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15 things to consider before starting an association podcast

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It seems as though you cannot throw a proverbial rock without hitting a figurative podcast; everybody seems to have one. Everyone from comedians to movie buffs and, yes, associations are trying their hand at podcasting. There are many blogs, videos and podcasts describing why you should, or should not start a podcast. 

Don’t be in a rush to hit record. It is fun and exciting to jump into a new project, but without extensive planning, you will be on the road to a destination with no map or GPS. Hang tight; let’s consider what needs to get done.

An association’s podcast is a communication, marketing, and membership development activity, and as a result, many departments in your organization should have input. 

1. Consider what you want to accomplish by starting a podcast:

  • Shape public perception/policy
  • Member business development
  • Reach new audience
  • Deepen your network
  • Get to know your members and industry leaders

Whatever your motivation, plan your content to align with your business goal.

2. Know your audience. Do not rush this step. A content marketing best-practice is to develop buyer personas. According to HubSpot, “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better”Many podcasters develop their content to an avatar. An avatar is a single representative of the large audience, similar to a buyer persona. The podcast is created for this person. Speak to this person. Will this person enjoy this episode, this guest or topic? If you think about and speak to this person when planning your content, you will create focus and a niche audience. 

Take a lot of care here. If you are doing an interview-style podcast, are there enough people in the guest-pool to fulfill your format and angle? If you begin the podcast without a clear avatar, your focus can drift, and potentially alienate listeners.

Do not be afraid to create niche content vs. for the masses. If the internet has taught us anything, it is that there is something for everyone. Case-in-point: Ever notice that there is an association for every profession or interest?

3. Commit. Weekly, monthly or by “season,” commit to the podcast. Without a plan, you may get the “seven-episode itch” and quit. Starting a podcast is relatively easy. Maintaining one is difficult. iTunes and other podcast directories are littered with podcasts that publish fewer than five or 10 episodes. About 10 episodes into this venture, you will still be figuring out your recording and editing workflow. It will get more difficult before it gets easier. While there are many resources online from expert podcasters, you still learn by doing and by going through your own learning curve. You will also discover this new venture is a lot of work and takes more time than you anticipated. If you commit to posting regularly no matter what, you will learn to streamline your workflow. 

4. How often will you publish? Establishing how often you post an episode correlates to the aforementioned “Commit” consideration.Whether you choose to post an episode weekly or monthly, once you commit, stick to your schedule. The key to building an audience is posting regularly. I expect a new episode every Monday on Bill Burr’s “Monday Morning Podcast.”

Want to take a break? Some successful podcasters produce “seasons” like TV shows. NPR podcasts like Serial and Invisibilia do this. 

If the content is not time-sensitive, you may want to “stock up” on a few episodes so you can take a vacation, or publish over a holiday. It is also common to upload a “rerun” of a previously published episode.

5. Who will host the podcast? While people might listen and subscribe to your podcast because of the title or the subject matter, they will continue to listen because they appreciate the host’s stance, opinion or style. The host or hosts tie(s) the show together. Ensure that whoever hosts the show, they are committed to the process of producing a regular piece of content.

6. What is the format and length of an average episode? You have an idea for a podcast and an idea of personnel involved. How will the information be presented? Will it be a highly produced NPR-style podcast, a single host speaking to the listener, or a host or panel discussing a topic? Perhaps you will consider a Chris Hardwick-style interview where a host has a deep conversation with a subject for an hour. Maybe you will have 5-10 minute episodes like former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe reading an essay in his show, “The Way I Heard It.”It is OK to experiment with this a little, as your show “finds its way” eventually.

7. Script. One thing I love about the podcasts I listen to is I can always count on certain things happening or being said. As a creature of habit, I enjoy singing along with Kevin Smith’s opening theme on his show, SMODcast, or say, “Enjoy your burrito” on the ID10T (formerly Nerdist) show with Chris Hardwick. I always enjoy when Bill Burr gives uninformed advice at the end of his “Monday Morning Podcast” to listeners who write in. We all like routine and structure.

These shows are successful partially because famous people host them, but I would argue that listeners love their format, executed by their script. Having a script does not mean reading from a page word-for-word. A podcast script can simply organize intro and outro music, promotional reads, advertisements, when one speaks and the general flow of an episode. 

Our script helps layout the order of the episode long before we start recording. It aids in planning and gives the listener an idea of what to expect from your show each episode. Here is my script for our client’s show, Talking Industrial Automation which I based on this guide that the CDC authored.

8. Scheduling guests. If you do have guests on your show, then you will discover that scheduling a time is like scheduling any other meeting: there’s a lot of back and forth to find space on each other’s calendars. 

You want to make it easy on your guest, so use a tool like Calendly or other scheduler-app that will show your availability. Tools like this will integrate with your work calendar and allow the guest to book only on days or dayparts you choose. I record only on Wednesdays and Fridays, typically between 10-3 p.m. Central. My guests cannot see my other appointments and cannot book outside of these parameters. They can choose a time slot that works for them while ensuring I am not double booked.

9. Equipment. I have launched two podcasts in my career, and both were started with borrowed or already-owned equipment and free software. You do not have to go out and buy hundreds of dollars of equipment to start. You can begin recording a podcast with a smartphone. Add headphones which include a mic and record in a quiet space and you are underway. You will want to consider, though, if you will be able to budget for some podcast equipment. 

Once you have a budget to upgrade your equipment, you can start to add items to improve the sound quality and time spent editing. Adding some key things like a digital recorder (like an H4N Pro) and a few decent microphones will improve sound quality and are good first choices.
For under $500 you can own some decent equipment that is mobile and will set you up for success. Here’s a sample equipment list and what we use.

10. Technology. How will you conduct your podcast? Will you record in person or remotely? There is nothing like being face to face, but if your guests are international, it may be necessary to record over the Internet. This consideration goes hand-in-hand with equipment.

I like to use Zoom video conferencing, which is free to use for one-on-one meetings. You can set it to record individual video and audio files in case you need to do some advanced editing. If you also plan on a video podcast for YouTube or Vimeo, Zoom will record your respective webcams. Zoom has a built-in “director.” In other words, the camera shows whoever is speaking. If you plan to have three or more people then you will need to upgrade if your show is over 40 minutes. You can also evaluate Skype along with plugins like “Pamela” or “Evaer.” One other platform is Zencaster, an online podcasting-specific platform.

You can edit your podcast with the free software Audacity or a paid software from Adobe called Audition. Apple’s GarageBand has become podcaster unfriendly in the last few years.

11. Podcast hosting platform. Choosing the platform that works for your association is a big decision. There are free or $5/month platforms, and $15-20/month platforms. Consider how often you will publish episodes. Most podcast hosts have a tiered platform based on how many megabytes you upload or host per month. 

You do not want to move your podcast to another host without careful consideration, so choose wisely. It can be done, but you risk losing all of your hard-earned subscribers if you do not do your research.

12. Preparing the guest. Whether you have a guest host, panel or guest, ensure you are preparing them to hit the ground running.

I created a document I share with my guests that helps them book a time and prepare their surroundings for the best quality recording. Awareness of distractions and noise in their office will increase the audio (and video) quality of your show.

13. Consider slowing your roll. Are you ready to tell everyone yet? Hang on, you are almost there!

Make a list of podcast directories you will want to be found on. iTunes? Check. Google Play? Check. Those two might be obvious. You should research to find if there are niche podcast directories that align with specific formats and subject matter. Did you know that iHeartRadio and Spotify are growing their offering of podcasts?

Keep it all straight with a spreadsheet. Some directories will not accept you until you are one or two months old. Others may list your podcast only if they approve of your content.

Submit to directories and post a few episodes, but do not go “pedal to the metal” just yet. This gives you time to make tweaks and edits before you let the world know you have your own show.

14. Hard launch. Are you now listed in the most popular directories? It might take 1-2 months to be approved. Once you can confidently tell listeners that the show is found wherever they listen to podcasts, you are ready to go.

How will you get the word out? Here are the promotional activities I do for each episode:

  • Post to our online member forum
  • E-blast to all members
  • Post to association’s LinkedIn company page
  • Personal LinkedIn profile
  • Tag interviewee and your LinkedIn page.
  • Post to association’s LinkedIn group

Here is the email template I send to guests and their marketing contact, which asks them to participate in promoting their episode.

15. What about a news release? You should consider holding off on releasing this to the media. Ever see a blog or video series with only ONE entry that says, “This is my blog. Here I will… I’m going to…I look forward to…”

Your podcast isn’t anything yet, so why would a journalist want to cover something that you might do or say? After nearly 20 episodes, I still have not prepared a news release.

I’m reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s advice when cooking a steak: like a steak hot off the grill, let your show be. Just make new episodes. Concentrate on content, good guests and great conversation.

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When your hotel double books your meeting space

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A meeting planner’s picture perfect dream. You’ve got a record-breaking meeting in every way: registration, sponsorship and exhibit sales. Yet at the same time, your worst nightmare is surfacing. The host hotel has double-booked portions of your meeting space and there are only weeks to go before the live event. This happened to us recently. And while it was an incredibly complex situation, our goal was simple: find a solution that would deliver the experience attendees have come to expect year after year without giving the impression that there were ever any challenges taking place behind the scenes. 

Although this was one of, if not the, most challenging planning obstacles I have encountered, I’m proud to say, mission accomplished. Ultimately we found a solution that allowed us to stay at the contracted property and the meeting went off without a hitch! Here’s what we learned throughout the process: 

Engage all of the appropriate key players. Go straight to the top. We were in daily communication with the hotel leadership including the general manager, director of sales, and director of events. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having decision makers at the highest level in your court. Involve the “feet on the ground” as well, especially your convention services manager and the sales person you worked with at the time the contract was signed. Think beyond the hotel, as well. The local CVB was an extremely valuable resource as we explored the possibility of relocating the meeting. Seek legal counsel for expert advice and a factual perspective, too.

Know the value of face to face meetings. After countless hours of phone calls and brainstorming sessions without a concrete direction, it became clear that we weren’t making progress and the clock was ticking. It was time for an in-person meeting to negotiate and finalize a plan moving forward. Although it was a spontaneous decision and a quick trip, it was time very well spent. The hotel reimbursed the cost of airfare and covered accommodations for our staff. Note that all of the “key players” I mentioned above from the hotel side were part of this meeting, including the GM. Approximately 48 hours later, we had a plan and walked away confident that the new flow of meeting space would deliver. Finally, we could wrap up the numerous tasks that had been on hold: signage, pocket program, mobile app, BEOs, AV, etc. Think about it – nearly every function of the meeting depends on having specific room locations. It was time to get down to business!

Creativity talks. The majority of the space that had been double-booked was meal space, foyer space and common areas. This posed major problems as the association placed extreme value on networking, which would typically take place in these open areas. We decided to build a wall to build a hallway down the center of the foyer space to partition the space. This also became a branding opportunity. We used this new wall space to recognize the leadership and current and past award winners and highlight the membership benefits. The morning and afternoon breaks, which were originally planned to be in the large foyer space, had been relocated to several smaller common areas that in the end worked great for more intimate professional networking. We got creative with signage and floor and wall clings to make it obvious where attendees should go and when. The hotel arranged for more elaborate décor in the meal space than we would typically do since the reassigned space was a bit drab on its own. It’s amazing how a little greenery and other simple décor can transform a space! In the end, we didn’t hear a peep from attendees questioning the flow of the meeting or the new space assignments. Just exactly as we wanted it to be!

Communication with your vendors is key. There’s no doubt that this impacted timelines and agreed-to deadlines with various contracted partners. Whether it be show management, the DMC, etc., be sure to let them know the situation and keep them informed as plans unfold. For example, we weren’t able to finalize the furniture order with our DMC for a sponsored lounge area until days before the meeting because we were uncertain of the final lounge location. They were very understanding throughout the process, but had we not kept the line of communication open with all parties involved, the meeting would not have been as successful as it truly was!

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Six reasons working for an AMC is different from working for a stand-alone association

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For over four years I worked for a stand-alone international medical association. It was a great group of people and volunteers and I enjoyed it very much. However, the association was growing and evolving and with a small staff of only five full time employees serving 3,000 members, our project capacity became limited.  The board eventually hired an AMC when the executive director retired. This was my first foray into the magic of association management companies.  

Boredom is never an option. There are always new projects and challenges. Never the same old same old. 

Expertise with industry best practices. Run into a jam?  There is a very high probability that an AMC has been confronted with this issue before and can easily navigate leadership in the right direction. They have seen and done it all before.

Technology and innovation. With a large staff working on multiple clients, AMCs are tech savvy because they must be. They are organized and up-to-date on the latest and greatest to benefit the needs of all clients and keep projects streamlined and efficient.

Negotiating. AMCs have more buying power, period. If one client needs a service, it is likely that a second or third will as well. Multiple contracts equal quality discounts.

Networking. AMCs have a lot of connections. They’ve worked with several vendors over the years planning meetings all over the country and beyond. They know everyone everywhere! 

Flexibility. The beauty of AMCs is customization. They are extremely adaptable to clients’ requests and can pivot as necessary to accomplish goals with as many team members on deck as necessary. Anything is possible!

I have learned so much already from my colleagues and am proud to be a part of the AMPED team!

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The most simple, yet effective way to engage association members on social media

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One thing that marketers don’t get recognized enough for is the amount of time we spend testing things — testing new messages, new platforms and new algorithms to find that perfect balance of how best to reach our target audiences. This is extremely evident when it comes to trying to engage association members on social media.One thing that marketers don’t get recognized enough for is the amount of time we spend testing things — testing new messages, new platforms and new algorithms to find that perfect balance of how best to reach our target audiences. This is extremely evident when it comes to trying to engage association members on social media.

Which platforms should you use? What kind of messages do you put out there? What time of day should you post? All of these questions seem to be on every association marketer’s mind. And the answers are different for every association out there. There seems to be one pattern, however, that I’ve observed works for just about any association, in every industry, on every platform.

Start asking questions
That’s right. It’s as simple as posting questions for your membership to get them to interact. Enable your followers, likes and subscribers to create content for you by providing guided questions that are popular or hot topics within your industry. It sounds pretty basic, but I can honestly say through ten years of doing marketing and social media for all kinds of organizations that this is by far the most consistently effective method for engaging your community. There are a few tips and tricks to asking questions on social media that make these posts more successful:Be thoughtful of the types of questions you postYou might be wondering which types of questions you should be asking. One of the best ways to come up with questions is to keep your finger on the pulse of hot topics in the industry and what I call “passion propositions.” In every industry, there are three or four topics that everyone seems to be passionate about. Think about the tools people use in your industry or daily tasks someone in your industry typically performs. Creating discussion platforms for things your members have in common is a very effective strategy.

Catch their eye
To help engage readers, accompany the questions with high quality images. Take the time to include a professional looking image that will make your post stick out among the rest of the timeline. A good resource for these images is Pixabay, a free image and video community that has a lot of options to choose from.

Use built-In tools
Make sure you are using tools that are built in to the various social media channels to provide a unique experience. As most marketers know, in order to engage as many members as possible, you have to do a good job setting yourself apart from the rest of their timeline. For instance, don’t be afraid to ask simple questions using Twitter Polls. They look very nice in-stream and create the “fear of missing out” that we all know people hate. If they see 100 people have voted, they’ll vote too because they want to see where they stand with the rest of the industry.

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Why I'm a fan of training manuals

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Before I left my last job, I made sure to write a manual for my co-worker Cheryl. We had recently switched to new CRM software and she did not know how to generate certain reports on the new program. I included all my print outs and highlighted all the shortcuts I had learned. My goal was to save Cheryl the effort and time of learning from scratch. 

I was immediately put at ease on my first day of training at AMPED when Emily said, “I wrote a manual for you.”  A “kindred spirit!”, as Anne of Green Gables would say.

I have become a big fan of manuals, and here are a couple of best uses. 

Manuals for Yourself 
Emily already had a detailed manual for my initial duties, but as I have added new responsibilities, I have started writing my own manual anytime I learn something new. I try to write down every last step and detail as soon as possible and take screenshots for steps that I know will be tricky to describe accurately.

This would seem a basic principal, but many manuals I have read leave out a critical step. While importing data to a website recently, I followed the manual provided and could not understand why the import was not completed. It turns out that the manual did not include an important final step.

It might seem cumbersome to write up a manual right after training, but you will save yourself time in the end. I am always confident I will remember everything perfectly, but when it comes to tasks I perform only occasionally, my memory is too often vague, and I waste a lot of time retraining myself.

Video Manuals
Manuals do not have to be written. One of my first assignments at AMPED was a long-term database project for Tony. He wanted to know how many companies had renewed their membership after an email campaign. He also wanted to update contact information for future marketing lists.

He created a video for me using Camtasia, a video editing and screen recording program, to show me screen-by-screen the information he needed to be updated. The video was particularly helpful because the project was not urgent and something I worked on when I had time. I could rewatch the video to refresh my memory whenever I went back to it.

If Tony needs a similar report in the future and I am not available, he has the video ready to share without having to spend time retraining someone else.

Micro Video Manual for Frequent Problems on Website 
Another great use of a video manual is when members are having difficulty navigating a section of your website. I received a number of calls after registration opened for a recent annual meeting. Callers were having trouble finding their company on the initial registration page. This was an important step because there was a discount for multiple attendees from the same company. When I mentioned the problem to Tony, he recorded a short video using Camtasia to show how to properly search and select the company and posted it on the registration page. The number of phone calls decreased significantly after the video was posted.  

Next time you are training or training someone else, consider writing or videotaping a manual for the most efficient use of your time. 

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