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Welcome to The Association Podcast. Brought to you by Adage Technologies and Breezio.

With a combined three decades of experience working with the association industry, your hosts Jake Toohey and Joe Post of Adage Technologies are joined by Ben Muscolino of Breezio, and AMS Geek in this digital strategy and technology podcast focused on the vibrant association industry.

In this episode we discuss:

  • What is The Association Podcast?
  • The all-star guest line up
  • What are association industry trends?
  • A vision for sharing association content via OTT (over the top)

Listen to Episode One on Apple Podcasts

Listen on Spotify

The Association Podcast Episode One Edited Transcription

Ben Muscolino 0:09
Welcome to The Association Podcast with your hosts with three decades in the association market. Jake Toohey and Joe post from Adage Technologies. And Ben Mosculino from Breezio.

Jake Toohey 0:22
All right, so we are here, the first episode of The Association Podcast, Ben, Joe, how are we doing?

Ben Muscolino 0:29
Very good.

Joe Post 0:30
Doing good.

Jake Toohey 0:31
Glad we’re finally getting this kicked off. So I thought a good way to start things off is talking about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, who the audience is for this. So, Ben, you can lead us off with that?

Ben Muscolino 0:46
Yeah, it’s for everybody. It’s The Association Podcast. And, we come at it. From the mindset that we’re really on the technology side of things. I think technology runs through the veins of every single side of the business, every side of the association in the nonprofit. So I think this is for everybody. And hopefully, we’ll have straightforward enough titles as we move along and the right guests to make it obvious to what audience we’re speaking to for that specific episode. But yeah, this is for everybody. And we’re excited to swim through the entire Association market.

Jake Toohey 1:22
And I think we’ve taken a while to kick this off and get it off the ground. And this comes on the heels of a very successful first season of the Actual Disruption webinar series that we all did together. And we thought it was; it was a good, a good way to kind of move into a podcast. So we can, you know, get this out in a different channel. So I think one of the things that we wanted to talk about today is the challenges that we see that were kind of the theme of the first season of actual disruption and will continue to be in the future, given where we’re all at with COVID. And in the current state, so maybe is Joe to talk about some of the things that we’ve gone through, maybe on the webinars and things you’ve seen dealing with our clients, just about challenges that we see across the market? Right now?

Joe Post 2:10
Sure, Jake, I want to touch on what Ben said just a second to though, which is the technology and business aspect of this ongoing discussion. One of my favorite little sayings from one of our clients, CIOs, is that there’s no such thing as a technology project; there is a business project with a technology aspect.

Ben Muscolino 2:29
There you go.

Joe Post 2:30
Really that is the position that we’re representing here. But as far as some of the trends, we’ve talked about an Actual Disruption, I think, are still with us, you know, there’s still COVID and everything that’s come out of that, as it’s affected people’s ability to meet and gather and a lot of associations are really focused on live events for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s educational, or conferences. The business impact of COVID is still there. For many, that is one trend identify. And coming out of that, of course, there’s all the movement to digital. So we’re seeing many clients moving out there trying to do new things, whether it’s communities like Breezio, or LMSs like Web Courseworks, for example. There’s a lot of movement into digital right now.

Ben Muscolino 3:17
I’ll just, I’ll, you know, add on to that. It’s funny because when I hear digital, I think virtual, like, that’s the trendy virtual virtual virtual for 2020. And it’s weird, because if you think about what we’ve been doing with websites, and LMS, and all of these technologies for a long time before we call them virtual conferences, and virtual lists and virtual chat, because we couldn’t get together in person anymore. We’ve always been providing virtual experiences to our members, to our customers via our website via all of the things that we do when we’re not in a room with them. And so we’ve more formalized our approach to some of these things before it was our websites, our website, but are our conferences Is this our virtual conferences, this one our in-person conferences, this, it’s always been virtual, even to get to the in-person conference, there was a virtual experience to get there. And so I love that we’re starting to tie it all together.

Joe Post 4:09
Yeah, me too. And, you know, I’m a big words guy. I like this, like, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it virtual as much as digital. This idea of connected experiences, to me, is really the fascinating connective tissue. Like we’ve heard, you know, some associations moving to hybrid events. Suddenly, they have that really insightful moment where they’re thinking about things differently. And they’re wondering, how do I connect what was typically an in-person live event? How do I make that now a hybrid, connected experience across both in-person and virtual?

Jake Toohey 4:45
And I think that’s a great way to kind of back up here. One thing that is a theme that came out of our webinar series was the virtual events we had our guests from Cvent on a couple of times to talk through that, which ties into learning management systems and how people are gaining their credentials. Or how they’re doing their education who may have typically been done in person. But if you back it up a little bit, you know, we saw a huge boom in virtual events and registrations for virtual events as a he was a great example of that see events, the virtual conference this year was a really, really great example of that. And then one of the things that we talked about was how you now have these leads. You have these people interested if they don’t typically join in person or haven’t been able to because, you know, travel or budgetary concerns, but now you’ve got a bunch of different people you can engage with communities being one of them. So talk about that a little bit, Ben?

Ben Muscolino 5:47
Well, just data in general, right, like date, people’s data strategy had to change, or it didn’t have to, I shouldn’t say it had to the people that were paying attention changed a little bit, right, because they were generating similar data than they were before. In terms of the fields, I suppose that they’re collecting, but who, and what they’re doing with those things. I mean, the idea of prospecting, we did a little bit of discussion on prospecting through the open community, but virtual, I mean, we talk about this, you know, in-person and virtual event piece, and, and, you know, see events A perfect example, I think they went from 5000, a year to 45,000, or something like that, and attendance for the virtual conference. What do they do? Like? What is your association do with all that data? Do you say cool, like, that’s great? We delivered some great programming and a good job. I Gosh, I hope these people come back next year. No. You hand that data off to your membership team, and you say, who are the most engaged people in the conference that are non-members? Right? Like, what are we doing with that data as an outcome? Because of the situation we were put in this year, it’s a blessing in disguise. I think the people who are going to capitalize on this will see this two years from now and be up revenue than they were two years ago. I mean, it’s going to be incredible. I think.

Jake Toohey 7:06
when we talk about how to take advantage of this and how it will happen in the future. The hybrid model is something I think we’ve all talked at length about. What do you see the future of live events being? I’ve got ASAE Annual targeted as the first time that I think it’s possible. There have been some other Association events kicked around that are even scheduled for March to be in person. And I don’t know if we think that might happen. But how is it gonna look in the future? From your perspective?

Ben Muscolino 7:39
Joe here’s my question, are people going to be doing live streaming all the time of all their in-person meetings now, or have the boom of LMS is. The fact that people are doing virtual conferences, allowing people the flexibility to say we’re going to record some of our programmings here, we’re going to document this a little differently, and manage this content a little differently as an asset, and put it up on demand and do some of these other things? Or do you think they’re going to be compelled to do live streaming like you have to have the, you know, the past to do the virtual conference at the same time as the in-person conference?

Joe Post 8:15
I think it’s gonna be really interesting to see what people do. And this is the comment about the data, right is like, I think the data is gonna open up a lot of new opportunities and ways of thinking, right? When you go from 5000 to 40,000, all of a sudden, you have a much clearer picture of your audience. And you can use that to do so many things in terms of planning and trying to think through what’s valuable to people. And I think that’s really, for me, one of the little nuggets that have come out of this is that it is valuable for people to attend virtually. There was a kind of an unknown audience there that was kind of just, you know, latent, right, they wanted to attend, but maybe they couldn’t, fork out for the travel and accommodation. And now, here they are at your conference. So how do you keep those people engaged? What that indicates to me is that there’s always been value in live, in-person content. And all of a sudden, now you see business models developing where that live, content can be streamed, it can be live-streamed, you can go OTT, you can go into your LMS. Either way, my prediction is that people are going to get a lot more out of their content than they already put so much effort into making.

Jake Toohey 9:28
Talk more about the OTT aspect. I think that’s something that’s very interesting. And we’ve talked about the three of us quite a bit. Joe, where do you see that going? And how can associations take advantage of that model?

Joe Post 9:41
Yeah, I think OTT is the more visionary take on what happens with live events. So you go from to access this content, you had to be there in person. Now it’s hybrid, so I can log in and attend. But why can’t I have that on-demand? Why can’t I go up to my living room and turn it on myself? Roku and start playing whatever certification program or, maintenance of certification, what have you, right, depending on the association, why can’t I go find that? One of the more remarkable pieces of content I’ve seen recently on the Roku is that The Great Courses, which were traditionally, audiobooks or similar. And now you can literally stream that on-demand on the Roku. It’s incredible.

Ben Muscolino 10:25
It’s crazy that you’re talking about your Roku app on your TV because I don’t remember the last time I heard anyone in our space say I just consumed a conference or a piece of content having to do with this market or any type of learning in this market. On their television, it’s always their monitors that they’re set up from home or their laptop, or their phone or whatever. And it’s like, Oh, that’s cool that I can get this on my phone, or they have an app, to log in and see that you just said television.

Joe Post 10:53
Absolutely. Those things have merged.

Ben Muscolino 10:55
Yeah, well, most people spend a ton of time with their television, especially more so everything’s easy on-demand. So whether you’re glued to it or not, you’re like, I can just throw on whatever that show is from my Amazon Firestick or Roku, or Netflix or whatever it is at any time. And that’s a really interesting paradigm shift there to drag Roku into it because I feel like we use that stuff faster and easier than we do, even the apps on our phones sometimes. So when is programming become available there and really enter our world in that regard. Like we almost look at them as two separate worlds.

Joe Post 11:33
It’s happening. We’re inviting these devices more amazing into the fabric of our everyday life, right, and you think a Roku, that’s one little example that you can get a Roku for 20 bucks. And you can also get an Alexa or Google Home. You can get those devices, and they just become part of your environment. And the thing that’s really evolving this last year quickly is the barrier to entry to getting into Roku is not where it used to be. Just about anyone. Now, if you produce good content, there is a path for you to get that directly on the Roku.

Jake Toohey 12:06
Think about it from you know; we’re all working from home and glued to our monitors all day. If you have to get a credential there, you have to take a course, might be easier, just from a user experience perspective, just to be able to throw it up on your TV, do that course, after you’re done with work, I mean, everybody’s working more from home.

Ben Muscolino 12:28
I completely agree.

Jake Toohey 12:29
I mean, it’s an easier way to consume the content that you have to do to fulfill those requirements.

Joe Post 12:36
That’s an interesting double-edged sword on that one. I think the things you learn about is that people are willing to attend virtually, but then you just as often hear, like, “Hey, I miss being in person.” But from a brand or organization point of view, what I think is really valuable is that all of a sudden, now you have data you didn’t have before. And some of that data is directly transferable to how you behave at your organization. And one great example we heard from actual disruption with the LMSs was departments working together in a way they didn’t use to work together. And I think that’s the kind of evolution that is, you know, kind of on the frontier here is like, when we learn from our data, we can learn to work. Differently, we can learn about different audiences, and we can serve to serve them better.

Ben Muscolino 13:19
I think we need to have a podcast specifically on devices, honestly, because I feel like this is a whole conversation on itself.

Jake Toohey 13:26
I’d agree that it would be great to explore kind of more of the visionary things that could be done there. I think Joe, and you just mentioned something I wanted to touch back on, though, is that there is the aspect of the of in live events, what we see the benefit of those usually being when we talk to our clients is really it’s the networking piece, right? I mean, Ben, one of Ben’s famous quotes from Actual Disruption is “Nobody works a conference room better than me.” And anybody who knows, Ben, knows that is still true. So there is the networking aspect, not only from a vendor to, to client-side of things, but you know, inside of the association that, you know, maybe throwing the huge annual conference, there’s a huge networking aspect to that. You don’t get that from virtual events. You do get an opportunity to add more people, more people can learn, more people can be involved, and you can get the data from those individuals. But that networking aspect that’s tough to replace virtually,

Ben Muscolino 14:25
It is. I want I feel to like we’ve joked before, behind closed doors, and now I’ll just bring it up publicly here. But you know, there are some people that engage in session discussions for no other reason than to be seen, right. And you have to weed some of those people out, like who’s there to network and collaborate who’s there just to be seen, right. And the beauty of it is, depending on the platform that you’re using and what you’re tracking, you can weed some of those people out, and that goes back to the 35,000 more people that you may have gotten a register this year that didn’t last year. It’s like, what were they doing while they were there, that were they? Did they register just so that they could do a social media post to say that they were attending? Or what was it right? Like some people check the box? And you know, what if that’s your thing, that’s cool, you’ll get weeded out if people are looking at their data in an intelligent way. And you match that with the actual activity that goes on. And yeah, I think the value and it’s interesting because if you want to charge money for sponsors, you want to charge money for attendees. Right? We’ve had this discussion, inside and outside, you know, these recording sessions to talk about the dangers of waiving, you know, fees for events, and if you outweigh that with big virtual sponsors, yeah, maybe it’s less revenue than your in person, but it may be higher margin. But the data and the numbers start to speak for themselves, and you’ll be able to see who’s there that’s engaging, that ordinarily wouldn’t have been there, and be able to kind of skim that data off the top and really do something with it.

Joe Post 16:02
There’s so much fodder here. One of the things that occur to me in all this movement is that many brands are suddenly realizing that for their audiences, they have to be on point across the board. And you have to; you have to get your live event, right, you got to get your website, right, it’s all got to work together. And I think that’s what the next couple of years will bring. As people are now figuring that out, they’re going to align all their different digital activities to make sense of it all.

And align their departments, right? We talk about silos quite a bit.

Yeah, and this is, this is exactly what I’m talking about. And I have been working on this kind of extended analogy. I used to watch a lot of Kitchen Nightmares. I don’t know why it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. And it’s because if you think of every episode of Kitchen Nightmares, you get the same basic formula. Yeah, Gordon Ramsay comes in. He goes into the kitchen, finds a mess, starts pulling rotten food out of the fridge. And the first thing he does is he goes and talks to the chef. That’s step one, then he goes and talks to the owner. And then he goes to talk to the front of the house. And really to have a well, high functioning restaurant, front of house back has a chef and the owner, everybody’s got to work in concert. And that’s how you get there. Now you add on to that the digital aspect. You have to have everybody working together.

Jake Toohey 17:27
And that means breaking down the silos.

Joe Post 17:30
You can’t have silos if you want to deliver a great experience. This is you can’t have your host or you know, what have you in this analogy, selling all this great food if the kitchen can’t deliver. And then the waitstaff has to make sure that food comes out on time and people aren’t waiting too long. It’s all got to work together. And environment you

Add on, I probably ordered ahead of time on an app. So the apps got to work.

Jake Toohey 17:54
And that a great example of that from our webinar series was kind of how events and education now have to work like they were probably there was no crossing, there was no Venn diagram at all, in the past events are trying to put on this great, very expensive, very high profile event. And then education is coming along for the ride or they, you know, they’re involved some degree, but now if anything, they’d be all over each other.

Ben Muscolino 18:21
Right.

Jake Toohey 18:22
So some of the things we talked about were about how small associations have made the urgent changes, maybe faster because their business model maybe didn’t call for, they relied mostly on memberships and, and events, and how they have pivoted faster because there’s more urgency. Let’s talk about that real quick.

Ben Muscolino 18:43
Well, even the reserves for small organizations are very different. If you’re a $2 million Association, you don’t have, you know, $15 million sitting around or $25 million sitting around too. So, you know, at the end of the day, I think that, yes, those efficiencies, if you lose one staff and your four staff feel like you’re down 25%, you got have created efficiencies, you’ve got to figure out how to make things a little better. And so it’s funny, I think that the middle of the market is stood still, at least from what I’ve seen for a little while. And the smaller organizations are ready to spend on technology because they see that the digital experience is more important than ever. And the automation and the connectivity of the third-party apps that they might be working with have never been more important because they don’t have more people to push the buttons and wind the cracks, right to make sure that everything is getting where it needs to go. So it’s been a very interesting work to watch over the last year.

Joe Post 19:40
Yeah, it’s interesting. The small ones, their pros and cons, right? Maybe you don’t have the deep reserves, but at the same time, you probably don’t have all the overhead of, you know, hundreds of staff. And on the flip side, the really big organizations, you got all that overhead. And unfortunately, in this climate, that’s meant some pretty dramatic, you know, drastic measures for some. It’s interesting to see, you know, different people making different moves. And you know a lot of the pivots like we have one client partner that for years insisted that you know, all of the examinations have to be proctored in person. They are now moving to virtual or digital proctoring. Incredible for them. That was a mindset shift. That was a cultural point of view. It had to be live now. It can be virtual. Really cool.

Jake Toohey 20:28
Yeah, absolutely. So, as we wrap up our first episode of the association, podcast, anything else you guys want to drop in add? Before we, we move it along?

Ben Muscolino 20:40
I think agility is one of those things that is right with this too when you talk about large and small organizations, and the comparison between those and then also what separated people, you know, that was successful through the last year as well, I think it’s going to continue to be a mindset that the larger organizations if you take too long to plan, you will miss opportunities to enhance your digital experience for certain things to be able to capitalize on what’s going on.

Joe Post 21:10
Gotta get your kitchen right this year.

Ben Muscolino 21:12
That’s right, get your kitchen right.

Jake Toohey 21:14
I think the forced agility is something that the COVID really brought to the forefront. Maybe organizations, you know, like Joe was talking about that couldn’t be agile, or were resisting agile now, turned the corner and saw some pretty good results from that.

Ben Muscolino 21:32
Forced agility gets brought on by Actual Disruption. Just don’t forget that.

Jake Toohey 21:36
And I think that’s a great way to end the first episode of The Association Podcast. Thanks, Joe. Thanks, Ben. We will be back with the next one the next time.

Hey guys. thanks for making a difference today.

END

— Musical Interlude.

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