Blake Stenning, MAM, is director of communications for PHADA in Washington, DC, and immediate past chair of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council.
In the past year, associations have faced an enormous shift in how they communicate with their constituents. A newly developed toolkit, based on the drivers of change identified in ASAE’s ForesightWorks research, can help association communicators rise to the challenges of these times.
The 50 drivers of change identified as part of ASAE’s ForesightWorks research have been an important element for association communicators since they were originally published in 2017. Last year, ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council took a more strategic look at the challenges the drivers identified, using the lens of skill sets that association communicators need to address them. The result is the Competencies for Association Communication Professionals toolkit [ASAE member login required], a resource that provides best-practice strategies for communication professionals to use when developing new initiatives.
For this initial version, four drivers are filtered through the communication lens:
The first driver—shifting environment for content—provides foundational competencies that address the expectations of personalization, developing effective content strategies when departmental priorities are siloed, and differentiating content for different audiences. Communications must be proactive to meet organizational goals, and therefore it is vital that communication professionals are able to serve internally as the translators, collaborators, and facilitators between departments, as well as within the C-suite. Understanding individual needs, while also considering the 10,000-foot view, can be the difference between a successful campaign and one that falls short of its goals. In addition, it is becoming increasingly important to create emotional connections with different audiences. Collecting and analyzing stakeholder and other research data, as well as participating in the content lifecycle(strategy, design, create, maintain, and assess), is key to gaining an understanding of audiences' values and motivations.
Meanwhile, declining trust, already a growing concern, has quickly risen to a crisis situation in some circumstances as confirmation bias, misinformation, and targeted algorithms have eroded trust in expertise. Communication professionals must take the lead in both risk management and in building credibility with consistent, transparent dissemination of credible facts.
In addition, a growing awareness of unconscious bias has forced long overdue reexaminations of how organizations serve their constituents. Diversity, equity, and inclusion has been a powerful driver in prompting associations to question whether they are being inclusive enough so that all members truly feel like they belong. Communications play a critical role in fostering conversations, applying empathy, and leveraging relevant spokespersons to more clearly represent an organization’s values and mission. In addition, communications also must play a role in giving a voice to members to create more opportunities for belonging.
Empathy, values, and feelings of belonging are also important to the constituents of the next-gen professionals driver. Here, too, it is important for associations to engage its future generation of members. Communications professionals can identify relevant channels to develop emerging leaders, as well as help resonate a better understanding of organizational culture and expectations to foster more passionate participation.
In addition to these four drivers, the council identified several general leadership competencies to help achieve buy-in at the C-suite level, including the need to acquire a broader point of view with implementing organizational goals. Whether it is formally defined on the organizational chart or not, every aspect of an association’s structure has a communication component. As a result, communication professionals are more likely to be involved in cross-departmental collaboration. Communicators must have highly developed situational awareness of diverse perspectives of staff, departments, and even members. Employing a holistic strategic approach to messaging is an effective way to engage leadership support and to ensure all contributions feel a sense of ownership of programming initiatives.