At the start of each board year, the KCBA trustees gather for a retreat to peer into the future and plan for how to meet the daily and long-term challenges facing our Association. At last July's retreat, the Board concluded that it was time to consider trading in our 1999-Ford-Taurus of a communications platform for something a bit more up to date. (Yes, it still runs, but it isn't pretty.)
The first step in this process was to engage a respected consultant, Jocelyn McCabe, to perform a communications audit. The audit analyzed KCBA's existing communications tools and products, including the Bar Bulletin, our News & Events E-Newsletter, KCBA's website and KCBA's social media presence (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). Among the qualities analyzed were readership, distribution frequency, amount of content and readability.
The audit was presented to the Board at its April meeting. The results were not entirely surprising, but seeing the data in black and white underscored the importance of both short- and long-term action to improve the effectiveness of our communications with members, prospective members and the larger community.
To ensure that the audit results were well grounded, our consultant conducted a collateral review, telephone interviews with association leaders, and two online surveys - one for members and another for non-members. And to better understand where we stand by comparison with our peers, telephone interviews were completed with eight comparable bar associations around the country. They included the Bar Association of San Francisco, the Columbus Bar Association and the Hennepin County (i.e., Minneapolis) Bar Association.
At a very high level, here are some of the findings of the audit with more details in the charts below:
- Bar Bulletin: Of all of KCBA's communications vehicles, members and nonmembers give their highest marks to the Bar Bulletin. More than half the respondents said they read eight or more issues per year. And almost 75 percent said that they prefer to read it in print.
- News & Events: KCBA's monthly email newsletter is also well received with about half the respondents saying that they read five to 12 issues each year. Respondents did say that the newsletter sometimes gets lost in the blizzard of daily emails.
- Social Media: Despite their prevalence in our personal lives, 62 percent of members responding to the survey said they do not use social media for professional purposes. (Not surprisingly, younger members are more likely to utilize social media in their practices.) The data showed that LinkedIn is the social media choice of respondents for professional purposes. However, that is at odds with KCBA's current focus on Facebook and Twitter.
- Website: If the audit was a report card, KCBA's website would be marked "needs improvement" on nearly every category, a sentiment shared across all respondent demographics. Among its problems, the site is not optimized for mobile devices or tablets. Worse, nearly 70 percent of respondents said that they either never visit the website or do so only "several times" a year. Phone interviews confirmed that the website badly needs a redesign that would better reflect the mission of our Association, its members and the people it serves.
Website examples obtained by our consultant from comparable voluntary bar associations around the country confirm that our website needs a makeover. Looking at websites for our sister bars, McCabe wrote: "Most all include fully integrated social media and video. Imagery on peer sites is more contemporary and offers a more 'human' face.... Reviewing overall site design generally suggests content on other sites is updated more regularly (even daily) and organized in a more user-friendly fashion." In short, KCBA's current website is fertile ground for substantially improving our member experience.
The communications audit came complete with detailed recommendations for short-term (6–18 months) and long-term (18 months to 3 years) actions. However, it all comes down to one word - "investment." The Board must sharpen its pencil and find the resources to invest in bringing our communications platform into line with the needs of our members.
That will not be easy. Here's why.
When we look at the shiny websites and sleek communications tools of comparable voluntary bars around the country, it is clear that they are well supported with dollars and staff time. However, unlike KCBA, none of those bar associations spends about a third of their annual budgets on pro bono programs. In fact, pro bono work in those communities is largely left to other providers. That allows other bar associations the luxury of hiring dedicated communications staffers and investing in sophisticated content management systems and other support technology.
Time and again, KCBA members tell us that our extraordinary pro bono effort is one of the key reasons they join KCBA. In fact, each spring close to 1,000 generous members attend the Breakfast With Champions to let their checkbooks demonstrate how much they value KCBA's pro bono and diversity programs. As a result, KCBA's efforts to reinvent its communications effort across multiple fronts will not happen overnight.
However, by developing a strategic communications plan and working hard to identify the human and financial resources to implement it, I am convinced that we can achieve the goal of a 21st-Century communications program while continuing to advance KCBA's core mission.
KCBA President Steve Rovig is a principal with Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S. where his practice emphasizes commercial real estate. Steve can be reached at email@example.com or 206-470-7620.