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What is your association’s competitive advantage?

advantage

Anyone who has been part of managing an association knows one thing for sure: there is an association for everything. The down side to this is that there are usually two or three or four associations for everything. That means that every association must set themselves apart from other associations that are competing for membership dollars. You’re not just trying to get industry members to join, you have to constantly be proving your value over other associations.

It's not unlike business in the for-profit arena. Those types of organizations must constantly be proving their competitive advantage to current and future clients in order to succeed, and the same goes for associations. In my opinion, there are two things that set every association apart from their competitors: their members and their content.

Members
Being a member of your association gives people access to your other members. With most associations, that means access to some of the “biggest and brightest” in your industry or niche. This is absolutely one of the most powerful attractions for potential members, and probably why a large number of your current members renew each year. If they know that becoming a member and attending your events means they can rub elbows with some of the biggest names in your industry, it’s almost a no-brainer.

There's a great opportunity for you to leverage your membership in your growth efforts. Let people know that the Elon Musk of your industry is a member and part of the board, with their permission, of course. Share the fact that your industry’s biggest names are part of your association and I guarantee others will want to be part of that. We all want to be part of success, and showing that those who are already successful value your association will inherently grow perceived value to potential members.

Content
The second thing that sets your association apart is content. There isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any other association that offers the content that your association does. Every single association produces content, whether you know it or not, and I don’t just mean the content you put on your website or your blog. Anything your association produces for your members' benefit is content. This includes things like certifications, guidelines, best practices and more. Members are constantly looking to see what others in the industry are up to, and you can be the voice to allow people to see things like that.

One source associations overlook is member-generated content. Enable your most active members to share their experiences with the rest of your members by making it easy to get that information to you. The number one reason I hear that active members aren’t willing to submit content is it’s too time consuming. If you can make it as easy as possible, and show them how, your member-generated content pipeline will always be full.

Taking the for-profit approach when preparing your association for 2018 might be just what your association needs. Take the time to layout your association’s competitive advantages and you’ll quickly be able to identify the things you should be focusing on and promoting in the year to come.

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Rolling with the punches - That’s what meeting planners do best!

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The end of the year is a time of reflection. And as I think about my career at AMPED, I am reminded of a number of fun and crazy adventures we’ve had while onsite at client events. No matter how big or small the meeting, there are always things that we handle quietly behind the scenes and attendees never know the wiser. Here’s a little trip down memory lane…

For starters, onsite registration numbers were higher than expected for a client meeting we held a few years ago in Scottsdale, AZ. It was the rush of registrants that arrived just before the opening reception that left us needing to replenish lanyards, badge sleeves and cardstock before registration re-opened bright and early the next day. After shuttling all 500+ attendees to the Heard Museum for the opening reception, another team member and I asked one of the bus drivers to take us to the nearest Office Depot. Keep in mind this was before the days of Uber! Just imagine a 56-passenger bus pulling in with only two people aboard desperate to restock, just minutes before closing! Meanwhile the rest of the team stayed back at the reception to make sure everything went flawlessly.

Or how about when you realize the name badges for a 600-person meeting have not been stuffed correctly and all need to be reassembled! This particular client had complex name badge requirements with color-coded sleeves, ribbons and even gems! We partnered with a vendor to print, stuff and ship the name badges. As we reviewed the shipment to make sure all was in order before registration opened, we realized about 20 badges in that everything was off my one. What else was there to do but un-stuff and re-stuff? That’s exactly what we did! Don’t worry, we later got a credit from the vendor for the inconvenience.

There are also times when the little things count — going the extra mile for even just a handful of attendees. Like the time an attendee was under the weather so we sent a care package to his guest room. Or the day that a spouse missed the bus for an afternoon tour so we arranged an Uber to get her where she needed to be. Or the yoga instructor who didn't show, so a colleague stepped in on a whim to lead a “chair yoga” session!

The list could go on and on. Can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!

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In appreciation of Helvetica

helvetica film

My name is Jeanne Weiss and I’m a font nerd.

I came to grips with this while watching Helvetica, a documentary film dedicated to the proliferation and appreciation of the Helvetica font.

Judge me if you like, but I. Was. Glued.

The film takes the viewer through the 60-plus-year history of Helvetica while gathering the opinions and thoughts of designers and typographers around the world.

Until I watched the film, I was oblivious to just how much Helvetica had shaped my world. Now, I see it everywhere!

Helvetica is ubiquitous
Most likely, you’re not even aware of the extent to which Helvetica demands your attention every day. It directs you on street signage. It’s used on official Federal documents like your tax forms. It’s a favorite of corporate logos — Greyhound, Crate & Barrel, Urban Outfitters, the U.S. Post Office, American Apparel, Nike, Kodak, Target, Samsung, American Airlines, TNT and more!

The next time you watch The Office, pay attention to that opening sequence. That’s Helvetica.

We even use it in our branding at AMPED! 

Helvetica is neutral
Even with thousands of possible font choices at their disposal, designers continue to favor Helvetica because it’s clean, simple and perfect.

Said one of the designers in the film, “It’s very hard for a designer to look at Helvetica characters and say, ‘How would I improve them? How would I make them look any different?’ They just seem to be exactly right. Helvetica is a beautiful, timeless thing and certain things shouldn’t be messed with.”

Said another, “Some fonts only say one thing: Christmas! Wedding! Helvetica says everything, and that’s part of its appeal.”

Helvetica is powerful
There were so many wonderful quotes from the film about design and typography that I wanted to share them with those of you who geek out on such things. Here are a few:

“A typeface should express a mood, give atmosphere or color.”

“Graphic designers have an enormous responsibility. They are the people putting their wires in our heads. Graphic design is the communications framework through which these messages are sent.”

“Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates.”

“If something has an important message and it’s set in a boring, nondescript way, it might be lost.”

“If you take the same message and apply a different design and typeface to it, the emotional response will be different. The choice of typeface is the prime weapon in that communication.”

“Type casts a secret spell. It makes you say, ‘I like that. That’s my kind of product.’”

“There’s a thin line between simple and clean and powerful, and simple and clean and boring.”
Standing joke: “A typographer can’t see a historical film because the fonts are always wrong.” Which reminded me of this recent story.

“The reader shouldn’t be aware of the font at all. The font should just hold, display and organize the information, not draw the reader from it.”

“Think about when an actor is miscast in a role. The viewer will still follow the plot, but be less convinced or affected. Typography is similar. A designer choosing typefaces is essentially the casting director.”

Whattaya know, I’m a font nerd AND a casting director!

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Cheat sheets and references: Pocket guides can be valuable membership tools

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One of the most popular pieces in our inventory is a humble little pamphlet, inexpensive to produce, but containing some of the most sought after technical information in our industry. It’s a simple, tri-fold brochure that is given out to new members, tradeshow visitors and sold to our membership for less than a dollar. This pamphlet explains an industry standard with helpful tables and references. Technicians who use this information take it with them on the job, on the road and whip it out when trying to explain the principles to interested customers.

Every industry has information that would be helpful if available at the fingertips. Whether it’s technical renderings, graphs, standards, guidelines or principles, if you are able to put this information into a convenient and portable medium, your members will promote it.

Once we realized how popular this information was to our community, the Board requested that we post it on our website. We added the key words to our SEO metadata and published it’s availability in Facebook, Twitter, our magazine and e-notices. We are now considered “experts” in this standard. When searching the keywords, our organization shows up in searches. Our outreach to the public increases with each passing year.

What information does your membership consistently ask of you? What questions do you find yourself constantly fielding? Consider putting this information in a pamphlet, you can add your contact information, website and list of other publications. Tables, graphs, formulas, phone numbers all can go on a pocket sized guide for sale or as an additional giveaway. Do your members go on field work? What information would be handy to them on the job? Make it available online so it’s easy to download.

If your organization specializes in the food industry, make a cheat sheet of cooking terms, weights and measures or conversions. Are your members scientists? Add graphs or formulas they use daily. What do graphic designers find handy? A color wheel. Travelers will surely appreciate a quick reference guide featuring “hello,” “thank you,” and “good-bye” in a variety of languages. The ideas are limitless.

Add your organization logo, contact information and list of other publications, you now have a valuable tool to giveaway, post on your website or sell.

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The Hitchhikers Guide to the CAE: Part 2

CAE brochure

So, you’ve committed to taking the CAE. Congrats! [Reality: Insert state of panic here!] Now direct your attention to the CAE Exam Content Outline and this guide. Seven steps stand between you and the designation. Here I offer for you a deconstruction of these “simple seven,” presented in reality from my experience.

Step 1: Review each competency statement. [Reality: A foreshadowing of the content that will be on your mind and in your nightmare dreams until exam day.] 

The composition of the CAE exam is supported by research on job tasks and knowledge needed by association executives. You can learn about that research here. Fundamentally, the CAE exam content is organized into nine domains, which are further ordered into 159 essential association management competencies. Plan to set aside a good amount of time to read these [Reality: I spent 2 hours.] because . . .

Step 2: Rate your confidence on each competency as “high, medium, or low.” [Reality: “I know this and could teach it,” “I pretend to know this and hope no one calls me out,” and “No clue what this means, is it really on the test?!”]

Here’s where I plug the value of the CAE Study Guide, which has a nice worksheet of the domains and a rating area to identify your confidence in this self-assessment (see Section 1: Getting Started, pages 11-24). After reading each statement carefully, take your time to really think about what it means and mark an honest assessment of your current understanding. After going through this once, I went back a second time, adjusting several to a lower confidence level. Be careful about making overly generous assumptions about your on-the-job experience. It may serve you well to initially underestimate your expertise and then discover through your studies that you actually know more.

Step 3: Note related professional development you have completed in the past five years. [Reality: Wish you’d actually been tracking this over the past five years.]

Here’s a puzzle: How many people does it take to help you track and validate the 100 hours for your CAE application? Answer: 10 or more. One, your association friend who trick-encouraged you to apply in the first place, to seek advice on where to start. Two, your nerdy MS Excel colleague who shares their tracking spreadsheet with you. Three, your brilliant co-worker who suggests who you look through your calendar over the past five years to identify webinars and programs you attended. Four, your secretary who actually looks through your calendar and catalogues these for you [Reality: If you’re that fortunate]. Five, your contact at ASAE who shares that your member profile contains a historical listing of all education through ASAE (see www.asaecenter.org > Login > My Account > Education History > Mind blown). [Reality: Why didn’t I know this already existed?!] Six and beyond, the ASAE Approved Providers that will be inevitably re-sending you the “course completion certificates” to validate how many hours your coursework acquired [Reality: I took courses with 15 different providers.]

Step 4: Develop a plan to strengthen areas of lower confidence and complete professional development requirements. [Reality: Find a way to squeeze in 20 more hours before the deadline to ensure you meet the 100-hour minimum.]

So you’ve tracked your hours, and perhaps you are short a few, or courses you took are not actually applicable for credit (converse to what you initially thought). Don’t panic. Now’s a great time to sign up for a quick webinar, attend a one-day training program, or work with a mentor to meet the requirements. Also, I suggest you go back to Step 2 and review your weaknesses; these are the areas in which you’ll want to dedicate the majority of your study time.

Step 5: Complete all requirements before submitting an application. [Reality: By now you should be eligible, or know when you will become eligible.]

Find a list of the eligibility requirements here. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read through the several pages on ASAE regarding the CAE. So much valuable content here!

Step 6: Plan to submit an application three months before you sit for the exam. [Reality: Put “submit application” on calendar two weeks before deadline. Calendar notification arrives, you laugh at your ambitions. Eventually and frantically submit at the last minute; 5 p.m. on deadline.]

Here’s where you need to know that the application review period is lengthy, and you’ll need to allow time to be approved and allowed to sit for the exam. You’ll likely check your email every day periodically to see if you’ve been approved. Give it time, you’ll be notified.

Step 7: Mark your calendar. The CAE Exam is given on the first Friday in May and the first Friday in December. [Reality: Countdown until this day arrives and the exam is over.]

This will be a day of excitement, nerves, and most importantly, celebration! Because regardless of whether you pass the exam or not, you’ll enjoy that this is behind you, and you can return to your regularly scheduled life. Good luck!

Note: This is the second of a two-part blog on preparing for the CAE exam. Read the first one here.

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