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Establishing a marketing function.

Involve your staff in assessing the need for change, and they will welcome it.

Do you find yourself wondering how your association decides which products and services to develop? Do you question how decisions made by one division affect other areas of the organization? Are you concerned that your staff members may not have the marketing know-how to make the best possible decisions?

Here's an effective way to find out whether it's time to adopt a more formal approach to marketing: Assign staff the task of assessing which changes are necessary. Staff involvement nurtures creativity and creates a spirit of cooperation essential to the future success of any marketing initiative. When staff are involved, they are more likely to welcome change than to resist it.

Explosive growth prompted the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Missouri, to explore options for formalizing its marketing function. In the past five years, the national association of more than 70,000 family physicians, residents in training, and medical students saw its budget nearly double, staff increase by one fourth, and products and services multiply to more than 400.

The academy's executive vice president and three staff vice presidents were not sure if full-time marketing assistance was needed, if it should be provided by staff or external consultants, or which services should be provided.

Two staff who already had some experience in marketing--and master of business administration degrees--were chosen to evaluate the idea of a more formal marketing function for the academy.

One provided assistance for the start-up of an organizational arm with various for-profit activities. I was the other and completed a needs assessment within the academy for marketing consultation, advice, and support. Our supervisors approved changing our jobs to earmark one fourth of our time for this marketing assignment for six months.

Analyzing the situation

Why did the academy decide to launch an inquiry into a marketing function? The executive vice president wanted to know the degree to which academy employees, project managers, and divisions would use marketing principles to enhance their job performance. He also wanted to personally learn more about marketing as well as instill in staff a better understanding of basic concepts.

Our vice presidents had additional concerns--a history of overprinting of some of the association's publications because of a lack of sales forecasts, duplication in mailings, poor order fulfillment in many departments, inconsistent pricing, and lack of graphic continuity among products.

Discovering problems

The first step in the needs assessment was to interview the academy's 12 division directors using a set of standard questions (see sidebar, "A Guide for Discussion"). The interviews revealed a general consensus about which products and services had been marketed well and which poorly.

General agreement also surfaced on problems resulting from insufficient marketing: duplication of efforts, inadequate service to members, development of products with questionable value, difficulty breaking even on projects, lack of uniformity on pricing, and little or no product or promotion testing.

Directors also voiced concern about the sheer amount of printed material sent to members: Might they begin to see academy envelopes as junk mail, given that the average physician member receives 600 pounds of mail each year?

We found that academy products and services originate in several ways: Some are staff driven and only nominally over-seen by a commission and committee. (The academy has more than 25 active commissions and committees that meet twice a year.) Committees as well generate many projects with no formalized or consistent protocol for examination of financial feasibility or appropriateness of service delivery mode.

Staff identified several areas in need of marketing assistance. They included development of a centralized catalog, a coordinated calendar of meetings, and a single, legible order form; assistance in writing promotion copy and creating other promotions; establishment of guidelines on how to track responses and establish print quantities; and market research. Some staff members who knew a wealth of information existed on individual members' experience and past use of meetings and materials cited the need for data base marketing.

How should marketing assistance be made available? Division directors clearly did not want such assistance to be a territorial issue--it should be available to all staff. They also suggested it was important that such assistance be provided by an internal staff person, who could share successes and draw on staff experiences and outside resources when necessary.

Learning from case studies

During the division director interviews, I also collected examples of every product or service. (For intangible services, such as lobbying or providing telephone advice about such issues as retaining hospital privileges, I found descriptions in a letter or newsletter article.)

I displayed everything around the board table and asked the executive vice president and three vice presidents to select five projects that had gone at least fairly well for detailed case studies.

Looking at everything in one place was quite educational. It immediately became apparent that the academy's products lacked graphic unity. For example, the corporate seal was printed in every color imaginable. The quality of printing ranged from excellent four-color work to fifth-generation copies.

All managers in the building were asked to look at the display, which stayed up for three days. This presentation, which was initially set up merely to showcase the wide range of the academy's work, also helped accelerate a movement toward coordinated art design and more uniform quality standards.

The case studies covered five products from different divisions. I interviewed the manager responsible for each product, reviewed reports and financial results, and then analyzed and compared them using the four P's of marketing--product, price, place, and promotion. What we found was a mixed bag.

All five had good product concepts. Some had healthy product-line extensions. One seemed to have become unfocused and out of date, rather than being updated and actively promoted.

Pricing was often based on costs--a particularly difficult proposition because the academy does not track staff time by project, so allocation of staff time and additional overhead is nonexistent.

Distribution of materials--the place factor--was usually poor. Problems with the academy's order fulfillment and inventory systems resulted, for example, in the loss of 500 copies of a product found only when they were badly out of date.

Promotion was more positive. There was some segmentation of promotion, with use of "influencers"--family practice residency program directors, officers of constituent chapters, selected chapter committee chairs, chapter executives, and other members--who received advance copies of products so that they could urge others to buy and use them. However, these influencers were being used by almost everyone on staff, which potentially lessened their effectiveness, especially for targeted products.

This analysis of what we had been doing was useful in pinpointing problem areas, even in products that were generally seen as successful. Some areas, such as order fulfillment and inventory, were major structural and personnel concerns. Others, such as pricing, could be addressed through individual consultation or education.

Finding the answers

At the end of the needs assessment, my partner and I recommended that the academy establish a staff function for marketing. We also identified factors essential to the success of a new marketing manager (see sidebar, "Conditions for Success").

The academy has a decentralized environment in which every manager has authority over product development, promotion, and pricing. We decided to take a cooperative, educational approach to establishing a marketing function--its main purpose would be to provide marketing support throughout the academy--rather than a centralized top-down or dictatorial approach. Perhaps, too, this was the only possible approach given that we would have only one additional staff member to work with the nearly 40 academy managers and several hundred products.

One of the ideas discussed during the needs assessment was a centralized catalog--the academy did not have a single, consolidated list of all available products and services. No budget existed, however, for such a project, which would also involve considerable staff time.

We considered adding a catalog to our membership directory, published every three years. But members told us, in a subsequent survey, that they wanted the catalog and directory to be separate.

Not long after, one of our vice presidents secured a three-year grant from a pharmaceutical company for the catalog. This development provided the impetus for approval of the marketing position, which reported directly to a vice president to avoid territorial disputes among divisions. The academy opened the interviewing process up to the outside, and final recommendations to the vice president on hiring came from a panel of staff with whom the marketing manager would work. I got the job.

The catalog proved to be a successful first project for the marketing function. Independent funding meant no one had to sacrifice scarce resources. In fact, we designed the catalog so that copy and photographs could also be used for promotion of individual products.

Compilation of items for the catalog reinforced the need for consolidated product development and quality control. Inconsistency in pricing became very evident when everything was displayed together, so I developed some basic member-nonmember pricing guidelines that the executive vice president enacted; anyone on staff who had a valid reason for being exempted from these pricing guidelines could and did appeal.

Another activity within the academy that enhances the marketing function is consolidated, in-house design services. A new computer system, additional staff, and a sophisticated new reporting system that provides periodic reports to departments and divisions has also greatly improved our centralized order fulfillment and inventory system.

Another highly successful cooperative project is a quarterly mailing called FYI. Various managers can have their products or services promoted in an attractive folder, and they split the mailing costs.

Several other initiatives preceded creation of the marketing position but nurtured its development and the development of more sophisticated marketing efforts. A mailings committee analyzed what the academy sent out and recommended changes. A full-time art coordinator was hired, a function later expanded to two people. The academy also convened a corporate image committee to examine and revise our visual identity.

To continue the spirit of cooperation, the academy established a staff marketing committee to work with me on areas that affect several divisions. For example, this group helps assign costs on cooperative projects that are not funded directly from my budget. The academy's decentralized system means that managers still have their own marketing budgets; the marketing department's budget is tied primarily to the catalog and promotion of educational programs.

Did the process we used to establish a marketing function work? Most definitely it did. It helped prepare staff for change and involved them in the development of the function. The six-month experiment gave us a chance to work out some bugs before the marketing position was permanently filled. And our approach works well in a decentralized environment.

The disadvantage is precisely that: working in a decentralized environment. I cannot tell people what price to give a product, and change is much slower than if I had direct control. But a centralized, dictatorial marketing approach could have established a confrontational tension. Instead, our needs assessment laid the groundwork for cooperation that carried through the establishment of a marketing function. This system takes advantage of the expertise of all staff.

I've been manager of organizational marketing services for two years. I produce the yearly catalog, coordinate quarterly FYI mailings, facilitate focus groups, conduct membership surveys, offer a series of marketing courses for staff, help staff design business plans for new products and promotion plans for existing products, write and analyze membership surveys, and provide staffing assistance in strategic planning.

My department has three purposes: Improve the quality of products and services through market research, product development, and education of managers; improve understanding of our members' needs; and improve members' knowledge of academy products and services.

Realizing successes

What kind of results have we achieved?

* The centralized order fulfillment department now handles about 80 percent of all academy products. Its volume has increased from a few hundred orders per month to more than 9,000 orders per month.

* We're developing a sense of graphic unity at a reasonable cost.

* Marketing workshops for staff have been very well-received.

* The catalog was a success, accounting for 10-25 percent of all academy orders.

A sound marketing environment, developed with the assistance and cooperation of staff, truly makes it possible for the academy to develop quality products and services that meet members' needs.

Conditions for Success

The American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Missouri, identified six conditions that would be necessary for introducing a successful formalized marketing perspective.

1. Access to the three vice presidents and the executive vice president.

2. Accessibility of the marketing manager by "product managers."

3. Position should be "outside" existing divisional structure to minimize conflicts of interest.

4. The person holding the position should be visible--capable of interacting with staff to determine what assistance he or she should provide and to share marketing information throughout the academy.

5. Senior management must demonstrate support for marketing initiatives introduced by the new department.

6. The right candidate for the marketing position must have appropriate people and technical skills.

A Guide for Discussion

The needs assessment process undertaken by the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Missouri, included interviews with division directors, which lasted about 30 minutes and covered the following questions.

1. What does your division do, produce, or market? Meetings? Publications? Staff assistance? What's available at a fee? For free?

2. Who are the groups to whom you promote? Are there segments such as academicians, students, potential members, others?

3. How, in general, do you think the academy markets now? What is the process for marketing? How are decisions made?

4. What has the academy marketed well and poorly?

5. We will make recommendations about a marketing function to the executive vice president. What do you think we should include in those recommendations?

Jan Carter is manager of organizational marketing services for the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Missouri.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:Carter, Jan
Publication:Association Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Creative solutions for tough times.
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