3 Lessons on Swaying Public Opinion

Does your association want to change your reputation, or does your group need to clear up some false information? Here’s a collection of tips and case studies from organizations that have been there, done that.

This might seem like an unusual question, but do you know who’s not a big vampire buff? Oddly enough, the answer to that strange query—stay with me—is Dominic Habsburg, the 79-year-old owner of Bran Castle. Maybe you’ve never heard of Bran Castle, but it’s the Romanian stronghold that is often conflated with Dracula’s Castle for its resemblance to Bram Stoker’s fictional setting.

So what do you do if you don’t like Dracula but you’re the owner of what everyone else considers Dracula’s dark and luxurious lair?

You change everyone’s mind. And that, as we all know, is easier said than done.

Habsburg plans on doing this by downplaying the spooky stuff and giving Dracula Castle tourists a dose of Bran Castle’s real history—one that involves the Habsburg royal family. “They come for Dracula,” Habsburg told The Wall Street Journal, “but they leave with the queen.”

Associations might not have a lot of dealings with vampires, but plenty of them undergo crises of public perception. Here are a few lessons that associations can learn from organizations that have been there.

If you’re wrong, admit it. SeaWorld ended its orca-breeding program after years of mounting pressure to, well, Free Willy. “As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it,” said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby in a statement. Along with ending the program, SeaWorld even linked up with its former adversary—the Humane Society of the United States—to partner in the fight against sea-mammal hunting and the prevention of sea pollution, to the tune of $50 million.

Sometimes our industries don’t get it right, and if that’s the case an apology might be in order. The International Association of Chiefs of Police did that just last month when it released a statement apologizing for the “historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

It might seem pretty basic, but SeaWorld and IACP show us the merits of fessing up to our wrongs—and even going the extra mile to make amends.

If you need help, ask for it. When the Can Manufacturers Institute wanted to inspire more affection for canned foods among consumers, particularly moms it didn’t just go it alone. Instead, CMI strategically sought out a partnership with an established and trusted women’s brand—Meredith Corporation—and built an innovative campaign that is reaching a targeted audience with its message. Back in July, the campaign had garnered “more than 21 million video views, 176,000 recipe page views, 1.428 million earned followers, and an average of nearly three minutes spent with the content in a given session.”

Sometimes it takes a village to change the discourse around your industry. Don’t be afraid to think big and get creative in finding unique and innovative solutions to your association’s challenges.

If you need a new name, get one. For groups like the International Species Information System, which now goes by Species360, a new name was imperative. The group formerly went by the acronym ISIS, a name also used by terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “At minimum you get a chuckle; in a lot of cases you get people questioning, looking at you in a funny way,” CEO Jim Guenter told Associations Now. “So, in order to avoid some of that nuance and challenge publically, we just needed to move on and find a new name.” Even if you don’t share an acronym with a terrorist group, changing your name can still be the right course of action. NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, formerly the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, changed its name recently to better reflect its changing industry.

Despite the hardships that might be affiliated with making a name change, from rebranding costs to getting members on board, sometimes it’s a necessary step toward changing the reputation surrounding your association—or even the industry at large.

What public-perception challenges has your association faced, and how have you addressed them? Please leave your comments below.



Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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