in the Pacific Crest Trail. See how the association dedicated to promoting and preserving the trail is leveraging this new popularity toward its mission, and find out how other organizations are capitalizing on pop culture.

Happy New Year! If you’re looking for ways to keep your association fresh and relevant in 2015, you might consider taking a cue from pop culture.

Capitalizing on popular trends can be a creative way to keep brands relevant, bring attention to a noteworthy cause, or even inject a little fun into products or services that have become stale or routine. It can work for meetings, as Samantha Whitehorne suggested last month, and has proven successful for some organizations, including associations.

Last year during a session at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference, Jay Daughtry, relationship development manager at Personify, shared the example of Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety video, which became a little more engaging thanks in part to some inspiration from The Hobbit.

“It’s unexpected,” Daughtry said of the video.  “It’s creative. There are moments when they’re actually making fun of themselves. They’re making fun of the movie, of the airline. They’re not taking themselves so seriously.”

Not every attempt at embracing pop culture has to be humorous. Just this past fall, nonprofit tech-education group capitalized on the popularity of Disney’s Frozen to interest more young girls in computer science as part of its Hour of Code campaign.

The potential for increasing awareness of our work is significant.

A couple of years ago, during the final season of the popular TV series “Breaking Bad about a high school chemistry teacher turned infamous meth-maker in Albuquerque, the city’s convention and visitors bureau realized the tourism potential and launched a microsite featuring self-guided tour information, show-inspired hotel packages, and more.

In a similar vein, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has recently been taking advantage of the popularity of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which was developed into a feature film released last fall.

“The potential for increasing awareness of our work is significant,” PCTA Executive Director and CEO Liz Bergeron wrote in the group’s magazine in October. “A whole new movie-going audience will be introduced to the [Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)], the PCTA, and the importance of preserving our natural landscapes.”

Published in 2012, the book chronicles Strayed’s more than 1,000-mile journey along the trail in pursuit of self-discovery. It quickly became a bestseller, won a stamp of approval from Oprah, and helped inspired new interest, especially among women, in hiking the trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada.

That popularity, and the even larger potential popularity that the film-adaptation promised to bring, was an opportunity for PCTA to work on raising awareness around the association’s work preserving and promoting the trail—a priority of its newly developed strategic plan.

“Because of the book and the early publicity about the movie, we’re already fielding calls from the media and from people who want to get out on the PCT,” Bergeron wrote. “We believe it’s our responsibility to use this opportunity in the spotlight to bring in additional resources that will help us fulfill our long-term mission.”

Similar to the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, PCTA created a special section of its website featuring a blog with updates on the film’s release and hiking tips, personal stories from hikers, and a library of PCT hikes. The association also created a special Wild edition of its quarterly magazine and helped the movie’s producers scout locations for the film.

“The more we can be involved, the greater likelihood that we will meet our objective of converting Wild readers and moviegoers into supporters,” Bergeron wrote. “We need to welcome those who are interested to the magic of the outdoors. We need to provide information on how to use the PCT safely and responsibly.”

Has your association ever capitalized on a pop culture trend? Let us know in the comments.

"Wild" star Reese Witherspoon. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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