Is your organization’s publishing operation facing a slow, death spiral that feels like 10,000 paper cuts? As you look at your future, how does print — considered by many in your organization to be the old, out-of-date culprit — fit?

It fits better than you think, but you’ll have to approach it differently. And that may be the biggest challenge of all.

Content is not the problem in the vast majority of today’s association publishing world. The issue is finding ways to harness, corral, and monetize that content so it makes sense to your organization, your members, and the business community that supports your work. What is your unique take, and how will it benefit all of those groups across various platforms?

Even though these types of discussions are more common than they once were, it’s remarkable how elusive solutions are for many associations. After leaving my association, where the vast amount of my work was around developing and disseminating content, I have started looking at issues from the other side.

Recognizing everyone’s situation has unique traits, here are a few common threads I heard when talking to colleagues in the association community:

  • From the Communications/Publications/Media Department: Our members consistently tell us that our publication is our most valuable benefit. Why wouldn’t the vendor community want to support it?
  • From the Business Department: Print is expensive. It costs too much and we’re not seeing the benefits to help us pay for it. Everyone is going online. Why do we need print any more?
  • From almost everyone: Our organization is siloed/not as collaborative as we should be. Editorial/communications doesn’t talk to our exhibits and ad sales departments. We sell sponsorships in one area and advertising in the other, and they don’t work together as well as they should.
  • From the Business/Vendor Community: Branding is fine, but we want ROI, and we’re not willing to pay you unless we can find some way to get that.

Each thread has some truth. It’s how you work through the issues that will determine how print fares in your future plans. In my view, it starts by taking a hard and detached look at your internal practices, your infrastructure, and the business community’s view of your audience and your work.

An objective audit, conducted by someone from the outside with industry knowledge but no personal ties to your organization, can provide you with some insight and a road map for increasing publications and other non-dues revenue in a thoughtful, measured way. Through interviews with your association’s key staff, contributors, and past, current, and (potentially) future business partners, you can develop a look at what lies ahead for your organization.

It’s tempting, when an organization is in financial crisis, to take dramatic shortcuts to stop the bleeding. But without the proper data, cutting out print entirely to save on expenses is a shortsighted move. It also has the potential for a significant backlash from your members and vendor community.

Glenn Cook ( is an award-winning writer, editor, photographer and publishing/communications consultant whose work has been featured in numerous national publications. A member of the Association Media and Publishing board of directors from 2009 to 2012, you can see more of his work at

Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook

CEO/Founder at Cook Consultants — Writing, Photography, Editing, Communications Services

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