PR’s Top Pros Talk…Associations – Jennifer Curley
Jennifer Curley, President & CEO, Curley Company
Jennifer Curley, President & CEO, Curley Company, discusses how associations had to navigate the challenges of hosting events as a result of the pandemic. She emphasizes the importance for associations to provide member value. Jennifer also goes into how the agency helped their clients to be nimble in the current dynamic environment.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: JENNIFER CURLEY
DOUG: As publisher of the Association 100, you’re really on top of the changes of an industry that’s been hugely impacted, but still at its core is providing member value. What have you seen? What are some of the trends you’re seeing, and how are they going about doing that?
JENNIFER: Let me start by telling you a little bit about the Association 100. And what we do is we interviewed CEOs from industries all across the spectrum, whether it be climate, or financial services, or manufacturing. And we talk to these CEOs about what they’re seeing is what’s new, what’s next, what’s working in associations. And we’ve got a lot of intel from this. And then we send out this information to 25,000 association leaders all across the country as really a way to kind of tell the stories of what’s happening in the industry.
DOUG: And you work with a lot of associations involved with events, the Consumer Technology Association among them. What were some of the lessons that they’ve learned on putting on both a virtual event and then going back to perhaps a hybrid model, because that was a huge annual event that we’ve had the good fortune of being at many times.
JENNIFER: Right, so CTA was challenged, obviously, with COVID. They couldn’t have done a normal CES. And what they did is they went all virtual last year, and we helped them with the communications around that. And they found it worked, it really did. For the time we’re in, it really worked, and they were able to provide the member value they wanted to. Now, as they look to next year, they’re thinking about hybrid and thinking of ways they can keep some of the things that they liked about it. Some of the sessions where really they had a lot more participation because people could just Zoom in versus flying to Las Vegas. There were some benefits to it, but they also love the camaraderie and the networking and some of the things you cannot get and some of the demonstrations of some of the products that they’re representing are members of the CTA, you want to have some of that be live. So, they’re going to really think about evolving into a hybrid model for next year. And we’re seeing a lot of trends in that space where people did pull it off, associations pulled it off this year in a remote situation, but they’re looking to see how they can come back to either full in person or some sort of hybrid.
DOUG: Yeah, and it’s really how do you take the best of both worlds and integrate things together? You talk a lot about the importance of member value, and that’s critical with associations. What are some of the distinctive ways that you’ve seen associations doing that? And after this, we can move on to changes with the Biden administration. But for now, what are some distinctive ways associations have increased member value during these challenging times?
JENNIFER: Well, first of all, advocacy is always important. Second thing that we’re seeing as a trend really is diversity, equity inclusion and some of the social justice issues. And really where member companies are looking for their associations, again, these are associations across the spectrum, whether it be agriculture, one of our clients is in the agriculture space, and they’ve put together an agricultural DE&I working group with panelists from both D.C. and from their member companies to talk about hiring an agricultural space when it comes to diversity. So, I think there’s a lot of ways where associations are really, really stepping up when it comes to social responsibility issues. And we’re seeing that as a big trend this year.
DOUG: As I talk to these leaders like yourself in the public relations and communications field, one of the key trends is how PR has really become more important. It’s even pushed up the food chain with the CEOs of organizations are generating more interest. Is the same type of thing happening with associations where they’re becoming more critically important, or their members feel like we need to go it alone? How is that playing out, and how are you strategizing for that?
JENNIFER: I think they are as important as ever is what I would say, there’s definitely a role. Because if companies are looking for their associations when it comes again to the advocacy issues, when they’re looking at what Congress is doing, and there’s a lot happening in Congress right now. There’s a lot happening in the advocacy space. So, I think these association leaders really have a role to play, and they’ve carried a lot of water for their members in some of these issues.
DOUG: Yeah, and you touched on Congress, obviously, with the change in administration and one party even having slight majorities in both houses of Congress, the significant potential for more things to happen. So, there’s more of an important role for advocacy. How do Association’s best to handle that process?
JENNIFER: Well, change is the key word here, and it’s not just associations, all of our corporate clients are managing this too. Everyone we know is managing it because every issue is on the table, whether it’s climate change, or infrastructure, or healthcare, technology. Every sector has got a play right now when it comes to Washington. And that’s both, again, with the White House changing and Congress. So, everything’s on the table.
DOUG: That’s great. And one of the things associations have not historically known for being nimble, if I can put it mildly. It’s difficult because they’ve got all the members that they need to agree, and of course, you have different factions and different scenarios within that. As a smaller PR agency, you’ve been able to pride yourself on being extremely nimble. And I don’t know if I’m making up a word, but how do you bring that nimbleness to these associations, that have members that can have such different perspectives and needs and have been affected so dramatically differently based on what’s going on with both the pandemic and social justice issues?
JENNIFER: Well, I think as a small agency, that’s one of our strengths, is we’re able to pivot quickly as we needed to. And that’s partly why we were so successful during COVID last year, is because the whole world was changing daily, hourly some days. We had to move where the context where the climate around you was moving. So, we were really impactful in doing that and effective. And what we found is we were able to have our clients do that as well because they had to. So, associations where you still do have a lot of member input and you still have a lot of people who need to weigh in on a position or an issue area, but they don’t have the luxury of the time that they did before because D.C. is moving so fast. The Biden administration is moving very fast to get their agenda done. And so, you just don’t have the luxury of as much time as you did. We just got approached by one of our association clients on a campaign that we’re starting right now, and they want us to start May 1st because the Biden administration is going to tackle their issue. So, we’re up and running because we have to be. And normally this might take months to get up and running, but they’re really adapting because they have to.
DOUG: We’ve seen on the corporate side a significant increase in having their leadership get out on TV, get out in local markets, which has been helpful to our core business of doing satellite media tours. Are you seeing some of the same trends in the association space where the members really want the leadership out there pushing and promoting their messages?
JENNIFER: 100%. So, what’s happening is both in the corporate and the association world, it’s the trust factor. You’re reading the same news that I’m reading, and the country is divided, there’s a lot of lack of trust in government. So, businesses and CEOs and leaders of associations are all stepping up right now to fill that void.
DOUG: Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing your great insights and advice with our viewers
JENNIFER: Thanks for having me.