Ten things to manage in a recession: 1 – memberships

My previous post about managing IT expenditure in a recession was focused on helping an architecture, engineering or construction (AEC) business reduce its day-to-day operational expenses. Deploying Software-as-a-Service solutions helps save money (that could then be invested in marketing or PR), and can give some competitive advantages and reputation benefits.

But that might not matter if the business is still under pressure to cut its marketing expenditure. I know several AEC firms where marketing is regarded as an easy target for cuts when times get tough – despite evidence that maintaining marketing spend in a recession can help businesses both weather the storm and rebuild more quickly when a recovery finally comes. So if you are a marketeer, what can you do to help your business survive (and – perhap more importantly – keep your job!)?

Perhaps we can look for some new angles on Ross Sturleys’ Ten Things to Cut in a Recession (as presented at last month’s CIMCIG conference and as delivered in Construction News marketing e-newsletters over the past few months). Over the next few days, I will be looking at each of Ross’s suggestions and seeing what can be done. First …

Number one: “Cut association memberships”
There is certainly scope within the construction industry to rationalise the number of professional institutions, trade bodies, special interest groups and miscellaneous ‘talking shops’ that cost money to join and eat up time in attending meetings, dinners, etc. As Ross says, some are very influential, serving an an amalgam of numerous smaller organisations or representing a wide spectrum of companies, but there are many that steadfastly refuse to countenance consolidation. But if you are looking to get better value from your association memberships what could you do? Here’s half a dozen suggestions….

  1. Get your association to enable and encourage online involvement. If you, your boss or your business absolutely must retain membership of a particular body, then put pressure on that institution to build online relationships with its members and other stakeholders. The Institution of Civil Engineers, for example, has created MyICE, an extranet for its members, including a members-only network, e-newsletter, membership management, online journal and an Ask Brunel! service. Some have gone a little further. The Royal Institute of British Architects, for example, has been experimenting with wikis (the RIBApedia) and with online knowledge communities that aren’t silo-ed off from the rest of the industry; similarly, some IT-savvy ICE members for example,  have been using the Ning platform to set up working groups that aren’t restricted to ICE members (even I’m a member of one of them!); and Constructing Excellence has discussion forums, RSS news, Twitter and a recently-launched blog. Is your association making a real effort to reach out to you, to engage with and represent you and to help you? Does it deliver value for money to you as a member, particularly in these increasingly cost-conscious times? Is it embracing Web 2.0 principles and looking to tap into the “wisdom of its crowd”, or is it simply looking for you to open your wallet?
  2. Look at low-cost alternatives to the big associations. Particularly for those interested in marketing and public relations, there are some very cost-effective niche membership organisations that are focused on people working in the construction sector. As you might expect, CIMCIG champion Ross argues that CIMCIG membership “is great value, and in no way worth cutting”, but there is also a similar network for PR professionals who are members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations: the Construction and Property Special Interest Group (CAPSIG), currently chaired by my friend Liz Male. While both bodies would very much like you to become full members of the parent institute, you can often still attend the events they organise, perhaps paying a little non-member surcharge. And for most of the past two decades, I have also been a PR member of International Building Press, run by Gerald Bowey – its meetings can be useful for PR people active in the construction and property markets to meet industry journalists as well as other PRs. Similarly, businesses don’t have to be full members of Constructing Excellence to enjoy networking opportunities at meetings of their local clubs (at the last count, there were more than 40 of them around the UK).
  3. Look at online networking groups and communities of practice. Away from the mainstream bricks-and-mortar construction institutions, there are a growing number of online opportunities for construction professionals to network with their peers. Within LinkedIn, for example, there are numerous construction-oriented groups (though many, particularly in the current economic climate, have become dominated by recruiters and people looking for jobs), and there are several AEC networks using Ning. With others, I helped establish the international AEC Web 2.0 network Be2camp on Ning last year and, following our lead, John Cave recently relaunched AECNetwork on the same system. In both cases, people can participate online and/or meet-up face-to-face (Be2camp held a London ‘unconference’ in October 2008 that successfully combined both, while AECNetwork runs regular network meetings at venues round the UK).
  4. Establish a new network, or a sub-network. If there is no existing online network or niche group within a membership organisation, or if you are discontented with the performance of a body you are currently associated with (AECNetwork was set up by people dissatisfied with the service provided by Ecademy), you could always start your own forum or group. Sometimes this may seem too extreme a step, so it can be useful to ‘test the water’ by setting up groups within existing networks – for example, within the Be2camp and AECnetwork communities there are smaller groups focused on particular topics or events (including one on Web 2.0 for construction marcoms that I set up).
  5. Build your own informal network. Many construction marketing and PR people are naturally gregarious with address books detailing numerous friends, colleagues and contacts that they keep in occasional touch with – maybe sending a Christmas card each year. Social networks such as LinkedIn, Bebo, Myspace or Facebook can be used to stay in regular contact (I have often learned of friends changing jobs through their Facebook pages before I get an email or telephone call from them) as can blogs and micro-blogging tools such as Twitter. And as with online groups (see 2. above), these don’t have to be purely online. For instance, you can use Facebook to manage invitations to social events, or use Twitter to arrange ‘Tweet-ups’ – a great way to meet friends and some of their circles of contacts (but, as with all social media, it pays to separate work and social life; beware of exposing too much of your non-work related activities to your professional circle!)
  6. Several, or all, of the above. The above suggestion are not mutually exclusive ideas. For different people in different professions in different organisations in different parts of the construction and property sectors, more than one of these strategies might be employed.

If you have any good (or bad) examples of how industry membership organisations have responded to the recession, or have used social media tools to build bridges with their members, please let me know.

Coming soon: Number two: “Cut meetings”

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