How should association communicators balance the needs of their business, the priorities of their organization’s leaders and the resources at their disposal? Who are their audiences, and what do they need in their lives as members – or prospective members? And what matters most when it comes time to measure success?
Those are the types of questions we were asking at The Ohio Society of CPAs as we thought about our content. We wanted to know:
- What content we should create and distribute.
- Who should consume it.
- How they would consume it.
- How to measure value and success.
- How to identify things we should stop doing.
That’s an important and complex discussion even if we were to stop there. But we’re also living in a world of swift and constant change, not only for our members in the accounting profession but for us in the communication business. As the OSCPA content team discussed our strategy, we realized we could take the time to develop a list of specific to-dos for the next 3-5 years. But we understood there was a strong chance our plan could be obsolete or worn away by sudden events or changed minds before we reached the end. We did not want to relitigate our strategy again in a year or two. Instead, we needed something that would continue to guide us through those very times that make planning difficult: when the world evolves and organizational priorities shift. Something, as we said at the time, that we could frame and hang on the wall like the Pledge of Allegiance.
Of course, you do need to get specific things done, and we’re fortunate at OSCPA to have a systematic way to do it. That’s our “plan of work,” an organization-wide structure we began using around 2015 to prioritize and coordinate efforts based on the direction of our executive board. The plan, which is updated annually, details strategic priorities, the steps needed to achieve them and the responsible staff and volunteers. It guides our planning and helps us prepare our annual operating budget.
The plan of work also removes the burden of including our to-do list in our departmental strategy, allowing it to instead be a stabilizing force over time. So, we created a content strategy intended to be a nimble, adaptable framework to inform the things our communications department is doing within the plan of work. The intent was to provide objectives we can turn to each year, in conjunction with the directives we receive from the executive board and CEO.
It consists of four goals, each of which is supported by a list of objectives. In summary:
Support strategic objectives. This is about alignment. We need to make sure what we’re doing is tied to the strategic priorities identified annually (or sometimes more frequently) by the board and CEO. Our measurements are based on the organizational objectives, for example: growth in membership, revenue, audiences or engagement.
Communicate and provide value to our audiences. This is about providing knowledge on two levels. First, we provide content members need to be effective in their jobs. Second, we give members information about our organization itself; how they benefit by being members, learning opportunities we offer and ways they can further engage with the accounting profession.
Demonstrate thought leadership by serving as an authoritative, influential voice for the accounting profession. This ties closely to our organization’s strategic initiative of advocacy for the accounting profession. Listening is an important part, as we need to keep tabs on the important issues CPAs care about, as well as the ones they aren’t concerned about yet, but should be. We also need to think differently and find opportunities to stand out by offering information and opinion that contrasts with the status quo.
Drive member discussion and engagement, which may include prompting people or groups to action. This ties to our strategic initiative of community and speaks to our need to foster community by providing a framework and forum for members to connect with one another and benefit from those connections.
This strategy has served us well, and it remains a work in progress. Though we’re still implementing some ideas we had when we wrote it, we’ve remained aligned within our organization, we’re aiming at our goals and we continue to make progress. We’ve tweaked it over the years and remain open to changes, but knowing our direction has made it easier for us to concentrate on the work of serving our organization and members’ needs.