Where Are They Now?

By: Joe Rominiecki

A lot of associations have shared their stories in Associations Now over the past five years. Ever wonder what happened with some of them later? We revisit with five associations we've previously featured to find out.

In truth, no complete story can be told in a couple thousand words. Life unfolds over the course of months, years, and decades, not just a few pages. In Associations Now, we strive to capture stories as best we can within the space we have, and we think we do a pretty good job. But one story in one issue of a magazine is still just a glimpse into something much bigger. The subjects of our stories keep on doing their work in real life; their stories go on long past the  symbol.

So, we've caught up with five association professionals who have told us their stories over the past five years to see what happened later on. One executive still practices his media training on daily basis. Another is proud to say his association survived a merger and is now stronger for it. A communications director has managed to stay at the forefront of digital knowledge delivery. The leader of a trade association has found that big risks can pay off in a big way. And a media relations pro has learned the value of bridging the gap between the media and the stories they're looking for.

Each of the following stories is another brief glimpse into an ongoing career, so maybe we'll meet up again in another five years with these association professionals. For now, though, this is where they are.

Sound-Bite Training in a Sound-Bite World

Frederick Hobby, president and CEO, Institute for Diversity in Health Management
July 2005: Participated in as intensive, half-day media-training session.
Today: Delivers consistent messaging in both interviews and speaking engagements and throughout the Institute's work.

Then: In "Staying Cool Under the Hot Lights" in the October 2005 issue of Associations Now, Frederick Hobby, president and CEO of the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, shared his experience at a day of media training with media coach Susan Peterson, including a simulated TV interview. "Like most executives, I think I'm already a pretty effective communicator—and that's part of the problem," he wrote. "We all think we're effective until a professional tells us the many ways we could improve, and then we finally grasp our true TV personalities. (Those wandering eyes of mine! That tendency to keep talking!) I'm ready to step up to the next level in terms of the message I deliver and how I deliver it."

Now: Hobby says the training still comes in handy today throughout his day-to-day work, both in speaking engagements and elsewhere.

"I kept referring to the Institute for Diversity as IFD, because for years, since its inception, that was how it was abbreviated. [Peterson and I] talked about that everybody doesn't know what IFD means. It's not like the FBI, and it really doesn't carry a lot of punch, so we agreed that I would, going forward, refer to the Institute for Diversity as the Institute, which sounds a lot more influential," Hobby says. "We have stuck to that in our emails and in our notes to the board members and general correspondence. Very seldom do I use IFD anymore, and neither does the staff. We're all using the Institute."

Likewise, Hobby can better state the purpose of the Institute when he introduces himself—to reporters or otherwise—also a direct result of the media coaching.

"A clearer, more concise message about what we do, because she made me go through an exercise in terms of what is our purpose, what is our mission, and then how do you state that in 30 words or less, 30 seconds or less, like a sound bite," he says. "And so I've honed that ... but now I don't go through, 'Well, we provide scholarships and summer internships,' and I don't go through the list of programs. I get right to the heart of what we do: 'We prepare future healthcare executives for leadership positions.'"

A deeper lesson Hobby says he learned is to continually evaluate his own performance in communicating.

"I'm still working on being concise," he says. "I don't know if it's my cultural background, being a Southerner, that we tend to give so much more detail than people actually want or need, so I'm still honing that skill of being concise. Now I think I've mastered it in terms of when asked what does the Institute do, but when I'm explaining what is diversity or what is cultural competency, I'm still trying to get that down to a sound bite. It didn't even occur to me before."

Hobby says media training can benefit any association executive, even one who doesn't step in front of the camera or up on a stage frequently.

"Even if they just speak to their staff at staff meetings, I would recommend it. Regardless of the size of the organization or its scope, that training is so transformational that anyone who hasn't had it is really missing a tremendous opportunity to sharpen their skills," he says.

Made the Merger Work

Steve Berger, CEO, Craft and Hobby Association
September 2004: Named CEO of CHA, a new association formed via merger of two previous organizations.
Today: Merger succeeded. Board size cut in half. One tradeshow faltered, but members are happy, and association is more efficient.

Then: In "Making Mergers Work" in the November 2005 issue of Associations Now, we learned of the newly formed Craft and Hobby Association, just one year into existence after a merger. "We had one industry but two different associations competing with each other and trying to create friction by touting they were better than the other organization," CEO Steve Berger said at the time. "There were bitter relations between the two associations and outright animosity between the chief executive who preceded me and the management company running the other association."

Now: Berger reports that CHA survived the merger and is now thriving. "It's been a resounding success. In fact, we've just completed a member survey, and we've got 89 percent of our members that are satisfied to extremely satisfied," says Berger. He also cites cost reductions and "tremendous efficiencies" resulting from the merging of operations.

Today's happy members are a result of six years of deliberate and sometimes difficult change, as well as a lot of hard work by CHA leaders and staff, Berger says. The combined board of directors had 32 members when CHA was formed, which has been steadily whittled in half, and the adoption of a policy governance system has allowed the board to focus on strategy and the staff on operations.

"Right now on the board there's no old regime and new regime. It's all us, so that's worked out well. We were very cognizant of the fact that we had some members who were part of a different group, and we've really worked very hard to make sure no one was left behind," Berger says. Moreover, the management company that ran one of the previous organizations was transitioned out over 12 to 18 months, rather than being immediately cut loose.

The biggest trouble that CHA faced during the transition has been the poor performance of the tradeshow that had been hosted by the smaller of the two preceding organizations. "We honestly thought we could grow that significantly by putting our marketing clout and weight behind it. I think one of the big surprises that has come across is that it's not easy to turn a show around that had been declining for several years," Berger says.

Berger says constant communication and outreach were vital to making the merger go smoothly. "Whenever you go through something like that, you've got to be cognizant of the fact that there's people out there that didn't want this to happen, and they have honest opinions that happen to differ with the way it turned out," he says. "So, I think you need to be very humble, and you need to make the extra effort to reach out during the initial stages there and make sure you go above in communicating what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what's the rationale for it."

More than six years in, Berger concludes—with no hesitation—that the merger that created CHA was a benefit for the industry, and he says he wouldn't change anything about the transition if he had to do it again. "When we first had the merger talks and it went 13 months, going through it I was saying to myself, 'Wow, this is taking way too long,' and I think, like most things in life, now that it's seven years beyond that, you look at it and say, 'Oh, it didn't take that long.' Time has a way of healing all that."

They're Still Listening

Barbara Hyde, CAE, director of communications, American Society of Microbiology
August 2005: Began delivering ASM's daily radio show as an internet podcast.
Today: Radio show ended; all episodes archived as podcasts (and also translated and re-recorded in Spanish). Three new audio podcasts launched. New video series launched. Now accepting user-generated audio and video.

Then: In "Time to Tune In" in the August 2006 issue of Associations Now, Barbara Hyde, CAE, director of communications at the American Society for  Microbiology, explained how ASM had entered the world of audio and video podcasting, producing a web version of its daily radio show for scientists and the public to download all over the world, as well as a series of web videos created from a 1999 PBS TV series. "ASM was the first scientific society to begin daily podcasts and was featured in an August 2005 issue of Science magazine," Hyde wrote. "As of June 2006, the MicrobeWorld Radio podcast ha[d] an average of 4,500 daily listeners, with more than 560,000 hits to the podcast feed since August 2005. Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth ha[d] approximately 1,200 weekly viewers and more than 160,000 hits to the video podcast feed."

Now: In a little more than four years, MP3 players have merged with phones, and YouTube has revolutionized video entertainment. ASM has continued to evolve as well, says Hyde.

ASM eventually abandoned its daily public radio show, as it was difficult to measure its return on investment, though it converted the entire archive of nearly six years of shows to podcasts, which are still available online. Instead, for new audio content, ASM launched three new web-only podcasts, the first being the biweekly Meet the Scientist with science writer Carl Zimmer. Later, ASM discovered a member already producing a podcast titled This Week in Virology and brought him in as an official ASM production. The success of that podcast led to another, This Week in Parasitism. Meanwhile, ASM launched MicrobeWorld Video in 2007, with 39 episodes created as of July 2010.

As of ASM's last annual tally in March 2010, MicrobeWorld Video episodes had garnered more than 2.2 million views since the series' launch, and the Meet the Scientist podcasts had been downloaded more than 200,000 times. A MicrobeWorld iPhone app, which pushes new episodes and podcasts to users, has sold between 600 and 700 downloads (at $4.99 each), and the microbeworld.org site gets between 1,500 and 2,000 visits per day, says Hyde.

Almost all of ASM's audio and video production is done in house, with one additional full-time employee hired since 2006. "I think one of the keys here is that you've got to have the right people on the bus, and we were fortunate enough to have a great public outreach manager in Chris Condayan, who understands the field burgeoning in social media and was willing to jump in feet first into audio and video editing," says Hyde. "So, we are now able to do really professional quality productions in house for a fraction of what we would have to pay an outside company to get this done."

Additionally, ASM has had its archive of MicrobeWorld Radio podcasts translated into Spanish (Mundo de los Microbios), which will be completed early next year. To continue reaching the Spanish-speaking audience, ASM is working with microbiology societies in Spain and in Latin America to continue the podcast series with original material that is particularly relevant to Spanish-speaking microbiologists, Hyde says.

The latest step is opening MicrobeWorld to user-generated articles, video, and audio. Submissions were slow at first but are picking up. "Like anything else in this field, you have to be patient. It's not that you put it up and they will come five minutes later, but we are continuing to see an increasing number of people submitting," says Hyde.

A Solid Landing

Richard Grimes, president and CEO, Assisted Living Federation of America
July 2004: On the brink of collapse, ALFA committed to new membership structure, expanded advocacy program, and new products and services.
Today: The changes worked. Revenue is three times what it was in 2004. Association is ready for wave of boomer retirees who will need its services.

Then: In "Calculated Leaps of Faith" in the October 2006 issue of Associations Now, Richard Grimes, president and CEO of the Assisted Living Federation of America, shared the major transformation ALFA had gone through after nearing collapse two years earlier. "The ... association had to sharply narrow its focus, differentiate itself from similar associations, and create palpable value for members," author Angela Hickman Brady wrote. "The gambit also meant that a significant population previously served by ALFA would be disenfranchised, state affiliates might be unhappy, and members who had left would need to be coaxed back into the fold. Now, two years later, the risk is paying off."

Now: So is the risk still paying off six years later? Grimes says it is. "We have attracted almost all the members who had left back into the fold, because now we have a huge number of assets that are very meaningful and useful to their businesses," he says. "If anything, our big challenge is making sure everybody knows what all those assets are."

The specific changes ALFA committed to in 2004—conversion from a federation of state affiliates to direct company membership, an expanded public policy program, and new products and services—positioned ALFA for a successful recovery; ALFA's yearly revenue today is nearly three times what it was then. Grimes credits a board willing to take risks.

 "The secret to our success is a committed and powerful board," he says. "One of the things my board does , unlike other boards I've served in the past, is to kick my behind if I'm not doing more and better, as opposed to the usual problem [in which] the CEO is struggling to pull the board along to get them to move forward. Usually, association boards are a lot more conservative about taking risks, but this is a board that's been very willing to take the risks necessary to be on the cutting edge."

Just one more reason to get the right people on the proverbial bus: Grimes says his board was comfortable with taking the necessary risks "because they're entrepreneurs. These are companies that are the for-profit companies that own and operate these senior living communities, and a lot of them grew their companies from scratch, from a kitchen table, and they know how to get things done."

A growing political action committee, which Grimes says raised more money in 2009 than in the previous two years, is another sign of ALFA's reengagement with its industry.

"When we first started walking the halls of Congress, very few people understood what assisted living was. They mixed it up with nursing homes and other forms of institutional care, and we had to explain to them how we were different," says Grimes. "Today ... people are a lot more sophisticated in their knowledge about what we're about, and I know that's a direct relationship to our ability to communicate with legislators and relevant agencies at the federal and the state level."

With a global economic crisis looming, ALFA's makeover came just in time, giving it a firm foundation on which to plan for the future. "We have a great board and great board leadership, and as we look forward, there is a huge wave of baby boomers who will start to turn 65 in 2011. They need to know there are many options available for them to have quality of life when they can no longer live safely at home. So, our association's challenges are in front of us, not behind us." 

New Ideas for Connecting Members and Media

Norida Torriente, NACHRI associate director of public relations
Mid-2007: Launched child-healthcare-expert database for journalists and patient-advocate blogs.
Today: Taking database "on the road" to journalist meetings. Launched full-time advocacy blog as well as additional online and social-media posts for child healthcare discussion.

Then: In an Idea Bank article titled "Media Magnet" in the October 2007 issue of Associations Now, readers learned of the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions' "Child Health Expert Link," an online database for members of the media to find child-health experts in 38 specialties. Six months later, NACHRI's media-relations efforts showed up again in Idea Bank in "Give Your Grassroots a Public Voice," which highlighted NACHRI-hosted blogs written by child healthcare advocates as they visited Capitol Hill. In both cases, NACHRI cited the tools' effectiveness in connecting its members with the media.

Now: While NACHRI's social media efforts have evolved, its focus for the expert database has been to foster connections and engagement by showcasing the tool at in-person events, such as the annual meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

"That's been very good for us because we're out there, we're with the targeted group that we want to be with, basically showing them the product, and we've gotten a lot of interest that way in terms of usage," says Norida Torriente, NACHRI associate director of public relations. "In the markets that we've been in for that conference, we've invited member hospitals to send their spokespeople that are listed in the database to be at the booth and to chat with the reporters on story ideas, their expertise, trend information that they may have, and we find that that's been very beneficial.

"It's been great for the hospital because they get to put out not only their spokesperson but [also] what news they're coming out with, and the journalists, then, are able to get possible story ideas or get new sources, and that's really what this database is all about. It's about meeting the needs of our members while also helping them to build relationships with media," she says.

The advocacy blogs, however, have changed, says Torriente. NACHRI found that the blogs generated attention for a short time span around its annual Family Advocacy Day, but that attention wasn't sustainable. In 2010, NACHRI did not have a patient advocate write a blog; rather, it highlighted the Family Advocacy Day efforts on its new full-time blog, With All Our Might. Meanwhile, NACHRI again found that the advocacy blogs were most successful in connecting member hospitals with the media. "The highest traffic we found is typically the two weeks around Family Advocacy Day," says Torriente. "What we find is it's not a national media story; it's good for local media."

The association's experience with blogging and social media enabled it to enter the national discussion on healthcare reform in 2009. It launched Speak Now For Kids, a site where visitors could contribute photos, videos, and personal stories about what they wanted for child healthcare in the midst of reform efforts.

"When you open it up to the public, you're really trying to get an opinion," says Torriente. "The one thing we could all really rally around was there was a need that needed to be addressed for kids."

About 5,000 visitors contributed, and the stories were passed on to members of Congress to help convey the views of their constituents. As a bonus, the site also received a Webby "People's Voice" award in the Associations category.

"That's the fun thing about this," says Torriente, "the ability to go ahead and try something new and innovative, as long as it has a purpose."

Joe Rominiecki is managing editor, newsletters, for ASAE. Email: [email protected]