Strong economy poses unique challenges to Atlanta’s professional associations
By Guest Columnist KIMBERLY N. STRONG, MBA, president of Atlanta’s chapter of American Marketing Association
Looking toward West Midtown from Atlantic Station, the number of cranes dotting the Atlanta skyline speaks to the city’s economic vitality. More than a decade after the Great Recession, Atlanta has proven its resilience as a regional business hub that is adept at creating jobs. This accomplishment is undoubtedly worth celebrating, but it also comes with a risk: Passivity.
Ironically, an expanding economy such as the one we are experiencing right now can be a more difficult environment, in certain respects, for organizations such as the American Marketing Association’s Atlanta chapter, which is among the largest in the United States.
Often, people stop investing in themselves and their companies when jobs are easy to find and raises come around more often. As president of AMA Atlanta, I see this trend firsthand in the form of networking events where attendance dips and membership drives that are more challenging than in years past.
Other professional associations, I’ve learned, face similar challenges. Fortunately, AMA Atlanta has cultivated a large and engaged following over the years, so even a dip doesn’t negatively impact the organization too much. Other associations may not be in the same position.
In a down economy, people are more likely to be out networking, either scouring events for new business leads or looking for their next job (it’s the same reason professionals go back to school during economic downturns). In a strong economy, that motivation is harder to sustain. Small businesses and freelancers find it easier to track down new business – or they’re busy servicing the clients they already have – and most corporate workers are gainfully employed. Often, the first thing that drops down the list of priorities is professional development and networking.
It’s human nature to crave job security, better compensation and the peace of mind they provide. But the moments when success comes easily are also the best times to build one’s business, resume and network for the inevitable lean times ahead. When the economy slides, the opportunity to build genuine professional relationships can evaporate almost overnight.
They say the best time to look for a new job is when you’re already employed. This maxim can be applied to networking, too. The best time to network – whether to stay relevant in the job market or cultivate a pipeline of business leads – is when you don’t need an immediate favor from somebody.
Here are three reasons to stay engaged with your network of contacts and the professional associations that help to facilitate these meetings, even when business is strong and jobs are plentiful.
It’s not just about professional development
- People often have more time and financial flexibility to give back to others when they’re less stressed about their job. The events put on by professional associations, whether AMA Atlanta, the Public Relations Society of America, the International Association of Business Communicators or others, are a natural place to learn about needs in the community that align with one’s area of expertise.
- AMA Atlanta, for example, is launching an initiative this spring that will connect its members to nonprofit organizations in metro Atlanta that need a specific skillset to advance their mission. In the case of AMA, our members can provide strategic counsel on fundraising, message development and design that will help nonprofits lend a helping hand to those who haven’t been lifted by the city’s economic tide.
Organic professional development matters
- Professional development takes on various forms throughout one’s career. Traditionally, people think of it as a graduate degree, training program or workplace assignment that advances knowledge in a particular area and adds heft to their resumes. However, professional development can also happen organically through associations that expose individuals to creative ways of solving problems or new tools that are available to fix them.
- Conversations at associate events often revolve around work challenges as people share their struggles and offer solutions. The resulting “aha” moments are just as valuable as an official class or training program because they are tried-and-tested strategies developed in the trenches of running real businesses. As helpful as co-workers might be, everybody needs the perspective of peers from other companies or related industries, and this happens organically at association events.
Atlanta has a reputation to uphold
- At the risk of blowing our own horn, it is worth noting that Atlanta punches above its weight when it comes to professional associations – and we should all want to keep this reputation. AMA Atlanta has more members than AMA chapters in other cities that are much larger. The Public Relations Society of America’s Georgia chapter, I’m told, is also one of the largest in the country.
- These rankings are worth more than just bragging rights. They speak to the strength and motivation of the underlying workforce, which is arguably the most critical ingredient needed to continue attracting high-paying jobs and the companies that bring them to Atlanta.
Professional development is a lifelong process that shouldn’t take sabbaticals when the economy is strong. Atlanta’s professional associations are a crown jewel of this city, but it takes a community of members laboring in good times and downturns to keep them strong so we can pass them down to the next generation of business leaders.