How the Public Affairs Council Doubled Engagement During Member Onboarding

Associations, Communications Strategy, Customer Stories // Find out how the Public Affairs Council re-created their member onboarding process and saved time, all while doubling engagement.

Beth Arritt
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How do you onboard new members? Do you send a welcome email with all the resources and benefits available? That’s a good start. You’re proud of your member benefits, and you want to reassure members they’ve done the right thing by joining.

But then what? Your members will probably open that email and skim the contents, but they likely won’t return to reread it with all the other noise in their inbox. You’ve lost a great opportunity to nurture them throughout their first few months (or even first year) of membership.

This is the classic “kitchen sink” problem experienced by many associations, including the Public Affairs Council. The Public Affairs Council is a trade organization for public affairs professionals made up of over 700 members, from small organizations to Fortune 500 companies.

Helen Taylor, digital marketing manager at the Public Affairs Council, joined us on our podcast, the Member Engagement Show, to tell us all about how they addressed this challenge, and how they revitalized the member onboarding experience. Read their story below.

How the Public Affairs Council Doubled Their Engagement with Innovative New Member Onboarding

Find out how Helen and the Public Affairs Council approached this widespread challenge of maintaining benefit awareness throughout the membership journey.

The Problem

The Public Affairs Council’s membership team knew they had to make onboarding more strategic if they wanted members to renew year after year. Previously, the membership team would set up individual sessions with new member companies to introduce them to the organization and membership benefits. It took up a lot of time and was overwhelming for everyone. But they still wanted to get members enthused and participating during their first few months of membership.

The Idea

To accomplish their goals in an efficient, effective way, Helen and the membership team decided to test out an automated onboarding campaign. They decided to film videos about their member benefits, each featuring a staff member. Helen and the team used the videos to build out a series of emails in a campaign that would go to members over 13 weeks. Helen used Higher Logic’s marketing software to automate the campaign, so that she could build everything once at the beginning, then watch it go out.

It took time, collaboration, and creativity to build this campaign, but once that work was done, Helen could create the campaign, test it, and launch it. Once done, it has become the gift that keeps on giving.

The Results

Helen and the team have seen great results so far.

  • They’ve seen 36% open rate and 12% click rate, doubling their engagement for normal marketing emails.
  • The membership team has saved hours of time with the new onboarding process. They’ll still reach out to see if members have any questions when they finish the campaign, but they no longer have to arrange sessions for each new company.
  • 53 of the 56 new member organizations have taken advantage of benefits since the campaign’s launch! That’s a 95% success rate.
  • New member organizations say they love the smaller bites and being able to go back to the videos when they have questions.

“It’s a lot cheaper in the long run for us to invest in this now than for us to try to recruit and get new members constantly. If we can get these members using their benefits and finding value at the onset, they’re going to stay members.”

Helen Taylor, Digital Marketing Manager, Public Affairs Council

These results show the power of combining bite-sized content with a slow stream of communication to onboard new members. The membership team also has hours of their time back – which has become an even more important commodity during the era of the Great Resignation. And the effect of obvious value on member retention is its own return on investment.

Bonus: Video tips from the team

If you’d like to try this yourself, here are some tips from Helen and the team to film your own onboarding campaign videos. Helen will be the first to tell you the videos weren’t slick or expensive, but she thinks that played to their advantage. All videos were recorded in-house over Zoom. This made members feel like they were having comfortable, informal sessions with knowledgeable staffers. It also made staff appear more approachable for members who had any follow-up questions. And, of course, with video, members can always go back and rewatch.

Their Future Plans

Helen would now like to tie the onboarding drip campaign into a renewal campaign. With Higher Logic’s transactional messaging, the Public Affairs Council can attach invoices, so after they remind members of all the benefits they’ve enjoyed with another campaign, members can able to quickly and easily renew when the time comes.

A Season of Opportunity for Association Innovation

Association communicators should always be thinking about, “How can we make this work better for our members?” Helen and the membership team at the Public Affairs Council saw something that could be done better, prioritized their commitment to being more useful to members, and invested in a new way of doing things that’s creating big returns. She believes now might be just the right climate for everyone to think in new directions as the post-pandemic world calls for agility and innovation.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Beth Arritt

Association Strategist

Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.

In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.

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