Plug the Events Gap With Powerful Benefits

26th February 2021

The shutting down of in-person business events since March 2020 has caused devastating losses to member organisations. But by strategically focusing on all three legs of the ‘perfect marketing trifecta’, associations can not only survive but thrive during these challenging times, argues Rupert Darrington.

The closing down of almost all kinds of in-person events in March last year – and at the time of writing still with no end in sight – has led to a catastrophic fall in income for most associations.

In-person events will eventually return of course. But this could be long time. In the meantime, the shutdown has almost completely removed one of the key reasons companies at least previously had for joining “their” association: namely the ability to promote their business by meeting in-person with future partners and clients.

Virtual meetings and events can go some of the way to making up for that loss. But for associations, even the most successful virtual events typically only generate 10-20% of the revenues from the equivalent in-person seminars, networking events, conferences and exhibitions. 

And while online events can maintain existing business relationships, they are much less effective at helping members to form strong new relationships. Nothing beats the power of face-to-face meetings to foster transformative innovation and creativity through serendipitous conversations with people we had never planned to meet. 

Balancing books

So how can associations both balance their books and still provide a strong mix of promotional benefits that will keep their members continuing to renew their membership each year?

In my view, associations need to take a holistic approach. The power of the trade association lies in the idea that by helping companies and individuals to connect and work together collaboratively and creatively everybody wins – because good business is done by and between members, and wealth is generated for the benefit of society at large. 

Associations therefore need to develop new ways to fulfil their mission. 

Now, more than ever, associations need to make use of all three legs of the “perfect marketing trifecta”, namely: online, face-to-face, and printed communications. During this pandemic online and face-to-face have come together as never before with a mushrooming of virtual events and exhibitions. This is all for the good. Virtual events are an efficient way to have targeted meetings and conversations and these events will continue to play a major role long after this pandemic is over. But printed communications – specifically net revenue-generating printed members directories and yearbooks – are also now being increasingly used by successful associations to square many circles. 

Just as printed books for consumers never disappeared after the arrival e-books, and are now thriving as never before, particularly over the last 12 months, so printed media in the B2B space are also coming back into their own.  Corporate marketers increasingly realise the value of giving their customers and prospects the opportunity to literally take ownership of their message – by touching it and feeling it. With less print being used nowadays, counter-intuitively what does get printed is even more effective, and lasts long after a once-looked at web or app page has disappeared from sight.

Printed media and marketing communications “sit with” the people who receive them, and are read, and reread over a long period of time, in ways that digital media (for all its benefits and other uses) rarely is. 

Highly Covid-secure member directories are not only a win-win for members… They are also a win-win for associations who have a powerful new communications tool – more often than not at zero cost, or even profit, to themselves”

Apart from giving members something that they overwhelmingly want, the key benefits for associations themselves of publishing a printed member directory include:

  • ‘Spring cleaning’ the association’s member database: Staying up to date with members’ business activities, changes in personnel, mergers and acquisitions and, sadly, even corporate failures, can be difficult. The process of publishing a printed members’ directory solves this issue by prompting members to update their profile information before a set print deadline each year, and means that as a result all your members’ data gets a thorough spring clean.
  • Enhancing the quality of an association’s online member directory: Associations can synchronise the member data published in their printed directory with the information on their online directory. The two directories can work together seamlessly and symbiotically, with updated member information published in print also being used online. What’s more, the printed directory can also be used to promote an association’s online directory, for instance with front page banners, house advertisements, and other editorial content.

Rupert Darrington is chairman of Publishing Events, a specialist provider of online and printed marketing media for member organisations. Clients include the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA), the Bureau of International Recyling  (BIR), RenewableUK, and Tourism South East. For more information, visit

  • Promoting the benefits of membership: Associations can use the front section of the member directory to remind their members in detail of all the benefits of membership, and how members can get more value out of their association.
  • Influencing government, regulators and other key stakeholders: Use the directory as a tool to drive the association’s cause by distributing it to key stakeholders, particularly in government and regulators. The directory can include agenda-setting editorial articles, such as “state of the nation” opinion pieces by leading industry figures, ‘positioning papers’ on regulatory issues, and critical industry data that promote the association’s “cause”.
  • Recruit new members – and renew more of the existing ones. Drive up your membership revenues by using the directory as a member recruitment and renewal tool. Companies are more likely join, or stay with, an association when they see that it is proactively – and very visibly – promoting its members to their target market by mailing it to all their customers, and (once the pandemic is over) handing it out to their target market at in-person events. 
  • A new stream of revenue for the association. Last, but not least, if a printed members directory is managed optimally to balance the commercial needs of members and the association – it can also provide a new and growing stream of net revenue for the association, even after taking account of the costs of association staff time, production and distribution. 

As non-profit “business community makers and shapers”, associations have huge cachet and power. And so does printed media. Put the two together, and associations have a winning formula.

Highly Covid-secure member directories are not only a win-win for members who have another tool to use to help them to reach out to customers and partners in ways that no other media can. They are also a win-win for associations who have a powerful new communications tool – more often than not at zero cost, or even profit, to themselves. 

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