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Groups try new ways to reach members

CompTIA targets career changers, AAAE serves “blue shirts;” Online discussion groups and one-click advocacy campaigns can work

Watch the Webcast recorded on March 9, 2021

A visit to a nearby airport served as a lightbulb moment for the American Association of Airport Executives.

“We got this great insight back from some of the folks at the airport, who said … ‘We didn’t know you did all of this stuff. We thought AAAE … was really for the white shirts in our organization, the professionals, the executives, not necessarily the blue shirts in our organization, the maintenance folks, the technicians,’” AAAE CEO Todd Hauptli said.

As a result, the Alexandria, Va.-based association “started looking more broadly at the kinds of products and services that we could offer, and that helped us grow the membership base,” Hauptli said.

Associations are rethinking the pool of potential members and are revamping old ways of reaching them, especially since the pandemic upended the old ways of doing things one year ago.

Three CEOs shared approaches that have worked for them during the March 9 CEO Update LIVE webcast on expanding membership during the pandemic and into the future.

In addition to Hauptli, panelists included Ann Battrell, CEO of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of CompTIA (Computer Technology Industry Association). CEO Update Editor-in-Chief Lynn McNutt moderated the webinar.

When dental hygienists were furloughed or laid off early in the pandemic, “they were coming to us for clear and direct information,” Battrell said. “We saw very quickly we had to give them an opportunity to have a voice.”

Chicago-based ADHA conducted advocacy campaigns in which people could “communicate with their governors in one simple click,” Battrell said. At the same time, the association offered some discounts on dues. ADHA brought in 2,200 new members in a three-month period.

“What we found was that that discount had to be tied to an advocacy campaign,” Battrell said. “And it was a … two-for-one kind of thing, so they joined immediately on the spot when they found value.”

Before COVID-19, the individuals who came to CompTIA for education and certification were mostly those who were certain about pursuing a tech career, Thibodeaux said.

But pandemic-related job losses have caused more people from other fields to consider careers in technology, which has created a new category of potential consumers of CompTIA’s offerings.

“We want to make sure we’re reaching them where they are with the messaging that they need. We have to educate them,” Thibodeaux said. “We need to understand them better. And we need to make sure that we’re using the right platforms, tools and technologies and approaches to find these people.”

CompTIA, which is based outside Chicago, did a “total review” of its digital marketing strategy, including paid searches.

“When we (used) the phrase ‘I hate my job,’ we actually found a pretty big influx of people,” Thibodeaux said.

After Zoom fatigue quickly se<>t in a year ago, CompTIA decided to give people places to discuss the “things that were most interesting to them,” Thibodeaux said.

The association launched “technology interest groups,” which are online forums centered on topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, drones, blockchain and advancing women in technology.

CompTIA has about 2,000 business members, as well as professional members and more than 200,000 registered users. The group’s existing communities and councils always drew executives and people in sales and marketing. But the interest groups allowed the association “to reach down to a different se<>t of people within the organizations,” including in engineering and product development, Thibodeaux said.

For such online forums to work, they need leaders with industry stature and a large network, he said.

“If you find the right person … then their credibility brings along some of the other people. Their energy brings along the excitement and discussion.”

CompTIA closely moderates each group and requires all participants to sign a code of conduct, which outlines good behavior and includes precautions against saying anything that might violate antitrust laws aimed at keeping the marketplace competitive.

Tips for planning in-person, virtual events

The hygienists’ group is planning an in-person annual conference for June in Phoenix, with a virtual conference 10 days later. Battrell emphasized that traveling to the venue to assess safety protocols was critical to making the decision.

“At the end of the meeting, they said to me, ‘Is there any one thing we could do to help your board feel safe in the city of Phoenix?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you need to do a video. You need to speak to my board. I can talk to them all day long, but they need a video to see what you have done in the city, in the convention center and in the hotels,’” Battrell said.

The video showing health and safety measures “made all the difference for the board to say, ‘We are ready to go,’” she said.

Hauptli is hoping about 1,000 people will attend AAAE’s annual conference and exposition in July in Las Vegas, although he said it may be fall before face-to-face meetings really make a comeback. AAAE is also offering a virtual attendance option for the conference.

Thibodeaux expects events will initially return in hybrid form, with small, regional, in-person components. CompTIA was holding virtual events before the pandemic. His tips for successful virtual meetings include:

—Spread events over several days. “It’s actually easier for them to schedule for that than trying to block out an entire day,” he said.

—Cap sessions at 30 to 45 minutes;

—Limit panelists to two or three panelists per session, and ask them to skip slideshow presentations and get right to the discussion with Q&A.

“I think that’s much more engaging and creates much more of a back and forth between the individuals,” Thibodeaux said;

—Designate an online place where people can pick up reports and other materials that panelists shared.

Battrell said one of the best things from ADHA’s virtual meeting was a corporate-sponsored lounge.

“People would leave a … session and go into the lounge and start engaging in conversations there. So we got immediate feedback on the whole virtual event in the lounge,” she said.


Recorded March 9, 2021


Ann Battrell

CEO, American Dental Hygienists' Association

Todd Hauptli

CEO, American Association of Airport Executives

Todd Thibodeaux


Lynn McNutt

Editor-in-Chief, CEO Update

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