Celebrating Associations: NJCPA’s Digital Transformation

Celebrating Associations is a blog produced by .orgCommunity that highlights achievements of associations and the great impact on the industries they serve.

This issue is exclusively sponsored by Results Direct.


Association and History: Founded in 1898, the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJCPA) is the largest professional organization serving the needs of the state’s CPAs and aspiring CPAs. NJCPA offers CelebratingAssociations-Dots-LessTextmore than 500 continuing education programs each year, as well as other networking, leadership and volunteer opportunities. There are 11 chapters and numerous committees and interest groups made up of hundreds of CPA volunteers. NJCPA actively lobbies the state legislature, and promotes the integrity, objectivity, competence and professionalism of CPAs and the quality of their services.

 About Its Members: With a membership of more than 14,000, the NJCPA represents the majority of New Jersey CPAs in public practice, business and industry, government and education.

We’re Celebrating at NJCPA Because: of the impact its new digital strategy is having on operations, culture and customers. What started as a simple need to redesign its website prompted NJCPA to look at its organization more holistically and rethink how it services member needs. To support NJCPA’s transformation, Results Direct provided a comprehensive digital strategy in 2014. The organization has responded by reshaping itself from the inside out.

We’ll Learn More in an Interview with:

  • NJCPA Chief Marketing Officer Don Meyer
  • NJCPA Brand & Marketing Strategist Heather Weddle
  • NJCPA Content & Communications Manager Rachael Bell
  • Result Direct’s Senior Solutions Consultant Alex Mouw, CAE

Q: How did NJCPA’s need for a website redesign spark an organizational transformation?

A: (Mouw) Results Direct has had an ongoing partnership with NJCPA. We first started to work together on a redesign project in 2009 (launched in 2010) that focused on information architecture and graphic design. Needs continued to evolve and NJCPA requested help on another redesign in 2013. That design focused more on content strategy and user experience. At the conclusion of that project, a need for a digital strategy was determined and delivered.

(Weddle) We had a number of platforms and systems (website, AMS, CMS, email, marketing automation) that weren’t working in unison to drive transactions or desired outcomes. We were in need of strategic, best-practice guidance to align all these systems and technology to better support our efforts. The website was a snapshot of how we were working as an organization and what we needed to do to work smarter: a better understanding of goals, cross-departmental collaboration, and improved automation. Everyone needed to realize that we’re all on the same team, going after the same goal.

(Meyer) The website is our most publically visible tool. Historically, it had been good at informing, but it needed to transform into a more sales and lead-nurturing implement—driving engagement, exchanges and transactions. We were not nurturing new customers. We had to get people to understand the website is part of a bigger ecosystem of communication platforms. The key was getting buy-in, approval and guidance from upper management—the CEO, COO, CFO and CLO.

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Q: What issues does the digital strategy aim to solve?

A: (Mouw) The document is a 10-page executive brief that provides a summary of current challenges and recommendations for short-term and long-term strategies and tactics to address those challenges and organizational goals. The deliverables also included “swim-lanes” to demonstrate the data flow and intersections of information between NJCPA’s key online communications channels (website, email, community, social) and helped them to identify opportunities to better connect systems and information to deliver superior user experiences.

(Meyer) We weren’t evolving because we weren’t getting the 360-degree behavior view of the customer. We needed to change in order to deal with change. Half of our membership is part of the baby boomer generation and retiring within the next 15 years. The number of people taking the CPA exam has flattened. More baby boomers are leaving the profession than the number of millennials entering it. How can we remain relevant to our customer base in this changing environment?

The digital strategy helped us focus on a new approach—a complete departure from how we operated for 10-plus years, from our budgeting to our day-to-day work. It taught us that we constantly need to adjust ourselves to be in tune with what our customers want. We’re now trying to build solutions and experiences based on customer behavior and what they are asking us to do. It’s a new philosophy.

(Weddle) NJCPA has historically been driven by program goals. The former website was an example of that. The problem with that was trying to meet and prioritize everyone’s wants and needs–it was like playing political football. The fact is we are all equally responsible for those programs and successes. The team realized that they would be more effective if the departments could work together.

Q: Describe how the digital strategy has made an impact. What elements of the strategy have been implemented? What have been the results?

A: (Bell) Results Direct introduced the “swim lane” concept to us. It’s about creating paths different users can take so they are not just doing one thing and leaving the site. The purpose is to lead users on a journey by highlighting related items to that visitor. We approached the [most recent] website redesign differently than before—we focused more on the new navigation and structure vs. the [creative]. We had focus groups, scenario-based navigation testing, several iterations of the new navigation—a lot of testing and tweaking. Before the redesign, the website navigation was based on how NJCPA was structured internally instead of being driven by user needs. Now the website is action-oriented and customer-focused. For example, each navigation area is a verb: “Become a CPA,” “Connect With Our Community,” “Advance Your Career,” “Earn CPE,” “Stay Informed,” and “Give Back.”

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(Meyer) The strides we’ve made in 18 months is astonishing. Marketing communications didn’t have a strategic seat at the table, and operated more like an order taker for the organization. The digital strategy made the case for marketing, branding, and communications being a part of strategically leading the NJCPA. As a result, the COO approached me with merging membership with the marketing and communications department. Both had the same goal: attract CPAs to join the membership. This was the beginning of breaking down long-standing silos. In January 2016, we also centralized all communication and content functions under Rachael. With this consolidation, we can align the website, magazine and all other communications.

The organization also created several cross-departmental teams that create projects and drive initiatives together. These teams have been able to build alliances, establish trust, and become places for new ideas and suggestions for improvements:

  • Senior Executive Committee. Sets and oversees NJCPA’s strategic direction, priorities and policies and reports to the NJCPA Executive Committee. Meets monthly.
  • Senior Management Team. Supports and reports to the Senior Executive Committee in the management and execution of operational initiatives and the communication of organizational goals to staff. Meets monthly.
  • Program Evaluation Team. Evaluates programs to: a) determine whether resources are effectively allocated to deliver upon the organization’s mission and strategic priorities, b) establish key performance metrics, and c) assesses performance. Reports to the Senior Executive Committee and meets as necessary.
  • Risk Management Committee. Oversees the development, implementation and monitoring of loss prevention programs throughout the organization. Reports to the Board of Trustees and meets quarterly.
  • Content Steering Team. Supports the development, delivery and promotion of content to drive business leads, influence customer markets and grow the brand. Reports to the Chief Marketing Officer and meets quarterly.
  • Information Technology Advisory Team. Proposes IT enhancements to increase staff efficiency and effectiveness, and improve the customer experience. Reports to the COO and meets every other month.
  • Disaster Recovery Team. Responsible for maintaining the Disaster Recovery Plan and communicating updates and changes to staff. Reports to the COO and meets annually or as needed.

(Bell) We updated our taxonomy for the first time since 2001, and involved members with this process. The taxonomy is what we use to tag everything—articles, events, videos. Because everything is tagged, we can highlight other articles, events, and resources that match a user’s area of interest. It helps us facilitate those “swim lanes” and get people to move from one thing to the next. We further leverage the taxonomy by offering two fully customized e-newsletters. Each recipient receives content that matches their demographics and areas of interest. The updated taxonomy was what we needed to deliver valuable, personalized content and opportunities.

We also have unified all our platforms creatively—we’ve updated all the fonts and top-level messaging for our emails, newsletters, social media so we can unify the customer experience.

Q: What else is in the works?

A: (Bell) We are in the process of developing a behavioral data warehouse. What members tell us they are interested in and what their behavior shows us they are interested in can be rather different. We are working with Results Direct to merge data from several platforms (website, online community, Google analytics, email marketing and marketing automation tools) to track and collect information to help us do a better job serving members. We are trying to build an infrastructure that will enable customers get to information they want, when and how they want it (blog posts, community discussions, etc.)

We’re really driven today by best practices in the technology space, not the association space. Members are expecting a for-profit online experience (like banking, shopping, ordering food) from their professional associations.

(Weddle) We’ve built a big part of the foundation. The ultimate litmus test will be: Did we meet membership recruitment and retention goals? Our next step is to ensure our technology infrastructure is equipped for us to evolve and to support what our marketplace is asking us to do. Most associations are going to have to rethink their technology “stack”. How are all their technology components connected? Is it doing what they need it to do today, tomorrow—and three years from tomorrow? Do we have what we need to get where we’re going?


Share YOUR Story: What great things is your association doing for its profession or for its operations? How is your organization delivering on its mission and its strategic plan? Contact heather@orgcommunity.com for details about submitting a story or to be interviewed.


Not yet a .orgCommunity member? Invest in yourself and your organization by joining the .orgCommunity, which nurtures innovation in leaders through peer-to-peer interactions and programming.


A Message from Our Sponsor: Results Direct is a leading web and mobile solutions firm based in Alexandria, Va. For more than 20 years,

RD_Logo_HighRes-BLUE-GreenTag.png Results Direct has guided the nation’s top associations in crafting and implementing online and mobile strategies that have included:

  • Strategic Consulting
  • Responsive Design
  • Content Management Systems
  • Mobile Strategy
  • Mobile Apps
  • Systems Integration
  • Hosting

Results Direct collaborates with more than 100 forward-thinking associations who look to us for innovative and user-focused solutions. Clients include:

  • ASAE
  • CESSE
  • National PTA

 

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Celebrating Associations: Association for Corporate Growth

Celebrating Associations is a weekly blog produced by .orgCommunity, celebrating the achievements of associations and the great impact on the industries they serve.

CelebratingAssociations-Dots-LessTextAssociation and History: Founded in 1954, the Association for Corporate Growth has 59 chapters and 14,500 members around the world. ACG serves 90,000 investors, executives, lenders and advisers to growing middle-market companies. ACG’s mission is to drive middle-market growth. Headquartered in Chicago, ACG provides events, online tools, structured networking opportunities, market intelligence and other business-building resources for middle-market dealmakers and business leaders who invest in growth and build companies.

About its Members: ACG brings together every segment of the growth community. They include private equity professionals, investment bankers and intermediaries, attorneys, auditors and accountants, lenders, corporate development officers, company leaders and others focused on the middle market.

We’re Celebrating at the ACG Because … of its popular suite of media offerings created just three years ago, which includes a digital magazine, Middle Market Growth website, weekly e-newsletter and daily newsfeed. MMG media keeps more than 90,000 middle-market dealmaking professionals up to date on news, trends, best practices and thought leadership on all segments of the middle market.

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We’ll learn more in an interview with Kristin Gomez, ACG’s vice president, communications & marketing.

Q: What do you think ACG has done particularly well in the last couple of years?

A: Over the last three years, ACG has ramped up its communications efforts in so many ways. First, we launched a monthly digital magazine—Middle Market Growth. Next, we introduced an additional rebranded suite of smaller digital media that includes: podcasts, videos, webinars, and daily and weekly newsletters. We have ramped up our social media efforts and use our network to push out important content and also keep track of what’s happening in the private equity industry. Lastly, we have introduced brand standards, creating a more polished look and feel for everything that is communicated to our members and external audiences. It’s a huge effort completed by a great team of marketing, creative, editorial and communication professionals who work on the team.

Q: What’s a particular challenge that ACG faces?

A: On the communication front, competing in an age of information overload is a challenge for ACG, as it is for all association publishers who are trying to get their content in front of key audiences. Because ACG members are professionals in the private equity space, our readership goes first to major publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Bloomberg in addition to smaller, specialized industry publications.

While these publications are typically the first stop for our members, it does provide ACG the opportunity to use our publications to cover the latest trends and news specific to our industry and from the point of view of our members and their peers. We do this by focusing on not only the latest deals and investment patterns, but by showcasing the people who are doing the deals. The human curiosity of “who’s featured this month in MMG” works in our favor.

The other challenge—and this goes for all publications and most media—is revenue. We are constantly trying to figure out ways to attract advertisers and develop content offerings that support the financial weight of producing the magazine without compromising the integrity of our publications.

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Q: If you could wave a magic wand and accomplish or obtain anything for ACG, what would it be?

A: Greater continuity between our chapters. ACG is a global organization with 59 chapters worldwide and they are the lifeblood of the organization. However, their size difference and membership mix creates varied challenges that must be met with a customized approach. Because they are the local presence, it’s critically important that they are supported and have a strong footprint in their communities.

My biggest wish is that we had more tools to help on a daily basis to attract new members and retain existing members. We are currently working on that at the global level. We are finding that the most desired tools are marketing and communication resources. By the end of the year, we hope to have built an entire library of marketing and communications tools available to all chapters through our new web portal. So if a chapter is looking to promote an event, create a new newsletter or find best practices to recruit and retain members, they can rely on the global headquarters for the guidance and resources they need.

Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing associations over the next 10 years?

A: Membership. I think declining membership and the association structure as we know it is not the most sustainable model to cater to the Millennial generation and beyond. Working in associations for the last 12 years, I see a shift in the needs and wants of these new and up-and-coming professionals. No longer is the “I’m a card-carrying member” mantra of any prestige to this group. They want a sense of belonging, community, an opportunity to network and a place to develop their career. They can get that in other places beyond associations today. Also, there is a lot of dogma in associations and change is not as quick as it should be so this becomes less of a value proposition to a younger generation.

My wish for ACG is that it is able to embrace a new crop of financial professionals and quickly assimilate them into the leadership of this organization. I believe it’s a risk to make this demographic wait years to get on important committees and the boards of directors. Their opinion can sway peers to either join ACG and invest in the organization or choose to search elsewhere because they feel there isn’t a place for them here. The good news is that many of our 59 chapters have picked up on this trend and have created programs to include professionals under 35 into their leadership structure as well as offer events and programing that connects Millennials to each other and more seasoned professionals in ACG. In this way they are bridging “the gap,” resulting in a happier, more loyal member.

Q: What do you enjoy most working for ACG?

A: Hands down, the people. We meet so many great people through Middle Market Growth. The magazine has given ACG the opportunity to interview and meet countless top financial professionals who buy and grow middle-market companies and brands as well as feature the accomplishments and stories of our members. It’s been a true honor to hear from such educated and visionary people, and it’s a pleasure working for this industry.

Share YOUR Story: What great things is your association doing for its profession or for its operations? How is your organization delivering on its mission and its strategic plan? Contact heather@orgcommunity.com for details about submitting a story or to be interviewed. 

Not yet a .orgCommunity member? Invest in yourself and your organization by joining the .orgCommunity, which nurtures innovation in leaders through peer-to-peer interactions and programming.