Last Saturday, I had the honor or presenting at one of the annual PRSA APR study sessions thanks to my friends Betsy Anderson and Julie Eastling. I opened up my presentation by saying I had sat in the exact chair these folks had been sitting in 10 years ago as an APR student. I had been a PRSA member for years. I had been on the PRSA board. I had been involved with PRSA for a long time.
And then I stopped. I needed a break.
And now, I’m on the board of directors for the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (the oldest interactive marketing association in the country!).
And now, I’m thinking about rejoining PRSA, too. I will be a dual-membership professional.
And, I think we may start to see this trend grow in the years ago.
We all know jobs in the creative space have been melding for years. Ad folks are being asked to do PR work. PR folks are being asked to do interactive work. Interactive folks are being asked to do PR work. Our jobs are all melding together just a bit.
So, there’s a definite need to learn about more than just one discipline, right?
Meanwhile, the list of professional organizations and groups catering to these disciplines continues to swell. Let’s look at the list just in the Twin Cities:
* MN Search
* Social Media Breakfast
I mean, I could keep going. There are more.
But, I think I’ve made my point. There are so many trade organizations and groups now you can join. More competition than ever.
But do you need to be a member of just ONE of these groups?
I say no.
I say it may make sense to be a member of MORE than one group, depending on your job, role and interest.
If you work in interactive, but specialize in social, wouldn’t it make sense to be a member of MIMA AND Social Media Breakfast?
If you work in PR but have a keen interest in all things digital (this sounds like me!), wouldn’t you want to be a member of PRSA AND MIMA?
If you worked in the ad space, but also wanted to learn more about social, should be you be a member of AdFed and also attend SMB events regularly?
I know, I know, the cost. And yeah, there is additional cost. But many of the membership fees to these organizations is minimal compared with the benefit. Take MIMA, for example. Annual membership is just $230 a year. But, for that fee, you get access to all the monthly events for FREE. So, if you attend six events a year, the membership pays for itself.
And that’s just one example. Cost shouldn’t be an issue, folks.
I’ve written about this before. The benefit easily outweighs the cost when you think about the long-term implications for your career.
So, is this a new trend just waiting to happen? Will we see more people taking on two professional memberships in the months/years ahead?
The lines are blurring in the marketing, communications, creative and PR worlds.
More so now than ever before.
PR people are playing in the advertising sandbox. Advertising people are adding PR to their resumes. Interactive folks get involved with content. I mean, let’s be honest, the lines aren’t even there anymore. Screw blurring–they’ve completely disappeared!
So, when it comes to choosing a professional organization to be a part of–PRSA, AdFed, AMA, MIMA, IABC–how do you even begin to decide which is the best suited for you?
That specific question was posed to me by a friend this week. And, it’s a good one for the reason laid out above.
It’s a question I’ve struggled with, too. I was active in PRSA circles for YEARS. I was on committees, chaired committees, sat the board, and was even on the executive committee here locally in MSP before I decided to take a step back to start my business.
These days, I’m involved with MIMA (Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association), again sitting on the board.
But, it wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, I’m still thinking about joining PRSA and becoming a two-organization member.
But let’s get back to the question at hand: What’s the best professional org for YOU? How do you make the decision?
I thought I’d share with you the factors that went into my decision-making process. They certainly won’t be the same for everyone–but I thought they might help as you make your decision.
Think about your future
Where do you want to go in 5 years? 10 years? Which organization will help you get there? Which offers you the chance to meet the people that will best shape your future?
Think about your skill set–and the gaps you want to address
Earlier in my career, I worked more in the marketing communications side. I wrote brochures. Worked on web copy. That kind of thing. But, after a little soul-searching, I discovered I wanted to learn more about and get into the world of PR. Enter PRSA. PRSA offered me a chance to learn something I wasn’t getting in my day job. Think about what you want to learn that you can’t get at work–and find an organization that offers that opportunity. Remember, your day job isn’t everything. You can certainly create learning opportunities for yourself outside your 9-5.
Think about the people you want to meet–and be associated with
When I was considering joining MIMA a few years ago, I got to thinking: Who do I know in town? Predominantly, the answer to that question was “PR folks” thanks to my time with PRSA. I know a lot of PR people in town. Not all, but a decent amount. But, you know who I didn’t (and, to a large extent, still don’t) know? Interactive types. Developers. Project managers. Interactive VPs. Content strategists even. All those people–didn’t know too many of them. But, I knew where they hung out: MIMA. That organization was the one spot where all these people gathered–at monthly meetings, at Summit, at the holiday party. I wanted to get to know these people (mostly for business purposes, I’ll admit), and MIMA seemed like the most likely way to do just that. So, think about who you want to meet. The people who will, somehow, shape your career and professional life. Then, find out what professional org they’re a part of and find out if and how often they show up.
Don’t get hung up on price, value prop
This is a mistake I’ve made in the past. I put too much stock in the price tag associated with membership. Whether it was $375 (PRSA’s price tag) or the $230 I pay to MIMA each year, I was putting too much stock in the annual cost of membership. Why would I say that? Dollars and cents matter, Arik! Sure, I would agree. But, compared with the benefit you’ll get on the skills and networking sides of the equation, what is $300? Plus, add in the fact that your employer is probably covering all or some of the cost. For those that ARE picking up the entire cost, think about it this way. What’s that next job worth to you? What about that promotion? A new client? All over the above EASILY exceed that $300 threshold. So, cost just shouldn’t be a consideration. At least not if you’re looking at the big picture.
So, I hope some of this discussion helps. I know this is a decision many are grappling with these days.
What do you think? How are you making decisions about which professional organization you join?
I’ve got a bit of news to share today: I’m joining the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) board of directors.
I couldn’t be more excited to join a board that includes people like Jeff Sauer (whom I’ve gotten to know better lately), Lauren Melcher, Josh Braaten, Danny Olson, Lindsi Gish (whom I owe a great debt for introducing me to the board) and MIMA president, Nathan Eide (love this pic of last year’s board–how could you NOT want to join a board like this? By the way, MIMA reserves all rights to this photo :).
Why did I decide to pursue the MIMA board? A few reasons:
Surround myself with smart people
This has been a mantra of mine since I started working in PR. I figure if I surround myself (or work for) really, really smart people, eventually some of that has to rub off on me, right? In this case, I’m surrounding myself with a long list of people who are smarter than me. In fact, I’m going to have to work hard to contribute given the brains in the room. And I like it that way.
I want to be part of a working board
What I like about the MIMA board is it’s a working board. These aren’t the kind of people who sit in their ivory tower, make decisions and just wait around. These people are active. Heck, my first board meeting this afternoon is a five-hour retreat! THAT’S a working board. That’s the kind of board I want to be involved with.
The timing was just right
A few really smart people just came off the MIMA board–Tim Brunelle, Christopher Pollard and Jake Nyberg, notably. Which left some very big shoes to fill. So, the timing was perfect (not that I can fill the incredibly large shoes, but I have the opportunity to try!). But, the current board is also filled with people I really admire and think, in general, are just a lot of fun–Danny Olson, Lauren Melcher, Nora Purmort and Josh Braaten for starters. The timing was just right.
It will allow me to get to know the “technical” digital community
I feel like I know a lot of people in the local PR community here in Minneapolis. But, you know who I don’t know very well? The more “technical” and creative side of our digital/social community. And, those are the people who are MIMA members. I’m really looking forward to meeting a lot of those people in the months/years ahead. There are also a few people on the board I don’t know that well–and those people I’m really looking forward to getting to know better.
I will have a chance to build out my skills
The PR pro of the future is a hybrid. Part PR pro, part digital pro, part creative pro. And while my digital skills are sharp, they’re by no means complete. I need help with SEO. I need to get smarter with analytics. And I know I can always use help in the more technical aspects of my job. Those are all areas MIMA focuses on. In the next few years, I plan to become MUCH smarter in these key areas. They are the future of our industry.
Bottom line: I’m honored to be given this opportunity to contribute to and serve on the MIMA board of directors. I do not take these kinds of opportunities lightly, and I hope I can contribute to the group. And I’m really looking forward to working with a fantastic group of people (have I said that already?).
If there are any MIMA members reading this post, I’m really looking forward to becoming more involved with your organization. I hope I can find a few ways to add something in the years ahead. If you have ideas or want to chat about something specific, please do not hesitate to give me a call or shoot me a note.
I met Lauren Melcher earlier this summer. After a random inquiry, we met up for coffee. I was impressed immediately. This woman was not only holding down a full-time agency job, she was planning the largest creative event in our state (and arguably the Upper Midwest): The MIMA Summit. Then, at a later meet-up I discovered she’s a fellow beer geek. And, she got a new job at Weber Shandwick. The more I learned about Lauren, the more I wanted to learn even more. So, I thought I’d ask her a few of the questions I’ve been meaning to ask her since our last meet-up. Here are the results…
1—You have an interesting background that’s a mix of publishing, politics and digital marketing. How did you go from a communications intern for Hilary Clinton’s campaign to a digital strategist at Weber Shandwick?
I sometimes wonder that myself, actually. I think it comes down to a bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and having some eclectic interests that keep me off the beaten path.
The internship on Hillary’s campaign was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that came on the heels of a digital media internship at New Hampshire Public Radio during the 2008 presidential primary season. I’d been brought on to help their new media director manage all the extra campaign content, and I spent a lot of time editing stories, audio and video for the NHPR website.
At the same time, I was finishing an English and management studies degree at St. Olaf College, and the J-term class that had taken me east for the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries also gave me an opportunity to blog for the Star-Tribune. So I was blogging for a newspaper, while curating multimedia content for a public radio station. I had a front-row view for how the web could transform media and content delivery, and it was really inspiring.
Then, I saw the other side of modern mass media while interning on the communications team for South Carolina for Hillary. I was charged with planning press tours, booking interviews and staffing Senator Clinton during media appearances. Although it was the complete opposite of what I’d been doing on the media side, I learned that I’m good on my feet in a crisis and I love helping to solve problems. That was my first taste of PR, and it was a really great experience.
When I graduated, I stayed in Minneapolis to run a young women’s magazine. It didn’t survive the recession, but at the time, we had high hopes for changing the way young women interacted with mass media. I think we were just a few years too early … if we’d had the iPad for magazine delivery back then, everything would have been so much easier! But it was there that I learned first-hand what it means for a brand to engage with a community online. We had no budget for traditional marketing, so we built everything by word of mouth – follower by follower, article by article. It was hard work and a lot of long hours, but the thrill of building a brand online was addicting.
Eventually I took a job with a small, full-service agency (marketing, advertising and public relations), where I helped to build the digital practice. Most of my experience is in social media strategy and website redesign planning for education, agriculture, financial services and nonprofit clients. That was three years ago, and now I’m in a job that didn’t exist when I was a senior in college. I think that’s amazing, and some days I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.
2—You’re relatively new to Weber Shandwick (started in August) and it’s the first big agency you’ve worked for. In your view, what’s the difference between working for a large firm and a smaller one?
Hands down: the team. At a small agency, being the social media or digital point-person is a great opportunity, but it’s also a tricky position. Digital strategy is not something that anyone is an expert in – the topic is just too big. But when you’re the only one doing social media planning or community management at a small company, it’s easy to be labeled as such. I was never comfortable in that position. I love having a team of strategists around me to bounce ideas off of and collaborate with on projects where we can each bring different strengths and experiences. I’m one of seven digital strategists in the Minneapolis office, and there are over a hundred of us throughout the global network. I’m never alone with my biases and experiences, and that’s a better thing for my clients (and my sanity, to be honest!)
3—The “career path” for today’s digital marketer is so varied. Some folks come from traditional marketing backgrounds. Others, like you, have journalism/publishing and even PR backgrounds. What background do you think helps prepare you the most for a role in digital marketing?
Anyone who wants a career in digital marketing should, at some point, work in an organization where the digital strategy is crucial to the organization’s bottom line. Having a budget line you’re responsible for changes the way you approach your job, in a good way. That was absolutely the case at the magazine, and it taught me to invest time and energy in the activities with the best returns on investment. Social media wasn’t just for fun – it was the backbone of our outreach strategy.
4—You’re also on the MIMA board of directors playing a lead role on the high-profile programming committee (with MIMA Summit just a month away). What learnings have you had from this work that have carried over into your “day job?”
It’s all about the audience. Whether it’s a presentation for 300 people or a public affairs campaign for three million, what matters is whether or not the audience absorbs the intended message – not whether or not it’s presented in the prettiest, fanciest, most innovative way. I think that digital teams can get carried away with the “cool” factor and forget about the audience. That’s not going to be successful in the long run. We know that at MIMA because our audience tells us exactly when they think we’ve missed the ball. They care about the quality of the content because it’s what they’ve come to expect over the last 13 years. It can be humbling to hear the critiques, but it is also really useful information that we need to hear so we don’t make the same mistakes again with future events.
I’ve found that taking the same approach to my work – keeping the audience at the forefront of my strategy recommendations, testing and surveying whenever possible, and managing client expectations accordingly – leads to successful projects and happy clients.
5—In your “spare time” you also write for Tech.MN and the Huffington Post. How did those opportunities come about and how do you identify topics to write about for both publications?
Arianna Huffington extended the blogging invitation back in 2008 when I was the editor of Alive Magazine, and I’ve kept up my credentials ever since. I have mostly written about topics relating to civic engagement, technology and society, but I don’t have a contract or any particular editorial responsibilities.
When you have the freedom to write about whatever you want, it’s incredibly freeing and stifling at the same time. I haven’t blogged for Huffington Post in a while, because it’s so public – I have to feel extremely confident about everything I put out there. And so much of my daily work is confidential that I can’t use that as a springboard. So, it’s not easy to find topics that are timely and where I also feel like I can say something that someone else hasn’t already said.
It’s easier with TECHdotMN, where I focus on female tech entrepreneurs and co-hosting the weekly TV show. I appreciate the ability to focus on a niche topic and become the go-to person on a subject I find fascinating. When Mike Bollinger and Jeff Pesek started TECHdotMN, we talked a lot about my experience with nonprofit news organizations and the challenges facing online media channels. My contributions grew naturally out of an interest in their project and a desire to help raise the profile of the Minnesota tech startup community, even though I’m not a tech entrepreneur or investor.
I’ve always believed that not “having time” is not a real excuse. We make time for the things we care about. Some months, I prioritize friends, family, travel and house projects over volunteer projects and outside writing. But I have also made time for writing and volunteering because the results are important to me. The relationships I’ve built, and the doors that have opened, because of those activities are absolutely irreplaceable.
6—You’ve also confided to me that you’re a “beer geek” of sorts. Since it’s that time of year, what are your favorite Oktoberfest beers?
Ha! Well, I’m no connoisseur but I like tasting beers more than tasting wines – does that count?
I’m always a big Summit fan, and I love their Oktoberfest. But the Bell’s Oktoberfest is pretty fantastic, too. I wish that Odell Brewing Co. or Deschutes Brewery had an Oktoberfest. If they did, one of those would probably be my favorite (their ales and porters are delicious).