10 Tips for Creating Engaging Content on an Association Budget

editorial content July 24, 2017 By: Steve Milano

Your association's trade publication, magazine, or newsletter can be an important source of industry news for your members. These tips can help you create high-quality content to ensure the publication serves that intended purpose.

A trade association newsletter or magazine should be one of the top five member benefits your organizations offers, but you can only reach that potential if your publication contains consistently high-quality and engaging editorial content.

You may think you don't have the time, staff, or money to generate a best-in-class product, but organizations facing these constraints can still produce valuable content using 10 simple strategies.

1. Create a detailed editorial calendar. A publication's editorial calendar plots out the upcoming year's articles, issue by issue, giving advertisers and potential writers an idea of what each issue will contain. Editors of association publications frequently create general editorial calendars around a few events each year, such as an annual meeting or awards program. The editorial calendar is then only filled out with a listing of the publication's departments and columns and a few specific topics. While a generalized calendar gives you flexibility, it creates a reactive, last-minute editorial product.

If possible, determine the specific content you want to include in each issue as much as one year in advance. This will allow you to recruit the best writers (giving them longer lead times to produce their articles) and give industry suppliers a chance to offer expert sources.

2. Create an editorial advisory board. To ensure the best possible content for your members, create an editorial advisory board consisting of subject matter experts (SMEs) from your membership, industry vendors and suppliers, and allied professions. As part of this volunteer job, your editorial advisory board members should provide input on the editorial calendar before it's published, recruit subject matter experts, and contribute at least one article per year. The board should also review each issue after it's published. In exchange, these members can tout their service and expertise, especially on professional and social networks, such as LinkedIn.

3. Feature author bylines and bios. To motivate writers to provide articles, offer opportunities to be recognized publicly. A byline and brief bio at the end of an article, with a photo, contact information, and a website link attract contributors.

To ensure the best possible content for your members, create an editorial advisory board consisting of subject matter experts.

4. Find ways to promote your authors. To secure sought-after contributors, offer as much free promotion as you can. Examples include:

  • free listings or links in the digital and print versions of your suppliers directory
  • free banner ads on your website
  • free display ads in your publication
  • opportunities to speak at your annual meeting
  • opportunities to serve on your editorial advisory board
  • opportunities to serve on an association committee

5. Tap vendors and suppliers as authors. Industry vendors and suppliers—your advertisers—make and sell products vital to your members' success and are experts on how to use them. A company can provide professionally written content through its communications departments or public relations partners. Before you solicit writers, stress that articles must relate to relevant topics and trends, not products or pitches. Also, meet with your sales team to determine which experts among your suppliers can write high-quality articles or act as sources. The editorial and sales departments should talk about how your organization handles its editorial/advertising ethics policies before sales reaches out to any advertisers for help or editorial opportunities.

6. Recruit board and committee members to contribute. Your board and committee members are the best and brightest in your industry. Require each member to contribute at least one article each year and recruit one SME as a contributor.

7. Bundle speaking and writing opportunities. If possible, build into speaker contracts a provision that they will provide at least one article for your publication. Make sure to explain all of the promotional benefits they'll receive.

8. Subscribe to news alerts. Add Google Alerts to your inbox to generate article ideas on topics of interest to your readers. The alerts will surface news stories that you can reference in your digital newsletter, tweets, and Facebook posts. You'll also find articles or press releases written by public relations firms, which may be happy to write original content for your publication on behalf of their clients.

9. Follow LinkedIn and Google Groups. Join the LinkedIn and Google Groups related to your industry to find outside authors and contributors. Many writers post articles for free in these networks, and they'll probably be willing to provide free expert content—especially if you provide promotion for it. Don't forget to read comments posted in the spaces too. Those are often written by industry experts and can be turned into additional articles.

10. Offer ghostwriting and editing services. One of the biggest challenges in recruiting expert content is helping SMEs overcome their fear of writing. Offer to interview the SME and ghostwrite the article, or let reluctant authors know that you will edit their articles and send them back for final review.

Steve Milano

Steve Milano is the owner of Steve Milano & Associates, LLC, an Atlanta-based company that provides association management and publishing services, and has been an executive director of several trade associations and nonprofits.