Should unions consider investing in their magazines and journals?
The answer is “probably”.
A few months ago, I wrote a long newsletter about “sticky unions
”. The point of that newsletter was to highlight some of the activities and tactics to improve retention for your union.
That issue mainly focused on social activities as the way to improve “stickiness”.
But there’s another thing your union can do to increase retention: develop engaging content that your members find interesting and value.
This is obviously easier said than done.
The media industry is grappling with its own revenue crisis, and most major media companies are caught in an income death-spiral due to the collapse in traditional advertising. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that this industry is one worth imitating.
Nonetheless, very large membership organisations have invested significantly in content development.
The way that this content makes the membership organisation “sticky” is that enable the organisation to become more relevant to the member’s life (rather than make the member more engaged in the organisation’s activities).
The magazines and podcasts become a tangible benefit of membership, and because they’re “lifestyle” focused (rather than issue focused), as well as professionally produced by editors, writers and designers, they stand up to other media organisations’ content.
Ultimately, this helps ensure that the member builds a habit of engaging with the organisation. Members actively choose to read the publications from the AARP or NRA. In fact, they drive re-subscriptions.
Once they’ve built their media/content platforms, these large organisations can use them to deeply influence their membership base. For example, most AARP magazine issues have the general “lifestyle” content that you’d expect for a boomer-targeted 60+ audience. But at key times, the AARP pushes beyond lifestyle to powerfully shape the views of members on issues like Medicare/health care. Because they’ve built trust with their members, and members are habitually reading their content, the issue-based content is more effective.
The most striking example of a media platform strategy comes from AARP, whose magazine’s circulation is three times larger than the next largest US publication’s. A lifestyle magazine with multiple versions targeted at various senior demographics, including a Spanish version, AARP The Magazine
is a potent mechanism for AARP to influence its members on cultural and policy issues. The magazine is seen as a highly valuable member benefit: I was amazed by the number of AARP members who told me that AARP The Magazine
, with its stories about senior health and wellness, over-50 celebrities, and world travel tips, was the primary reason they renewed their membership year after year. (Secret of Scale
It’s also worth remembering that 5+ decades ago, unions ran widely distributed newspapers, as well as radio stations. These newspapers and radio stations were run like the media outlets of the time, but over the years were sold off or closed down.
This takes me back to my earlier question: should unions run a magazine? Would members read it?
My answer was: probably.
Investing in the kind of content/media infrastructure that the RACV or AARP has is a big one, with no guarantees of returns.
If your union is relatively small, then an investment in a professionally produced/written magazine probably isn’t worth it.
But for larger branches, or for national unions, I’d definitely suggest that you take a second look at your magazine.