By Guest Columnist JESSICA DUPEE, president, American Marketing Assoc., Atlanta
This time last year, there was cautious optimism that the new year – 2021 – would bring a return to normalcy thanks to vaccines and Covid-19 therapies on the cusp of widespread adoption (not to mention natural immunity). That hopefulness ebbed and flowed throughout the year, but the Delta and Omicron variants arguably put to bed the notion that, over the near term, we would simply move on from Covid-19.
Obvious as it may be, this preamble is important because it represents the posture that many organizations and businesses took as the pandemic evolved over the course of 2020. “Wait and see” was the name of the game as leaders hunkered down to assess the advisability of in-office work and in-person events. Everybody was asking, “When are things going back to normal?”
“Normal” had been good to the American Marketing Association’s Atlanta chapter. As one of Atlanta’s premier business associations, we attracted Atlanta’s business elite as speakers and packed out banquet halls across Atlanta. Like other business associations, both our identity and budget were tied to in-person events. We quickly and successfully pivoted to virtual events in 2020, but we were still analyzing – as marketers do – who we wanted to be as Covid adjustments like work-from-home became permanent. Other business associations were doing the same, testing every possible configuration to determine what worked for their members.
Business associations are critical to the health of Atlanta, and while they get less credit than they deserve, they are an indispensable piece of the infrastructure that makes Atlanta a magnet for Fortune 500 companies looking for talent – and a launching pad for startups. We are the connective tissue that maintains a discourse within the different industries, from marketing to public relations, technology, financial services, homebuilders and many more.
Like other business associations, passing the organization down to the next generation of marketers as a vibrant and adaptable entity was the North Star for AMA Atlanta throughout Covid-19. This mindset helped us evolve in important ways that may be helpful to other business associations grappling with the same issues. Here are three ways we’re thinking about our organization differently:
- Meet people where they are. Yes, AMA Atlanta will continue to have intown events and happy hours to help marketers build connections. However, our model will shift toward curating more events closer to where people are working – their homes. If someone works from home 50 to 100 percent of the time, it’s highly unlikely they will drive into town for a lunch time event. In the afternoon, traffic becomes a factor. Networking events and happy hours will start popping up throughout metro Atlanta, not just along the Peachtree corridor.
- Diversify and digitize programming. As networking events are re-invented, many will emerge as “digital first” events focused on education and professional growth. Lunch-and-learns with a built-in networking portion won’t go away, but more time will be spent delivering dynamic events that deliver real value by upskilling participants. In the future, there may be the opportunity to credential some of these events so that participants can earn a certification, similar to what one might receive for a continuing education course.
- Develop more partnerships and fewer sponsorships. Covid-19 was financially disruptive to many industries, but it hit nonprofits particularly hard. The stress of the last few years has forced many organizations to be more creative, partnering with organizations where there are opportunities for mutual benefit. For example, AMA might partner with a staffing agency focused on creatives in order to both attract members (writers and creators, for example) and help these individuals get connected with new engagements. This is just one example.
Asking when we’re returning to normal hasn’t crossed the minds of AMA Atlanta’s board members in a long time. Instead, we’re singularly focused on getting ahead of the “new normal,” bobbing and weaving with the variant punches as we deconstruct old ways of doing things and design a modern business association.
Atlanta needs its business associations to continue thriving in the new normal. Adapting to how and where people work is critically important if we are all to continue serving our members, the business community, and the future members who need us to build lifelong careers right here in our great city.