Empowered by Association

The case for professional membership orgs in a LinkedIn age.

By Greg Swan

If you're a marketIng professional in Minnesota, it's likely you're familiar with at least some of the following sets of letters: MIMA, PRSA, AMA, BMA, IABC, Ad Fed, MWMC, MDMA, AIGA and other nonsensical acronyms. In a world of tweet-ups, blogs and unconferences, the idea of paying dues to an organization and trudging out to hotel ballroom to sip lukewarm coffee and listen to an "expert" read off PowerPoint slides can seem old-fashioned.

Perhaps that's because many of these organizations are, in fact, ancient. The American Marketing Association (AMA) was established in 1937. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) was founded in 1947. The Advertising Federation of Minnesota (Ad Fed), first known as the Minneapolis Publicity Club, was created 106 years ago. That's right, a century ago.

A recent college grad could argue that a well- designed LinkedIn profile and active social media presence, matched with a good online reading list, could accomplish the same mission as these IRL orgs. It's 2012; do we really have to pay for professional development and peer networking?

Our local association leaders think we do, and they believe in-person networking builds deeper and more lasting connections. "In a socially networked culture you can learn a lot all by yourself and interact in different ways," says Tim Brunelle, president of Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA). "But these actions do not replace face-to-face engagement."

"While social media and e-mail make it easy to communicate, people still find value in meeting in person," agrees Brant Skogrand, president of the Minnesota Chapter of PRSA. "Professional membership organizations are a perfect way to broaden one's horizons, connect with others on a human level and associate a name with a face."

"I don't believe face-to-face networking will ever be replaced," says Jen Joly, president of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). "And while there are many opportunities to network outside of being a part of a professional association (many of them free), in my experience, the caliber of the crowd and the value of the relationships built have been much higher in my association networking than outside it."

membership duesAlthough in-person events are priorities for all of these organizations, their online footprints are equally important. From websites and newsletters sharing the latest trends to social footprints, like Facebook pages, members-only LinkedIn groups and monthly Twitter chats, these groups empower their members to use a mix of today's marketing toolkit to engage, learn and network.

"We don't see online networking and offline professional association interactions as mutually exclusive," agrees Sara Payne, Past- President for Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications (MWMC). "Professionals today must balance being well-networked both online and offline. Today, they must co-exist."

Beyond the tools, professional organizations offer things you can't get from Mashable or hitting a local tweet-up: accreditation, mentoring programs, thought leadership publications and volunteer opportunities.

"Ultimately, members get the most value when they make an effort to put those association dues to work," says Ann Kline, president of AMA. "A professional association membership is similar to a gym membership; you only get out of it what you put in."


Advertising Federation of Minnesota (Ad Fed):

American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA):

American Marketing Association (AMA):

Business Marketing Association (BMA):

International Association of Business Communicators (IABC):

Midwest Direct Marketing Association (MDMA):

Minnesota Search Engine Marketing Association (MnSearch):

Minnesota Women in Marketing Communications (MWMC):

Public Relations Society of America (PRSA):