What Your Magazine Cover Says About Membership

Associations are built by and for members, which is why one association promised to put its 15,000th member on the cover of its magazine.

The old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is antiquated. This is the Twitter era. If you want anybody to read what you have to say, your cover better say something interesting.

If you judged the magazines of the Health Care Compliance Association and its sister organization, the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, by their covers, you’d get the impression that their members matter a lot.

In July, the cover of both magazines will feature Laura Burke, a compliance coordinator at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, who earned the honor simply by joining HCCA at the right time. When her membership form came in to HCCA in March, the total number of members at SCCE/HCCA reached 15,000 for the first time.

SCCE Magazine Cover July 2015
(Cover preview courtesy of SCCE/HCCA.)

The cover of an association’s magazine is a place where it says, ‘Here’s what we think matters to you, dear members.’

It’s a number the associations have been eagerly anticipating for a while, and celebrating the milestone on the two magazine covers is a method they’ve used to mark several previous round-number member totals.

“We’re a membership organization. We start and end with the members,” says Adam Turteltaub, CCEP, CHC, vice president of membership development at SCCE/HCCA. “What better way to celebrate the milestone than to focus on the individual who put us across the next line?”

Indeed, the cover of an association’s magazine is a place where it says, “Here’s what we think matters to you, dear members.” A constant question for association publishers, then, is what to feature on the cover: specifically, people or topics? A smiling face, or a conceptual image?

SCCE and HCCA’s magazines choose people, showcasing a person on the cover of every issue. For comparison, Associations Now chooses a mix between people and conceptual topics on its covers, learning toward people by about a 2-to-1 ratio since its redesign in 2012. (It leaned the other way previously.) A completely unscientific sampling of association magazine cover galleries suggests many others choose a mix, as well.

The trick for any association publisher is to find members with compelling stories—or to find the compelling stories in their members. Unlike many consumer magazines, most association publications don’t deal in instantly recognizable pop stars or public figures. The face of Jane Q. Member might be magnetic, but the accompanying headline has to quickly answer the reader’s first thought: “Who is this stranger and why should I care?”

Bestowing milestone status on Burke for SCCE/HCCA certainly does that. In other issues, featured members tend to be thought leaders or innovators in the industry. Turteltaub says HCCA and SCCE, founded in 1996 and 2004 respectively, focus on people to build a sense of community. “It’s especially important for a relatively new profession for people to understand that it’s growing and strong and to see who their peers are,” says Turteltaub. “It’s a great way to keep the focus on them.”

For several years now we’ve been talking about associations serving the role of curators, typically in the context of information overload. But associations must also serve as connectors and, in other words, curators of people. Most communities have the tools now to enable members to make their own connections, but the association still has a great power to identify interesting people who are doing important work or have compelling stories to tell and to shine a light on them for the rest of the community.

Magazines have been a high-profile channel for that people-curating, and they’ll continue to be as long as associations keep printing them. But associations have a lot of ways to spotlight members now beyond the printed page, such as newsletters, social media, blogs, and online communities. Whatever the case may be, putting the focus on people is an unmistakable reminder to members that people just like them are the ones making a difference in their professions.

Associations are, after all, groups of people. SCCE/HCCA’s example of marking milestone members illustrates a firm belief—to an extent that it leaves the cover personality of some issues of its magazines essentially to chance—that its members are the lead story.

How does your association mark its milestone members? Do you feature members on the cover of your magazine, if your association has one? How else do you showcase your members to the rest of your community? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

(iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

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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