Add an Element of Surprise to the Member Experience

Correct Associations Now Winter 2020 Issue By: Tim Ebner

To “wow” members, one association planned a surprise rebrand reveal at its annual meeting. Here’s how they did it.

Orchestrating a surprise party is never easy. Imagine doing it for hundreds or thousands of members at your next annual meeting.

“It’s an intense challenge,” says Carey Goryl, MSW, CAE, CEO of the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment, who did it on April 7, 2019.

Goryl and her team planned a surprise rebrand, announcing AAPPR as the organization’s new name after 29 years as the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters. “We decided to use our conference keynote session to unveil a new name, logo, and journal in the course of about an hour,” she says.

The event was fun to plan and went off without a hitch, Goryl says, and members immediately took to the new name and identity. She attributes a lot of that success to an element of surprise that created an engaging, suspenseful experience.

“Attendees said the transformation felt like magic,” she says. “When it came time to announce, the lights went dim and glow-in-the-dark beach balls were released into the crowd. We also played some high-energy music and used stage lighting during the big reveal.”

Meanwhile, the real transformation was happening out of sight. AAPPR’s staff worked quickly to change physical and digital signs throughout the convention hall to the new name and logo while members were in the keynote session.

“We also pulled out a thousand tote bags and set up an association display—a 16-by-20-foot banner,” Goryl says. “We put markers out so everyone could sign their name on this huge logo.”

Still, anyone who’s ever thrown a surprise party knows how meticulous the planning process can be. Goryl led AAPPR through almost a year of board and staff planning to ensure the rebrand met members’ expectations.

“We weren’t exactly super-secretive that we were exploring a name change,” she says. “We did focus groups, surveys, and interviewed about 40 key leaders, making sure we engaged all the right people before moving forward.”

The rebrand also required a lot of board and staff buy-in that Goryl kept under the radar. “At every board meeting [where the rebrand was discussed], we had to remind people to keep it confidential, and we took some extra steps to make sure the announcement didn’t get leaked,” she says.

It felt like a covert operation, and it got staff and volunteers excited. But the biggest payoff was the lingering effect the surprise rollout had on members.

“We created an experience for our members that made them feel a part of the association’s transformation,” she says. “At the end of the day, it was a name and logo change—not rocket science—but the feeling we created during and even after the meeting was absolutely electrifying.”

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Element of Surprise."]

Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is former senior editor of Associations Now in Washington, DC.