Strategic vs. Tactical Publishing

Strategic vs. Tactical Association Publishing

The main difference between publishing strategies and tactics is that a strategy is what you want to do, while a tactic is how you do it.

As a publishing consultant, my goal is not simply to help you create a better-looking newsletter or magazine. It’s to help you create a better-performing publication, or one that helps you meet a wide variety of your association’s strategic goals.

Strategic vs. Tactical Consultants
Don’t be fooled by someone who tells you that creating a “professional-looking” newsletter or magazine is a strategy, making general statements such as, “A high-quality publication will impress your stakeholders and improve your image, helping you meet your goals!”

To understand the difference between strategic and tactical publishing, read the case studies for TennisProGeorgia Defense Lawyer and Professional Pet Sitter. Without using significant resources, you can create a newsletter or magazine that proactively and specifically helps you meet your membership, revenue, attendance, public-awareness and lobbying needs.

To do this, your publication obviously needs an attractive, professional design. It needs high-quality editorial. It needs to mail on time. It needs to meet your budget. But all of these goals come after you make sure you address your primary association-wide goals for your publication.

Planning vs. Execution
The most successful associations have a marketing-focused communications strategy, rather than a group of loosely connected communications tactics such as brochures, social media sites, a newsletter or magazine and print and website ads. This is the difference between front-end marketing (research and planning) and back-end marketing communications (PR, advertising, social media and promotions). Every communications piece created by top trade associations fits into their overall marketing strategy.

The Digital (Tactical) Mistake
Many associations began converting their publications to digital formats during the 1990s, greatly reducing their printing and mailing expenses. Looking at an association newsletter or magazine as its own cost- or profit-center, this made sense. However, by failing to recognize and understand the strategic value of a publication to an association, many, many organizations did irreparable long-term damage to themselves by making the move to digital. You’ll learn why during an engagement with APE.

What’s your Need?
If you know the exact potential of your publication and know how to maximize its benefit to your association, then it’s OK to hire a dedicated editor, graphic designer or generic publication consultant to handle a re-launch.

But if you need to integrate your publication into your overall mission strategy to increase the performance of your association in many areas, then you need a publishing strategy. And your editor, graphic designer, sales director and IT person must all understand your strategy and how their work impacts your strategy.

Be Wary of Some Publishing Consultants

Watch out for association publication consultants who offer to “completely review” your newsletter or magazine without an extensive discussion with your executive director or CEO. These consultants can provide helpful cosmetic re-designs and give you plenty of writing and graphics tips, but they can’t provide strategic advice. If they don’t know how you work with your board, what your industry’s major issues are, why your members join and other far-reaching aspects of your mission, they can’t provide you with long-term publishing strategy you can continue to use once they’ve cashed your check or run your credit card.

Some consultants have publishing training. Some have association experience. Some have experience, but no formal training. Make sure your consultant has both formal training and hands-on experience in publishing and association management.

It’s Not Rocket Science 
Creating and managing an association-specific publishing plan and publication makeover isn’t a difficult process if the consultant is trained and experienced in both magazine publishing and association management. Any consultant should follow the best practices relating to any association publication. A strategic magazine publishing consultant with trade association experience is your best choice for this type of publication evaluation and makeover.