Why This Association Says Print Remains a Vital Piece of Its Communication Strategy

Gordon Dixon, Executive Vice President of VTCA, explains the value that print publications bring to its membership offerings.

In a world where updates continue to come at a breakneck pace, it is no surprise that more and more associations are dialing back on their print efforts and doubling down on digital communications. In fact, according to the Association Adviser’s 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, print media usage slowed to the lowest level since 2018. The survey of nearly 500 leaders of North American trade associations, professional societies and association management companies further reveals that for the first time in 10 years, print magazines were not among the 10 most valued communication channels for association professionals.

Does that mean print, as a means of keeping members connected and informed, is effectively dead?

No, says Gordon Dixon, executive vice president of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance. VTCA provides a number of printed materials to its members and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. “I still see value in printed material,” Dixon says. “For one thing, it is physically present in your face as opposed to an email or post that may very easily be missed. When you look at the number of emails you get a day, you’re only going to go through so many before screen fatigue sets in. But having that publication or document laying there on your desk—you may not get to it right away, but it’s not going anywhere.”

Dixon likens print versus digital to an in-person meeting versus a virtual one. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that in-person conferences are more memorable than those held over Zoom, and I feel the same way about print. For me, there is something about reading off the printed page that leads to more retention of information, that has a longer-lasting impact.” Plus, he says, printed materials can be a powerful marketing asset. “Whether it is a mailer or a publication, that physical content catches people’s attention and is a great tool for our member recruiting and renewal efforts.”

That’s not to say that the VTCA is 100 percent all-in on print as their only communications tool. The association puts out a staggering amount of content via nine publications, and six of those are digital. “Two-thirds of our members are people who work more in the field than in their offices—contractors, engineers, inspectors. So having information available on a device when they are traveling makes it easier to access and keep up with new information as it comes in.”

So it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition—it’s all about finding the right mix of platforms and cadence of delivery to serve the total membership’s needs, Dixon says.

“At VTCA, we’re going forward with a balanced approach and trying to understand what kind of communication pieces our members want,” he explains. “Anecdotally speaking, the more corporate types tend to want more digital these days, whereas the traditional family-run businesses seem to lean a little bit more towards printed materials.”

The VTCA leans on its partnership with association solutions company Naylor to better understand what types of content their members want, and uses that data to bring greater value to their membership and as a tool for increasing ad revenue, Dixon explains. “Knowing open rates and click-throughs on the digital pieces helps us understand what subject matter people really want to hear about, and in addition, empowers us to sell more ads in those areas or charge a higher rate because of the higher demand.”

But whether the platform for communication is print or digital, the main goal is the same in Dixon’s eyes. “We want to provide our members with information that they can’t get anywhere else. And our mix of communication tools is a crucial component to that, making sure that they get whatever support and materials they need to be successful.”

Naylor Association Solutions provides innovative association tools and services for strengthening member engagement and increasing non-dues revenue. Our offerings include member communications, management of live and online meetings and events, online career centers, Association Management Software (AMS) and Member Data Platform (MDP), full-service association management and online learning. A strategic partner to professional and trade associations in the U.S. and Canada, Naylor serves more than 1,700 associations across 80+ industries. For more information, visit