Charlotte R. Perham
Charlotte R. Perham is vice president of communications and marketing at the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association in Falls Church, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.
The pandemic created a need for association staff who are flexible and adaptable. To ensure marketing teams can adjust in these changing times, it’s important to identify essential skills, mix the right people and tools, and keep an eye to the future.
When COVID-19 turned the workplace on its head, communications and marketing professionals’ mantra became “stay flexible and adapt to what’s needed.”
With our world constantly changing, it is important to have a marketing team that can help drive future transformation within your organization. A subcommittee of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council explored the best practices to hire and develop this future-focused team, and through an informal survey of peers, it concluded that to best help your association fulfill its mission and meet its goals in changing times you must
Among the highest-demand – and sometimes hardest-to-find – areas of expertise fall in digital, marketing automation, and analytics. In fact, digital acumen quickly has risen as a core competency, according to Dany Bourjolly Smith, Association CareerHQ lead consultant and DB Smith Consulting founder. Smith stressed the importance of all staff being able to effectively use new tools necessary to perform work anywhere. In addition, managers must be able to use new communication skills to influence, lead, and teach effectively online.
As the need for these technical skills increases, it is important to balance those with soft skills like creativity, innovation, emotional intelligence, flexibility, and adaptability.
How does a hiring manager determine if candidates have that right mix of both technical and soft skills? A highly focused recruiting process can help you find the type of employees you need. First, determine exactly what skills are needed for the job, and then defining them so that managers and candidates know what is needed to succeed.
How does a hiring manager determine if candidates have that right mix of both technical and soft skills? A highly focused recruiting process can help you find the type of employees you need.
Once you know what skills you’re seeking, Annie Storey, CAE, executive director of the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association, suggests presenting real-life work scenarios during the interview and asking candidates how they would respond. “I stick with behavioral questions (‘Tell me about a time where ...’),” she says. Going one step further, Storey taps into Knack as a hiring tool to help assess skill levels and talent. The Muse and Ducknowl are other talent-screening tools available.
If you go through this process and still don’t find the perfect candidate, consider whether a strong mentoring or training program could help. “When I’ve struggled to find someone, I’ve found it helpful to look at the list of requirements and determine which skills I absolutely can’t teach or need for projects happening right away versus which I could mentor someone and provide them with a little time and training to develop,” says Jocelyn Givens, director of public relations at the American College of Rheumatology. “Then I combine that with scenario and behavior-based questions to see how they think about and approach problems.” In addition, Givens says that portfolio samples help her gauge things like creativity.
Marketing departments are so absorbed with meeting deadlines and producing day-to-day deliverables that it is often hard to step back and plan for the future needs. By streamlining their department’s processes, marketing professionals have freed up time for staff to keep up with the latest trends, be more creative, and participate in more educational opportunities.
Patricia Jaraicie, CAE, director of marketing and communications for IEEE’s Communications Society, suggests planning, mapping, and starting out small. Her organization started out with Trello and now uses Smartsheet for project management. Zapier, she says, “has been a lifesaver to trigger actions on different platforms.” Jaraicie adds that it is important to revisit the effectiveness of the selected processes every three months to identify opportunities for improvement.
Shari Rager, MS, CAE, deputy director of the American Medical Writers Association, says identifying the root cause of a project-management issue is necessary to identifying the best solution. In serving professional writers, her organization requires several eyes on a product or publication before it goes public. “Having clear policies in place to determine who needs to be involved, how to handle suggested edits, and ultimately finalize the product was more important than which tools we used,” she says.
It also is important to build training funds into the budget and tie professional development to annual performance goals. “The ROI for associations is in the follow-up,” says Susan Young, CEO of Get in Front Communications, Inc. “Use short video 'lunch and learns,' email dashboards, and short phone calls so that you easily collaborate and measure progress. This strategy makes a huge impact and allows organizations to measure what has been implemented.”
Assembling a team with the skills to meet your association’s needs has always been a priority. While COVID-19 knocked the world off its axis, it was an important reminder to plan for what our organizations will need in the future and to hire and develop those with the right mix of digital acumen, innovation, creativity and adaptability to take us there.