A Few Practical Realities for Post-Pandemic Events

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As the pandemic abates and even after it subsides, meetings are going to look a lot different. What should you think about now to make sure you’re offering the best experience to participants this year and beyond? A look at some considerations.

As I’ve written over the last several weeks, the return of in-person events will likely include many new health and safety measures, including contact tracing, onsite screening and testing for COVID-19, and an array of protocol documents.

But beyond these necessary elements and documentation, how else will events look different moving forward, and what will be required of meetings teams to execute them successfully?

Earlier this month, AYRE Event Solutions published “Events in 2021 and Beyond,” which outlined several ways that the pandemic will affect events and meeting professionals in the future. Here’s a look at three of them:

Cost. While hybrid is the likely format for many events, especially large ones, over the next year, producing them effectively will mean increased costs for organizations. “The demand is going to be so high, so production companies, venues, and general suppliers will likely increase their costs,” said Managing Director Chris Ayre. “On the other hand, production companies may also need to increase their costs because the technical labor (e.g., freelance technicians, crew, etc.) pool will be lower as many have now left the industry to work elsewhere.”

Confidence. “Building confidence will be the key driver in the return of the events industry in 2021 and beyond,” said Ayre. “You may have more control measures than a nuclear power station, and think your event is ‘COVID secure’, but unless your audience feels safe to return, they will stay away, no matter what you offer them.” To build that confidence, organizations will need to be proactive and transparent when it comes to health and safety.

Reskilling. Just as the pivot from in-person to fully virtual in 2020 required meeting professionals to acquire new skills, so will the transition to hybrid events. This means there may be a bit of a gap as professionals get comfortable with technology requirements and everything else. “One thing is certain, there will be a skills gap within the industry, but working with a production company who has experience can help smooth the transition,” said Ayre.

Convention centers are also recognizing that they will need to provide new resources to better help meeting pros execute future events. For example, some venues are introducing new cleaning and disinfection tools and staff roles, while others are building onsite broadcast studios that will help organizations host hybrid events more easily.

And just this week, Canada’s Palais des congrès de Montréal launched a new program that will help planners transform their events for a post-COVID world. The program includes 10 hours of one-on-one coaching, as well as several training sessions that cover areas such as new business models and funding sources and “focusing the experience factor on the human factor.”

“By launching this innovative program, the Palais des congrès de Montréal is providing an events industry that is being forced to reinvent itself with tangible support. The Palais is more than a convention center; it is also a solutions center, and the personalized training being offered here speaks firmly to our commitment to innovation,” said Robert Mercure, CEO of the Palais des congrès de Montréal, in a press release.

What do you think post-pandemic events will look like, and how is your meetings team preparing for it? Please share in the comments.

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Three Keys to a Better Post-Pandemic Culture

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All those Zoom calls have kept your organization running, but plenty of challenges remain. Two association experts share some keys for managing through the pandemic and beyond.

Remember all the concern in organizations about silos? Then along came the pandemic.

“If there were silos before, they’re canyons now,” says Maddie Grant, cofounder of the association and workplace consultancy Propel. Grant and Propel’s other cofounder, Jamie Notter, have seen that associations have been able to manage through the essentials of keeping things running. But remote offices tend to erode opportunities for collaboration, Notter says. So those silos are still standing.

“You can’t have informal, casual, spur-of-the-moment conversations, and I think people have underestimated the value of those,” Notter says. “They didn’t realize how much information they got passively by being in the office…. From a culture point of view, they’ve had to make a decision: Are we going to slow down our decision making, or are we going to include fewer people? That’s the choice, and you don’t get to do both.”

That distance has consequences. I and others have written a lot during the pandemic about how associations have struggled to preserve their cultures remotely, and some data suggests that boards have effectively remained in a holding pattern through the past year. Grant and Notter have their own take on the matter: Late last year, they published Association Apocalypse, an e-book that drills into some current cultural challenges and some thoughts about what the post-COVID landscape will look like, and much of it involves getting smart about leading with data. To that end, they shared some thoughts about some of the actions leaders should take to adapt their organizations.

We don’t do that dot-connect thing.

Get savvier about goal-setting and the data you need to do it. Association Apocalypse quotes from leadership pro Verne Harnish’s “Rockefeller Habits,” the second of which is “everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward.” That shared sense of purpose would go a long way toward improving an association’s culture. But, of course, that’s easier said than done—people can gather reams of data and talk about strategic goals, but understanding the value of both across the organization is difficult.

“I find that data-gathering and strategy conversations miss a deeper understanding of what drives the success of an association,” Notter says. “I should want to know what members are experiencing and fill a gap for them. But we’re not making connections around experience, internal capacity, and then exceeding expectations with something amazing. We don’t do that dot-connect thing.”

Stop thinking about data as somebody else’s job. Notter and Grant write that “if everyone is doing something to gather data, you’ll end up with a more nuanced and accurate understanding of the problems you should be solving for them.” Problem is, organizations don’t tend to make gathering and understanding data something that everyone takes part in.

“There’s a culture in the association industry, I think, where the people who know about data are the data experts, and everybody else doesn’t touch it because they don’t know enough about how it works,” Grant says.

Build that understanding around actionable goals. Notter says that associations, like any business, ought to have clear targets for success. But too often, they tend to develop goals that are as wide-ranging and unspecific as their mission statements. “Make it a binary-outcome target,” Notter says. “If you’re asking people if they liked a conference, then the target should be something like ‘go from a 4.1 to 4.3 [rating].’ You either did it or you didn’t. What that forces is learning conversations when you don’t hit it.”

Staffers can naturally be anxious about what it means for their position at an organization if those targets don’t get hit—for many, a “learning conversation” can feel a whole lot like blame. All the more reason, Notter says, to get savvier about data.

“If you want to reduce the anxiety, then you need data points that tell you before you fail that something’s off track,” he says. “We’re not as good at that, but I think this is something that you grow into and learn over time.”

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Membership Pro Tip: Engage Members From the Get-Go

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Finding out what a member wants from your association as soon as they join establishes an immediate connection and creates a customized experience—for the member and the association. That’s a win-win.

How does it work?

When a member joins or renews membership with the National Asphalt Paving Association, they immediately receive an email thanking them for joining. In the same email, there is a request to address three quick items: their company listing, whether they’d like to join a committee, and if they would like to be connected with a fellow NAPA member to walk them through their membership. Each action item has a follow-up link for the member to click and add more information.

“The best time to activate a member is at the point of acquisition,” says Steve Shivak, NAPA’s director of membership.

Why is it effective?

This early interaction allows the membership team to learn about the member based on what they select and—just as important—what they do not select, Shivak says. The team introduces members to programs, committees, staff experts, and other topics of interest so they don’t have to search for them.

Online one-on-one orientation sessions give the NAPA team an opportunity to learn more about the member, their company, and their challenges. After the orientations, members are often pleasantly surprised that the team wanted to spend time with them and not sell them something, he says.

What’s the benefit?

Members get an instant connection, and they feel like they have a champion in NAPA. “We’re a national association with a small-town feel,” Shivak says.

NAPA benefits as well: The information members provide guides topics for monthly member briefings, conference sessions, research, and advocacy. “It keeps our fingers on the pulse of what keeps our members awake at night,” he says. The early engagement is also an opportunity to identify the next generation of volunteer leaders.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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What Is Performance Marketing, and How Can It Help Associations?

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Your association’s usual strategies for reaching its audience might not work so well right now. Performance marketing can help you sharpen your aim.

By Melissa Bouma

Have you ever watched the Super Bowl and wondered what it must be like to have a massive budget to devote to a single 30-second ad?

Once it airs, millions of dollars are gone in basically the blink of an eye, and although the reach and earned media is there, the return isn’t actually measurable.

Associations, by and large, don’t have that kind of budget to spend on a TV spot. But they do need a strong marketing strategy to drive new members to join and to attract attendees to their next virtual events.

One way to attract the right audience without blowing your budget is through performance_ _marketing, an approach that enables you to measure how your marketing is working (or how it is performing). Admittedly, performance marketing can be difficult to understand if you’re not familiar with it, so let’s simplify it further: At its most basic level, it’s a piece of marketing content that can be measured, allowing you to accurately gauge its return on investment.

This can take a lot of different forms. For example, you may create a blog post that is intentionally designed to work in a paid search context, hitting terms you know will do well with your audience. Or you might build a video campaign that targets specific audiences through paid social media. You might also target your audience through services such as Outbrain or Taboola; the options are plentiful.

The audience is narrow, and the content is highly targeted toward action. As a result, you’re paying small amounts to make a big impact that you can quantify to decide whether to double down or pull back. Performance marketing is growing in value: In a comprehensive 2018 study of the sector, the Performance Marketing Association estimated the industry’s value at more than $6.2 billion, with more than 200,000 businesses and individuals taking part.

It has also gotten some high-profile attention. Last year, the management consulting firm McKinsey wrote that performance marketing “will give marketers an edge when it comes to reaching their target groups efficiently during and after the pandemic.”

While this is an emerging category, it also isn’t on the bleeding edge—and that means there are established tactics that associations can try as they experiment with performance marketing.

The Benefits of Small Scale

The secret sauce of performance marketing is that because you’re only spending small amounts of money on paid advertising, it allows for a lot of testing and refinement.

That testing can cut across demographics and specific audiences so you can target your messaging as narrowly as needed. You can then experiment to see what works best and, over time, check your results to figure out what worked and didn’t.

If you want to target the C-suite or perhaps heads of HR, you can do so, and you can actually see if it’s driving leads to your association over time. If it’s not, you can stop.

The result is that you can get really close to your audience and understand what your efforts and spend are netting you. Perhaps you started with 25 segments, but you cut it down after some initial testing to the most effective two or three segments. That means, rather than taking the old-school “spraying and praying” approach, your audience is tailored—and so is your messaging.

Performance marketing minimizes costs while maximizing results.

Why Associations Should Care

For associations, performance marketing may be a new way to think about solving the traditional problems of member marketing or promoting events. (Then again, given that events are largely remote right now, you’re having to think in new ways already.) Nonetheless, performance marketing makes a lot of sense for associations as a way to target new members or sell new services to current members in a lean, thoughtful way.

That said, a good partner will help your association spot the differences between good performance marketing and bad performance marketing. After all, you don’t want to waste time and money when the goal is saving time and money.

At this moment of tight budgets and fewer opportunities to reach members offline, you need marketing that’s more down-funnel and is actually reaching your target audience, with the message you need them to read—one that encourages them to take action.

You may not have a Super Bowl budget at your disposal, but you might just get a more effective result.


Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

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What Exhibitors and Sponsors Want From Virtual Events in 2021

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Organizers had a lot to learn in 2020 as they quickly transitioned their in-person events to the virtual space. And while sponsors supported those efforts, it could be a tougher sell this year. Here’s a look at how to improve the virtual conference experience for exhibitors and sponsors.

Back in December, a group of legal vendors came together for the Virtual Value Workshop, which organizers described as “a creative mix of strategy retreat, problem-solving workshop, and innovation hackathon for legal vendors searching for ROI from the virtual events, tradeshows, and conferences they sponsor.”

As part of that workshop, participants began drafting their “manifesto,” which they shared in its final form earlier this week.

This is our Manifesto. It was originally conceived in frustration, but we share it in a spirit of collaboration Beginning today, let’s reinvent tomorrow together as equals and improve the conference for all.

— Matt Homann (@matthomann) February 15, 2021

Although this was developed for the legal technology industry, it includes several ideas for how to better collaborate with sponsors and increase vendor engagement and satisfaction that also apply to associations. Here are four that I found particularly notable:

Get vendors involved during the planning stage. “Invite us to offer suggestions, give feedback, and share the lessons we’re learning (and the solutions we’re seeing) before you go your own way,” states the manifesto. One idea offered up by participants for making that happen: Pitch your most innovate ideas for 2021 and beyond to a panel of your partners and sponsors. Not only will they give you honest feedback, but they could also decide to sponsor one of your ideas on the spot.

Rethink the virtual expo hall. In an online environment, it may not make sense to have exhibitors and vendors organized in traditional tradeshow hall rows. Instead, the manifesto suggests that the hall be organized around the problems that attendees are looking to solve, or even around conference tracks. One plus side to arranging this way: Vendors might choose to be in more than one area, depending on the variety of solutions and services they offer.

Build small curated exhibit spaces. “Make attendees leave their virtual sessions through a curated, mini vendor hall where they might be exposed to solutions connected with the session they just attended,” the manifesto suggests.

Offer discounts in exchange for engagement and data. Exhibitor and sponsor satisfaction is sure to increase if they have more attendees meeting with them or if they have access to attendee data that can help them easily reach out to people who may be interested in their products and services. To accomplish both, the manifesto suggests offering discounts to attendees who visit with vendors or who are willing to provide additional data about themselves. If registration discounts aren’t something your association would consider, you could offer other benefits like prizes or access to additional content.

Ultimately, I think successful virtual events in 2021 will be those created by meeting teams that focused on this quote from the manifesto: “Instead of asking, ‘How can we do online what we’ve always done in person?’ you should ask, ‘How can we do online what we’ve never been able to do in person?’ And then answer it well.”

What new opportunities are you offering sponsors, vendors, and exhibitors at your upcoming 2021 virtual and hybrid events? Please share in the comments.

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What You Need to Know About Music Licensing for Virtual Events

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In a world where a live event can be as simple as a few people meeting via videoconference, how do the rules of music licensing apply? According to one legal expert, it’s a question of liability and risk, just as with in-person events.

Music played at in-person events can add the right vibe and a unique kind of energy. It can have a similar effect for virtual events too. But event planners might be wondering: Does the difference in venue matter when it comes to music licensing?

For the most part, it doesn’t, says Peter Strand, a lawyer with Mandell Menkes LLC who specializes in intellectual property issues in the music industry. In a virtual setting, “if there’s music being played, that is still copyright protected, and the performance has to be authorized,” he says.

Strand, himself a musician (his ’70s band Yipes! once opened for Foreigner and Cheap Trick), notes that this is also true of event recordings, even if they will not be available in perpetuity. “Again, the fact that these are virtual, and that the recording may not be permanent … doesn’t change that,” he says.

Managing Risk

Plenty of virtual events—some in venues as small as living rooms, others at a massive scale—have used music in a high-profile way. Strand says that the two primary groups for performance rights, ASCAP and BMI, realistically don’t have the resources to track down every performance, nor do groups representing songwriters.

But failing to get a license for the music you use carries potential for liability, especially if the event is high-profile. Strand cites the hypothetical example of a well-known musician doing a musical livestream. “If an artist with some notoriety says, ‘I’m gonna do a Dylan program on Friday live from my living room, that may trigger somebody to contact that performer to say, ‘You need to get that license,’” he says.

The poster child for what can happen if you fail to license music for digital use is the exercise bike company Peloton. In 2019, the company was sued by numerous music publishers over unlicensed songs featured in Peloton videos.

Eventually, the company ended up striking a settlement with the National Music Publishers’ Association, whose members filed the lawsuit. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Peloton paid $49.3 million in settlement and litigation costs.

“I think that the media coverage of that matter probably was instructive to other organizations,” Strand says.

Consider the Source

One thing that has changed about music licensing thanks to the internet is how easy it is to find songs and use them without thinking about copyright—which can lead to trouble.

Strand cites the real-life example of a company that attempted to license a vintage pop song for a commercial, only to learn after using the song that the recording was not owned by the record company it was trying to license from. It turned out to be a cover version that an employee found on the internet.

In an era when Spotify and even illegal torrent sites can put a song at your fingertips, the ease of sourcing music can create headaches, especially as the rules for permissible use are often unclear.

“People do have a little bit of a casual relationship with stuff found on the internet, even if in the back of their head, they know something about Napster,” Strand says, referring to the now-defunct peer-to-peer file-sharing service that got into legal hot water over copyright infringement.

For event planners to avoid such risks, Strand recommends dedicating staff to content discovery and working with a lawyer to help manage decision making around licensing for an event.

“If you’re going to assign people to select content that you want to have as part of your event, find out the source of what they handled; make sure that you know it, if you can identify the owners; and make sure that you can contact somebody to get it licensed,” he says.

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Inside an Effective Governance Overhaul

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Once burdened with a top-heavy leadership structure, the Ontario Medical Association has successfully found a way to be more nimble and forward-thinking.

Sticking around for 138 years is a good sign of an association’s ability to endure. It’s also a signal that there are probably a few old habits that need shedding.

That was the case with the Ontario Medical Association in 2016, when a debate over physician fee agreements brought some long-simmering frustrations to a head. Divisions on the issue splintered the membership and prompted a majority to vote against the wishes of the OMA board. In the process, members spotlighted a governance structure that wasn’t just bloated—a 26-member board, plus a 250-person council of delegates—but insular.

You need to have some patience, you have to have a clear roadmap, and you need to recognize that democracy is going to be messy.

Member elections for board president, for instance, weren’t binding votes but instead were conducted as an “advisory referendum.”

“It seemed like the executive of the board wasn’t directly elected by members,” says Dr. Lisa Salamon, cochair of OMA’s governance transformation task force, which was created to address the issue. “There seemed to be a succession plan that was chosen by the members of the board. Theoretically, someone could run for president from the council, but it never really happened.”

Because the frustrations emerged from membership, says OMA CEO Allan O’Dette, the solutions needed to be made bottom-up, not top-down. “It had to be member-driven,” he says. “You need to have some patience, you have to have a clear roadmap, and you need to recognize that democracy is going to be messy.”

Late last year, four years after the need for changes became clear, OMA announced a new governance structure to address both size and transparency. Starting in 2021, the association’s board will be reduced from 26 to 11 members, and the council will be replaced with a smaller general assembly that’s designed to be more agenda-driven and report to the board more directly. And votes for board president are now binding.

One hallmark of the new structure is that three of the board members will now be nonphysicians. Salamon notes that under the new structure—cleanly and thoroughly detailed on a dedicated website—diversity is a key consideration for physician board members in terms of race, gender, areas of practice, and other areas. But making room for nonphysicians means OMA can recruit the kind of expertise that doesn’t necessarily come with an MD.

“You want to make sure that you cover skills that are important for a board, and that’s where the nonphysician board directors come into play,” she says. “Then you can say, ‘Well, we’d really like someone with some legal expertise, or some IT expertise, or some strategic planning expertise.’”

The priorities of the governance revamp were simple, says O’Dette: “Avoid groupthink and paralysis at the board level, and put the agenda-prioritizing ability back in the hands of members through the general assembly.” But that simple goal required a substantial investment of time. In addition to a full-time staff project manager and reshuffling of staff time, he says, “there were hundreds of hours of consultations with our members, hundreds of hours of group consultations, and iterative documents based on those consultations.”

Despite all that, some elements of the process moved quickly. For instance, the decision to cut board size by more than half wasn’t contentious, which surprised some. “That was actually the easiest sell,” Salamon says. “If you look at organizations that are revising their governance, by and large they were all making their boards smaller. And we could see that having a big board meant it took longer to make decisions.”

Salamon encourages organizations to be patient when undergoing a governance overhaul, and also to be confident—and ready to act on the promises made around the changes.

“I think a lot of people didn’t think a huge change like this was actually going to come to fruition,” she says. “It may see like a daunting process and a big ask of people, but we’ve seen with the pandemic and how our lives have been turned upside-down, I think people are ready for big changes. But if you’re going to embark on it, be ready to implement it when it passes.”

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Lessons From the Front Lines of Virtual Event Planning

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COVID-19 has changed our ability to get together for the foreseeable future. Here’s how to thrive in the new event landscape.

By Mark Kats

The pandemic has presented a remarkable set of professional challenges for event marketers. With almost all of last year’s events canceled, organizations that still rely heavily on events have been forced to rethink how to meet their business goals in 2021.

Simply repurposing what your organization would have done in person in an online format won’t capture your audience’s attention in a now-congested virtual world. A better strategy: Unearth the intent of the event and the reason for the marketing investment in the first place. With the right virtual event plan, it is possible to trade in-person for virtual in a seamless, well-thought-out way.

As with all good marketing, the best path forward is to hone in on the audience needs you’re aiming to meet. Matching event types to objectives is your first order of business.

Event Types and Objectives

  • Industry events from trade associations: The objective is to facilitate a marketplace where buyers and sellers can exchange ideas, make connections, and do business in a concentrated fashion.
  • Product launch events: The objective is to increase brand awareness and understanding of a product or service, or to improve brand perception among committed audiences who will travel.
  • Educational events/industry conferences: The objective is to increase knowledge or skill levels, to improve product use and retention rates, and to facilitate connections and networking.
  • Partner/customer events: The objective is to drive partner value and customer engagement, to generate upselling and cross-selling leads, and to encourage referral business.

Once you pinpoint the objectives of your event, keep in mind that each one has a unique set of inflection points—a buildup before the event, event execution, and post-event follow-through. These three distinct stages require an audience acquisition and engagement strategy to return value. So, how do you shift the strategy?

Pre-Event Buildup

Leading up to an event, organizations should try to craft an emotional experience for attendees. Connecting with them where they are could lend itself to an even more meaningful experience than an in-person event. With this in mind, be more creative about how you approach messaging.

Another thing to consider: Not all aspects of your planned in-person event need to be a part of your virtual experience. Always err on the side of less. Also, think about the technology you will need to engage your audience. And finally, remember that targeted social engagements—such as Q&As, stories, call-to-action buttons, and polls—can help inform event content and audience acquisition strategy well in advance of the event. These tools can position your organization as the authoritative voice for the event’s duration.

Event Execution

While this may seem obvious, it bears repeating: Speakers have to work much harder to keep and entertain attendees without a live audience to get the adrenaline pumping. Far from being captive, the virtual audience is a click away from being distracted, and attendees are more than likely multitasking. Speakers and panelists should be purposeful about making their points, and use dramatic skills to do so.

During the event, smart organizations activate their social channels to ignite conversation where their audiences are engaging, highlighting emerging themes and insights in real time. Polls are a good way to capture what’s on your audience’s mind. This creates a chance to deploy multimedia content that provides a richer experience more akin to conference attendance and participation than to reading or surfing the web for content. Audio content can be engaging on social media, too.

Post-Event Follow-Through

When bringing attendees together virtually, you’re responsible for creating a safe place that encourages further conversation. Content created at the event can extend the event’s value well beyond the actual date. Continue event conversations on your blog or social media platforms to extend your virtual footprint. Post-event follow-through is an impactful way for your organization to provide value and engage your target audience in an ongoing conversation.

While social distancing remains our new normal, this window of time may be a great opportunity to refocus on your audience’s needs in the virtual event space. Attendees will reward you with their continued attention if you meet those needs—or punish you by making a fast exit if you don’t.

Mark Kats is vice president, portfolio consulting lead, at Manifest.

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Comings and Goings: Career Moves in Associations

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Association professionals are always on the move. Here’s our periodic roundup of new hires, career changes, and retirements across the association industry.

New Chief Staff Executives

Linda Thomas Brooks was named CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

Mona Buckley, MPA, CAE, was named president and CEO of the Government Employees’ Benefit Association.

After almost seven years as president of Visit Franklin in Tennessee, Ellie Westman Chin has left the group and joined Destination Madison as its president and CEO.

Jon Fanning, MS, CNED, CAE, was named CEO of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Matt J. Granato, LL.M., MBA, joined the Pulmonary Hypertension Association as its president and CEO.

The National Association of Enrolled Agents appointed Megan M. Killian, CAE, as its executive vice president.

Mark Luckinbill was named executive director of the National Tax-deferred Savings Association.

Casandra Matej will lead Visit Orlando as its new president and CEO.

The International Association of Assessing Officers selected Debra N. McGuire, MBA, IOM, CAE, as its new executive director.

The National Health Council welcomed Randall (Randy) L. Rutta as its new CEO.

Other Moves

Audrey S. Chang, Ph.D., was named chief operations officer of the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies.

The Governors Highway Safety Association has welcomed Kerry Chausmer as director of programs and member services and Adam Snider as director of communications.

Andrea Ortega joined the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas as its new communications coordinator.

The National Association for Behavioral Healthcare named John Snook its director of government relations and strategic initiatives.

Melanie Stanton, CAE, CFRE, joined the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases as the vice president of education and meetings.

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association is making some changes. It promoted Lynn Watson to senior advisor and brought on Brian Hartlove as director of communications and marketing, the title Watson previously held.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association appointed Kristine Welker to the newly created role of chief of staff.

Retirements

The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association said goodbye to Chris Chandler, its longest-serving executive director, who retired at the end of 2020.

A retirement at the American Retirement Association has generated a few staff moves. Martin Pippins is leaving his dual roles as executive director of the Association of Enrolled Actuaries and ARA director of regulatory policy. ARA General Counsel Allison Wielobob will take Pippin’s executive director role, and Kelsey N.H. Mayo will take over as director of regulatory policy.

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Give Your Members Safe Spaces to Connect

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What do you do when your members have too many choices for online engagement? Don’t add to their options. Instead, help them find a safe space to connect on platforms where they already are. Here’s how one association did it and saw engagement spike during a challenging time.

The pandemic has made the community element of association membership especially valuable over the past year. But what’s the best way to help members find each other when there are so many options?

The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association had tried to engage its members with formal online communities, but members said they were overloaded with similar offerings from veterinary specialty associations they belonged to. So MVMA took a different tack: It made a strategic decision to engage with members through a private, members-only Facebook page, since they preferred that platform for connecting with one another.

Understanding where members want to get their information and how they want to engage with each other is essential, said John Tramontana, MVMA’s CEO.

A Private Community

MVMA’s private Facebook page is a place for members to talk freely, ask advice from other members, and share opinions and practices. “It really took off,” Tramontana said. Right now, for example, there is a lot of discussion surrounding where veterinarians are in the rollout plan for COVID-19 vaccinations. Members are comparing notes, sharing personal experiences, and helping each other navigate complex information from state and county health departments.

“People are thirsty for information and trying to figure out what they need to do and what the next steps are,” he said. The private forum has helped strengthen the bond between the association and members, but also member to member.

“People are really looking at each other as colleagues and friends and looking for ways to help each other, rather than looking at each other as competitors,” he said.

Mutual Support System

To offer another venue for private conversations, Tramontana began hosting informal Zoom coffee hours and happy hours for members when the pandemic began. The events are free, and members can preregister until about an hour before the video call starts.

Anywhere from a dozen to 20 people participate on the calls, which attract different members most of the time. “It really helps us as an association to understand the profession and some of the issues that are going on much better,” he said, making MVMA more responsive to members during a challenging time.

Tramontana hosted the calls weekly at the start of the pandemic, but he was mindful of members’ time. Veterinarians are busier than ever because more people getting new pets—and observing their existing pets more closely—now that everyone’s home. That means more calls and visits to the vet.

The forums are held about every four to six weeks now. “It’s an outlet for members to just talk to us and know that we’re here for them,” he said. It’s been a stressful period, so keeping the mental health and well-being of members central has been key.

“It’s really important that they know they have the support of their association during this time,” Tramontona said.

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