How Communication Teams Are Pivoting as COVID-19 Affects Revenue

The recently released 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report found that while the pandemic has dampened expectations of nondues revenue, associations are making changes to bridge the gap, including more webinars and tailored communication to members.

While generating revenue has long been a concern for association communications teams, the COVID-19 pandemic has ramped that up and led to changes to the way those teams do business, according to Naylor Association Solutions’ 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report [registration required].

The report surveyed associations during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a real-world glimpse at the way communication efforts have been affected by the crisis and some of the changes they’ve made in response.

“We’ve been doing the report for nine years, and revenue has always been a worry for associations,” said Sarah Sain, CAE, Naylor’s director of content and member communications. “It saw quite an increase, about 10 percentage points from previous years.”

The report noted that the pandemic caused a decrease in nondues revenue generated from advertising and sponsorships. Associations also expect the revenue declines to last for a while. “Most believe improvement is not going to happen in one day, where things are going to open up and revenues will be back to where they were before the pandemic,” Sain said.

To help counter those revenue losses, association are getting creative and trying new ways to use communications to bring in revenue. “Associations have had to pivot so quickly,” Sain said. “It’s had them make out-of-the-box, courageous decisions in terms of trying new things [like] customized sponsorship packages and new digital communications. … In the past, they would have taken months to decide. Now, they say, ‘Let’s try it. We have to give ourselves permission to try this new opportunity. If we fail, we’ll fail fast and test the next thing.’”

Not surprising, one thing associations are doing more of is webinars. “Webinars ranked as the number-two communications channel,” Sain said. “It has been in the top 10 before, but it made a huge jump this year.”

With the virus forcing people to stay at home, associations have stepped up the number of webinars and the complexity, Sain said, moving beyond just a speaker and a PowerPoint, to more interactivity.

“Having that balance between live and online learning is going to be really important,” she said. “Associations have had to embrace webinars and online learning out of necessity. Even once live events return, members are going to want to have both of those options.”

Another way communication departments are pivoting is by sending targeted emails to certain groups or interest areas. This is something that has been increasing each year the survey has been conducted, but it has been particularly effective in recent times.

“With all of the event cancellation, and movement to an online format, they found they had to reach their members in a new way,” Sain said. “They had to reach them quickly and communicate important information, often related to COVID or legislation like the CARES Act. They had to get that information out quickly and made a big leap in the last six months.”

In addition to webinars and improved targeting, associations are also embracing podcasting—and Sain suspects the medium will see more prominence in the future. “It is a communication channel where you could meet someone where they’re at,” Sain said. “You can listen to a podcast when it’s on your time. That is very attractive to members. They can fit some of this education into their schedule with more ease. It allows them to stay engaged.”

The report also had a couple of other findings worth noting: While so much has gone digital in today’s environment, the third most appreciated type of communication was the association’s printed magazine.

“It’s always in the top three,” Sain said. “It is very clear that print is held very valuable by associations.”

Another item Sain saw as a bright spot was a willingness of communication departments to outsource some tasks. She noted that only 8 percent of associations said they intended to permanently lay off staff, so the outsourcing wasn’t to replace staff. Rather, it was a recognition that some of the newer, more creative things communications teams want to do may require outside help.

How has COVID-19 changed communication efforts at your association? Share in the comments.

(XiaoYun Li/DigitalVision Vectors)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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