Editor’s Note: Michelle Nielsen, Senior Research Associate, Ketchum, is previewing Dr. David Rockland’s session, Strategic Ingredients: Inspiration and Innovation, which will be presented at the PRSA 2014 International Conference on Sunday, Oct. 12, from 3–4:15 p.m. The following is a guest post previewing the session.
Ketchum Global Research & Analytics has conducted PRSA’s Membership Study since 2008, testing concepts related to member satisfaction, likelihood to renew and perceived value of various products/services – with the ultimate goal of uncovering drivers of sustained membership and growth. In recent years, PRSA has been challenged with a declining membership pool, so our research set out to understand what appeals most to members from an educational/resource and industry organization perspective to ultimately offer solutions for maintaining PRSA’s strength in the years ahead.
In this year’s study, we saw a pattern in demographics that revealed an interesting predicament for PRSA: as Boomers leave the workforce and retire, they are being replaced in PRSA – albeit not as rapidly – with younger Millennial members. To put the age differences into perspective, in our 2011 study Boomers outweighed Millennials 45% to 27% of total membership – that ratio in 2014 was 29% Boomers to 32% Millennials – a gap which is only expected to increase in favor of the Millennial crowd. With this shift, we’ve seen a change in what members value, revealing an opportunity for PRSA to hone-in on what these younger, less-tenured members look for in PRSA to help maintain its membership pool.
We first dug into the data for insight on the aspects of PRSA that appeal most to members – young and old – to help determine what will attract and maintain members in the upcoming years. To do this, our research started broadly by looking at the overarching attributes and values members look for in PRSA, and ultimately found that:
Members are most likely to express satisfaction and renew membership if they view PRSA as having two key qualities: (1) inspiring and (2) innovative.
Thinking closely about these terms, however, we felt there was much left to interpretation. What do inspiration and innovation really mean in the context of a membership organization? How can PRSA best address these two areas to increase member satisfaction and raise renewal rates?
To get at that answer, we looked at survey respondents who found PRSA particularly inspirational and innovative (in the survey, those who rated PRSA highly on these values), focusing on the products, services and professional development areas valued most among this group. This approach helped provide insight into the areas on which PRSA should focus resources and efforts to most effectively redirect declining membership rates.
As an example of findings, our data suggested that widely-used and accessible online tools provide the strongest value among this group relative to other PRSA products – 92% of those who found PRSA innovative and inspirational said PRSA’s website was valuable, versus 71% of total respondents. This group also found webinars more useful than all members (87% vs. 70%).
In terms of professional development, inspiration and innovation were often connected to PRSA offering programs specifically around social media and strategic planning. Also high on the list were media relations and measurement and evaluation. Conversely, those who found PRSA inspirational and innovative found less value in learning about sustainability/corporate social responsibility and multicultural communications, suggesting that while diversity of programs may appeal to some, many current and prospective members were more interested in what may apply directly to their job.
To me personally – a Millennial just a few years out of college – inspiration and innovation translate to PRSA offering personal development areas on integrated, technology-based approaches for clients. I feel the industry is moving towards cross-functional coordination that brings together creative and analytics minds, helping to spur inspiring and innovative ideas and solutions organically. This view matches a key finding in our research: four in five members feel PRSA should offer educational programs around integrated marketing communications. This area beats out more traditional PR areas like campaign planning, content creation, pitching media and creating press releases in terms of member interest.
Overall, our research revealed a need to revamp current approaches to modernize PRSA and better appeal to members from a thought-leadership, industry-leading perspective. As we look forward to the organization in the next 3-5 years – now with a clearer understanding of the current demographic landscape and challenges – it will become essential to offer and promote the professional development and educational programs members find inspiring and innovative to best maintain PRSA’s strength as a the top PR membership organization.