Surround your members!

A few weeks ago, Incisive Media, publishers of American Lawyer and other publications, announced the formation of a new business group that will develop print and online regional practice products for attorneys.

This past week, InformationWeek launched InformationWeek Global CIO and an invitation-only Global CIO Think Tank, products that “are intended to provide CIOs and other senior technology leaders with news, research and a peer-to-peer online think tank.” In talking about the launch, an InformationWeek executive said, ““The peer-level interaction is central to everything we’re doing at Global CIO.”

Yesterday, the Financial Times announced a partnership with Philips, which will be the sole sponsor of a four-part magazine series called FT Health. Philips will also sponsor a blog and micro-sites devoted to health topics on

So why write about these things under an “association” banner?

For some time, I’ve been thinking that associations would do well to emulate better practice among business-to-business publishers. Good B2B businesses surround an audience, deliver services and products built around a recognized brand and communicate across a variety of channels. To stay relevant, associations need to do the same.

When American Lawyer starts to develop regional practice products, it takes on the affiliation role often reserved for an association. The Practising Law Institute may be more immediately targeted, but a for-profit entity offering CLE credits also gets in front of lawyers much more often than the remote national association.

When Information Week offers CIOs the opportunity to engage with one another, whether virtually or in person, it extends a brand that ultimately threatens the vitality of a range of associations. And when the Financial Times leverages its considerable brand equity to deliver health-care coverage in print and online… well, you can do the math.

Associations start with a significant advantage over B2B publishers: their members actively chose to join the association. Even though most B2B publishers qualify their audiences, the hurdles are not nearly as strong a signal as the willingness to pay annual membership dues.

That said, squandering that advantage risks competitive entry from better-financed, more agile for-profit organizations. It’s no longer enough to deliver a decent print publication to so-called “mailbox members” and expect that they will renew their membership next year.

Associations need to challenge themselves to uncover and meet needs their members may not know they have. American Lawyer, InformationWeek and the Financial Times are doing that now, whether their competing associations like it or not.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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