Strategies & Tactics

Making the Most of Association Memberships

February 4, 2019

[albert chau]
[albert chau]

In addition to PRSA, there are many trade and professional associations you can become involved in to grow your business and improve your skills as a PR practitioner. The industry groups you choose to join should be based on what you need to do — and who you need to meet — to achieve those goals.

Independents typically approach their involvement in associations according to the industries they serve and the capabilities or offerings they wish to develop. In my case, besides being a member of PRSA and its Independent Practitioners Alliance (IPA) Section, among others, I also belong to my local tech council, which is a hub for new and growing companies.

Staying current

Pennie Rorex, chief consultant at Rorex Marketing Solutions in Turlock, Calif., includes communications for county fairs among her specialties. Accordingly, she is a service member of the Western Fairs Association, a group composed of fair executives and vendors from the western United States and Canada. The association helps keep her up-to-date about developments in the business.

“To be successful for my county-fair clients, I need to remain current with fair-industry issues and trends,” she says.

Rorex balances that participation with memberships in PRSA and other associations that help her grow as a professional, such as the American Marketing Association and Solo PR Pro.

“Each of these organizations offers different benefits and resources,” she says, making her memberships “valuable for different purposes.”

Getting involved

Michelle Kane, president of Voice Matters, a marketing and PR business in Souderton, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, says she’s strategic in deciding which professional organizations to join.

“I base the choices on value, budget and the time I have to devote to participation,” she says. “I knew I wanted to have local ties as well as an urban presence, so I joined my local chamber of commerce to network and establish my business’s credibility.”

For Kane, joining her local chamber of commerce was just the first step. To maximize the benefits of membership, she knew she would have to participate in meaningful ways. She began by taking part in the chamber’s marketing committee and eventually joined its board.

She also belongs to PRSA, the IPA, Solo PR Pro and the Philadelphia Public Relations Association — groups that she calls “tool sharpeners,” and which give her networking opportunities within the profession.

“Each membership complements the others to help me succeed,” Kane says. “Through forums and the contacts I’ve made at each organization, I’ve found advice, camaraderie and professional development.”

Building relationships

Paula MacDonald, APR, president of Image Suite PR in St. Petersburg, Fla., agrees that associations provide independent PR practitioners with the professional camaraderie they might otherwise miss. Participating in associations “gives me a tribe that I can call upon to help answer questions and build potential business partnerships,” MacDonald says.

She evaluates her involvement in associations carefully. “To grow and stay connected in the profession, I’ve found tremendous value in PRSA, at the Chapter level and through Professional Interest Sections, particularly the Independent Practitioners Alliance,” MacDonald says. “I started in IPA as I was beginning my consultancy, and the value I’ve found in being a part of the Section far outweighs the small investment” required to join.

MacDonald also focuses on specific industries she serves through her memberships in the Association for Accounting Marketing, the Association for Garden Communicators, and Women in Film.

Like others independent PR pros, she advises peers to make the most of their association memberships — and to get involved. The real value of joining professional organizations, she says, lies “in the relationships you develop when you become a volunteer or member of the leadership team.”

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O'Brien, APR, owns O'Brien Communications, an independent coprorate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the "Shaping Opinion" podcast. Email: timbrien@timobrienpr.com. Twitter: @OBrienPR.

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