Trade associations and professional societies play a vital role in advancing the business interests and promoting the growth of various professions and industries. These organizations, which we’ll mostly refer to collectively as “associations” for brevity’s sake, bring together businesses or professionals to collaborate on lobbying, research, networking, education, and certifications. Currently, there are tens of thousands of associations across the U.S., with many concentrated in the Washington D.C. area.
The association landscape is constantly evolving, and many professions have multiple associations serving their interests. Working with the right PR firm can help these organizations advance their business and policy goals by focusing on the right outlets, audiences, and keeping members at the forefront of communications.
With a wide range of services and activities, these associations rely on effective public relations (PR) strategies to enhance their visibility, establish thought leadership strategies, and drive their missions forward.
In this article, we will explore the significance of PR for associations, discuss the unique challenges they face, and highlight the ways that AKCG supports these organizations.
Defining Trade Associations and Professional Societies
Trade associations are formed by businesses, while professional societies are composed of individual professionals. These organizations unite to advocate for their profession’s interests, engage in lobbying efforts, conduct research, organize networking and educational events, and provide certifications. They operate as non-profit entities, driven by their members’ needs and aspirations.
Associations exist across a multitude of industries, covering professions ranging from nursing to construction. Washington D.C., being a hub for such organizations because the federal government is hosted here, hosts tens of thousands of trade associations.
Associations represent every imaginable industry and often cater to specific niches within professions. For example, the American Nursing Association represents nurses broadly, while specialized societies like the International Association of Forensic Nurses or the National Association of Orthopedic Nurses cater to the needs of specific disciplines within the nursing profession.
What is PR for Associations?
Public Relations for associations involves strategic communication and reputation management efforts aimed to promote their interests and goals. It focuses on utilizing the expertise of the board, staff and members to advance the industry or profession and raise awareness of key issues, identifying smart media placements to advance the organization’s advocacy goals, reputation management by executing media monitoring and preparing responses when needed.
In addition, PR strategies for associations enhance the visibility, credibility, and influence of these organizations among their target audiences, including members, industry professionals, policymakers, media outlets, and the general public.
What are the Benefits of PR for Trade Associations or Professional Societies?
Public Relations (PR) offers numerous benefits for associations. Here’s an expanded look at the advantages of PR for these organizations:
- Raising the Profile of the Industry or Profession: Effective PR strategies can elevate the visibility and awareness of the industry or profession represented by the association. By sharing compelling stories, thought leadership content, and industry insights, PR helps showcase the importance, relevance, and impact of the industry, positioning it as a critical contributor to society and the economy and as a source of information and opportunities that members, prospective members and other stakeholders can find nowhere else.
- Recruiting New Members: PR is vital in attracting and recruiting new members to associations. By effectively communicating the value proposition, benefits, and resources available to members, PR helps convey the advantages of joining the association. Engaging storytelling, case studies, and success stories can demonstrate the positive impact that membership brings to professionals or businesses within the industry or profession.
- Communicating with Stakeholders: PR facilitates effective communication with key stakeholders, including members, industry professionals, policymakers, regulatory bodies, media outlets, and the general public. Through strategic messaging and targeted communication channels, associations can keep stakeholders informed about industry trends, advocacy efforts, policy updates, events, educational resources, and other important initiatives.
- Amplifying the Voices of Thought Leaders: PR provides a platform to amplify the voices and expertise of thought leaders within the association, both on staff and amongst the membership. By positioning association leaders, members, and subject-matter experts as trusted sources of information, they can secure media opportunities to share their insights, commentary, and expertise on industry-specific topics. These tactics enhance the reputation and influence of the association and its members within the industry and among key stakeholders.
- Promoting Events and Initiatives: Associations organize various events, conferences, webinars, seminars, and initiatives to benefit their members and the industry. PR helps promote these events and initiatives to maximize attendance, participation, and engagement. Through focused media outreach, social media campaigns, and industry-specific publications, PR generates awareness and excitement, attracting relevant audiences and enhancing the success of these events.
- Story-Mining and Finding the News Hook: Effective PR involves identifying compelling stories and news hooks within the association. By mining members’ experiences, achievements, and unique perspectives, PR professionals can craft narratives that resonate with the media and target audiences. These stories can highlight industry innovations, success stories, community engagement, and social impact, fostering positive perceptions and media coverage.
- Supporting Marketing Efforts and Adding Credibility: PR complements marketing efforts by adding credibility and authenticity to association communications. Earned media coverage and thought leadership articles provide third-party validation that enhances the association’s reputation and builds trust with target audiences. This, in turn, supports marketing campaigns, member recruitment efforts, and the overall branding of the association.
- Supporting Advocacy Efforts in Washington and State Capitals: Associations often engage in advocacy efforts to influence policies, regulations, and legislation that impact their industry or profession. PR supports these advocacy initiatives by strategically communicating the association’s positions, research findings, and member perspectives to policymakers, government agencies, and the media. Well-executed PR strategies can amplify the association’s voice, raise awareness of essential issues, and strengthen the impact of advocacy efforts.
What are the best tactics to use in association PR strategies?
When it comes to PR strategies for associations, several tactics can be highly effective in achieving the desired outcomes. Here are some key tactics to consider, along with additional insights on how to leverage member expertise, target specific outlets, and capitalize on breaking news:
- Leveraging Member Expertise and Thought Leadership: Associations possess a wealth of expertise within their membership base. Tap into this knowledge by pursuing thought leadership through avenues such as bylined articles, guest blog posts, webinars, and speaking opportunities. Positioning members as subject-matter experts not only enhances the association’s credibility but also provides valuable insights to industry stakeholders and the media.
- Identifying Outlets that Reach Targeted Audiences: Understanding your target audience’s preferences and reading habits is crucial. Identify the publications, online platforms, and industry-specific newsletters that reach your intended audience. For instance, in the case of the North American Modern Building Alliance (NAMBA), targeting chapter publications like those from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) can help ensure that your messaging reaches architects, specifiers, and other key decision-makers in the built environment.
- Plugging into Breaking News and Legislative Developments: Keeping a finger on the pulse of breaking news and legislative developments is essential for association PR. Monitor developments on Capitol Hill, state capitals, and within the industry to identify opportunities for timely commentary and thought leadership. Proactively engage with the media and offer expert insights, perspectives, and analyses that position the association and its members as go-to sources for reliable information.
- News Jacking: News jacking involves capitalizing on trending news stories or events to garner media attention. Associations can insert themselves into relevant conversations and generate media coverage by providing a unique angle, expert commentary, or industry-specific insights related to a breaking news story. This tactic requires agility and the ability to respond swiftly to news developments.
By implementing these tactics in your association’s PR strategy, you can effectively leverage member expertise, engage with targeted outlets, stay on top of news developments, and increase your association’s visibility and influence within the industry.
How AKCG Supports Associations and Professional Societies
AKCG understands the unique dynamics of associations and possesses the expertise to address their PR needs. Here’s how AKCG complements existing marketing efforts:
- Strategic Expertise: With over 30 years of experience working with associations, AKCG brings in-depth knowledge and avoids common pitfalls associated with PR for these organizations. Our professionals have developed subject-matter expertise in association operations and can apply this knowledge across various industries.
- Finding Compelling News Hooks: AKCG excels at identifying unique storylines and news hooks that align with an association’s goals. These skilled professionals have the ability to generate media interest and deliver messages effectively to target audiences.
- Media Relations Excellence: AKCG’s extensive experience in media relations helps associations connect with reporters and achieve their goals. By crafting well-placed articles in relevant outlets, we can help amplify an association’s visibility, attract new members, and bolster advocacy efforts.
- Leveraging Chapter Newsletters: AKCG recognizes that association members pay closer attention to information from adjacent organizations and their local chapters. Therefore, we can target these specific but extremely valuable newsletters and magazines to share relevant information and expertise. This approach has proven successful in securing article placements and speaking opportunities that benefit both the association and its members.
- Crisis Preparedness and Response: AKCG also specializes in working through milestone moments – crises and issues that can shape long-lasting reputational challenges. We help organizations prepare for and address challenges in an integrated, low-maintenance model of collaboration. Our strategic approach helps restore reputations and goodwill following issues and crises that impact bottom lines.
In summary, PR offers a wide range of benefits for associations and professional societies, including raising industry profiles, attracting new members, effective stakeholder communication, amplifying thought leadership, promoting events, supporting marketing efforts, adding credibility, and bolstering advocacy initiatives at both the national and state levels.
By leveraging PR effectively, associations can strengthen their influence, achieve their goals, and drive positive change within their respective industries or professions.