How Three Associations Partnered to Feed the Content Beast

Developing and delivering editorial content to your members can be an uphill climb, especially with limited staff and budget. The U.S. Dairy Export Council lightened the load by forming a content partnership with two like-minded organizations. Here’s why it works.

Does your association have stories to tell? Most likely you do, but maybe you’ve struggled to produce content or said, “If only I had more staff writers and editors or budget.”

Long gone are the days when an association editorial staff could produce a single publication on a linear schedule with enough staff and resources to produce in-depth features. Today, associations have to be fast-moving, multi-channel digital operations in a complex communications environment.

The problem, according to a blog post by Atlantic57, the digital consulting agency of Atlantic Media (and, coincidentally, my former employer), is that the content team “may not be able to think creatively or holistically about how all of the content they create comes together to tell a greater story and build meaningful audience relationships. Instead, everyone just feeds the beast, writing story after story, creating social post after social post, and churning out analytics report after analytics report.”

The U.S. Dairy Export Council found a way out of that grind by forming a content partnership with two other groups in their industry: the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

Together, the three organizations are working to communicate a consistent message that U.S. dairy creates jobs and that dairy exports create even more.

The collaboration led to a new digital campaign called “Got Jobs?—a riff off the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign—which advocates for dairy jobs in the United States and spotlights stories of members, like Nevada farmer Daniel Perazzo.

“The dairy industry needed to speak with one voice,” says Mark O’Keefe, vice president of editorial services at the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “If we have dueling banjos, we’re not going to be as effective. We have to have the same message.”

Here are three reasons why the content partnership that produces is so successful—and why a similar approach might help you get your message out to members and other audiences:

It’s platform-agnostic. The three associations collaborate primarily through Medium, a third-party publishing platform that’s free and easy to use (other associations use it too).

O’Keefe says this approach is useful because “we’re working off the same song sheet, so to speak.” All three associations have equal control of the platform, where they can monitor site traffic, reader comments and reactions, and article analytics.

It’s also a way to pull in both members and nonmembers as readers.

“Medium can increase engagement with members by providing a portal where they can showcase their content,” O’Keefe says. “One thing we ended up discovering is that Medium can be a great place for content to have a second life, reaching a broader audience, after it’s published first elsewhere.”

The partners divide and conquer the work. Each partner has a clear and delineated role in content development and distribution. “My organization, and me in particular with my journalism background, I run [the site]. You can consider me the editor,” O’Keefe says. Meanwhile, raw jobs data and data snapshots come from IDFA, along with media relations support. And it’s NMPF’s responsibility to post content across social media sites so that all three partners can retweet and share it with their members.

The result? “We create this amplification effect, so we’re all communicating the same stuff to our respective tribes,” O’Keefe says.

The partners agreed on goals. At the start of the partnership, the three groups set clear and quantifiable goals for the first year. “Our first goal was to inject information on dairy’s economic footprint into the discussion on jobs,” O’Keefe says. Within three months, news and social mentions of the words “dairy” and “jobs” jumped by more than 35 percent compared to last year. “The bottom line was that we set these goals for an entire year, but we hit all of them in three months,” O’Keefe says.

To date, the partnership has created more than 200 pieces of content, including articles, infographics, data snapshots, and state fact sheets, as well as video features and dozens of social posts.

“We went into this with our eyes open,” O’Keefe says. Now, “it’s basically an online magazine that we created. It’s a clever way to collaborate on a neutral platform that’s also free.”

(Rixipix/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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