Newsletter group returns to its roots with management association firm.
I took the position as executive director of the newsletter association in March 1979. For a year or more previously the association had been managed by an association management firm as one of a number of its clients.
This was the traditional path for new associations:
* Run entirely by volunteers, the "office" being one of the officers' file cabinets;
* Engage a multiple management firm to provide administration; and
* ASAP, when finances permit, open your own office and hire a dedicated staff.
So, like the great Yogi, I cannot help a certain feeling of deja vu all over again now that NEPA has become SIPA and returns to a multiple management firm called Association Management Group.
In 1979 then-president Ken Callaway admitted he'd made a mistake in selecting the management firm. A mistake in that he assumed their experience managing small associations qualified them to run the small Newsletter Association of America, as it was called then. But the associations they managed were much different from NAA; they tended to have small fixed memberships of "everyone" in the industry, and the management firm picked a fancy hotel for quarterly board meetings and planned the D.C. spring lobbying trip.
Ken also complained that while the director of the firm was well qualified, the junior exec who seemed to be handling the "NAA account" was pretty green.
Transition to paid staff
Time marched on and, for the next 27 years, The Association of Many Names (TAOMN) was served by a dedicated staff. Yes, to an extent I'm blowing my own horn here, but I don't mean just myself and Patti Wysocki, but a number of others. Many readers may remember them: Tamra, Mary Margaret, Mike, Penny, Rebecca, Barbara, Janine, Kati, and more recently the irrepressible Harry.
The association has also had great volunteers who contributed much from Day One. But over the years, every month, week, and 8-10 hours a day (or sometimes more), it was the people I listed above who made it go. They were dedicated and hard working, and--getting down to the short strokes--it was the association that signed their paychecks.
Now the Specialized Information Publishers Association joins an association management firm that handles some 15 additional groups * with a total of 100 or 110 employees (both figures appear on the website, www.amg-inc.com). I can't help being reminded of the situation in which a successful smaller newsletter publisher is acquired by a giant firm 20, 30, or 50 times its size. More often than not, the results haven't been especially happy.
New executive director soon
When Patti Wysocki leaves as executive director in a couple of months, there will be three experienced newsletter people among those 110 AMG staffers. A new director will be selected for SIPA. Odds are he or she will not only be new to "newsletters" (hard to stop using that word), but much less experienced than Patti; in fact, she has more association experience than the principals of AMG.
There will probably be further staff turnover--not a pessimistic prediction, just normally the case at associations when the director changes, perhaps especially when the new one is from "outside."
One only hopes SIPA doesn't disappear into the alphabet soup of AMG's client list. I may be wrong in this, but I really think it's very unusual for an association of more than a quarter of a century of independence, and both a million-dollar annual budget and a million-dollar reserve fund, to return to a multiple management firm.
Plans to dip into capital
And I did get a little chill down my spine when I read of plans to dip into capital and spend some of that reserve figuring out what specialized-information publishers are and what they might want from an association like SIPA.
I am told the firm has state-of-the-art software that will massage the SIPA lists of members, former members, prospects, book orders, and conference attendees in so many ways that the "multiple buyers" will leap out and whistle Dixie. And that, with their size, they will have much more clout negotiating with hotels and airlines.
This may be so, but to me it does not justify giving up independence. Time will tell how wrong I may be, but I'd guess it will have to be several years before anyone can give me the raspberry.
* Illustrating Alexis de Tocqueville's oft-quoted remark about the propensity of Americans of all stripes to form groups and associations, the AMG client list includes:
* Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association,
* National Potato Education and Research Foundation,
* Tortilla Industry Association,
* Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies,
* and a dozen more.