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by Laurence Gration, CAE, KCSAE Secretary

As the new kid in (KCSAE) town I am ever so grateful for those in the group who have answered all my local knowledge questions. As this is the fourth job-related relocation, I can say from first-hand experience that this group has made my move to KC Society smoother than any previous. The toughest move being Sydney to Denver 25 years ago.

I am thus delighted to have the opportunity to reflect upon my experiences as a CEO in the ever-evolving field of marketing. As I reminisce about my early days in the 1980s, when I was asked to speak at an international conference of Association Executives, I am reminded of the profound changes that have taken place in our profession and the need for adaptation.

Back then, I was young and naive, unaware of the significance of organizations like ASAE, who were present in the audience, let alone dream I would ever even visit KC. The topic of my speech was marketing, which, at the time, was a subject of great interest to me. Interestingly, I had climbed the ranks of nonprofit organizations through the legal department, despite holding a Bachelor's degree in communications.

In front of a predominantly male audience, I boldly asserted that the 5 Ps of marketing were no longer Product, Price, Placement, Promotion, and People, but rather People, People, People, People, People. Looking back now, after almost four decades, I must admit that I have both proved myself right and wrong in this regard, considering my extensive work in the Association market across the Pacific and the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, regardless of the accuracy of my assertion in 2023, innovation is one thing I have discovered to be of utmost importance. More than simply relying on past management practices and associated successes is required. Gone are the days when adding regular member discounts and benefits, such as cheap car rentals, hotels, and stationery, would guarantee success in marketing efforts. I learned this lesson through firsthand experience, as those tactics seldom produced the desired results.

In the 1990s, while working at a trade association, we decided to purchase a modem for every member business and created one of the first online newsletters. This innovative approach helped us attract new members, and within a couple of years, we experienced exponential growth and gained a strong and loyal following. We were perceived as leaders and innovators in the industry. However, considering the obsolescence of dial-up modems, I cannot recommend this particular idea in the present day.

Moving into the 2000s, we developed what we still believe to be the first fully online integrated training and certification program. This initiative allowed us to reach a global audience and share US-style training with anyone interested. The timing and placement were perfect, especially considering the aftermath of Y2K, and being associated with the Disaster Recovery Institute. In just a few years, we expanded our programs to cater to various countries, and that Placement allowed growth to continue unabated.

In the 2010s, we witnessed the power of innovation and Promotion as a small trade association managed to influence Congress. By collaborating with larger associations in the same field, we incorporated a piece of preferred legislation into a larger proposal. Through arduous efforts, we managed to pass this legislation in the House, allowing others to claim credit while appreciating that our members emerged victorious. Thanks to strategic Promotion, our industry knew about our behind-the-scenes contributions, although we refrained from boasting. As a result, our membership and organization thrived.

For those familiar with my recent endeavors in the 2020s, you understand that my current position is outside trade or professional societies and thus entails unique challenges. While we have added benefits like cheap car rentals to attract members, we have also sought opportunities elsewhere. Recognizing our aging membership, we joined forces with a will-writing service, providing our members with a free legal will. And, not so remarkably, every member who has utilized this service has left a generous bequest to the Society.

Additionally, those who have visited our Home Office have witnessed the tremendous growth of our organization, with an extensive collection of over 500,000 pieces of old truck literature and a continually expanding Visitors Center. Despite declining membership numbers, our organization remains stronger and healthier than ever before. Non-dues income has surged from 38% to 52%, and we consistently achieve record-breaking numbers, even during the challenging times of the pandemic. We have embraced the mantra of "Come for the trucks, but stay for the people." As we are a Society of people, not one of old trucks.

As I passionately convey to anyone who will listen, it is vital to recognize that the people, not the trucks, sustain our organization. While more than striving for Australian-style customer satisfaction may be required to drive member engagement to new heights, we must reiterate the importance of marketing focused on People, People, People, People, People.

Thank you for your attention, and I hope that my reflections have provided valuable insights into the ever-changing landscape of marketing and the significance of embracing innovation while prioritizing human connections.


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