Time to Play the Association Game!


Everyone ready? It’s time to play the association game! There are a lot of rules, so pay close attention. Some may be frustrating rules, but you’ll be better off if you always abide by these rules. (Trust me, I know from experience!)

Why would I say frustrating? Truth is, marketing to associations can be very frustrating. I have sometimes referred to it as “kite in the wind marketing”. Why? Because rarely will you get any chance to speak to anyone who has anything to do with decision making. In the speaking business, that’s frustration!

Let’s start off by talking about marketing to state level associations. This may be a little easier. Most state level associations have meetings every month. Many take off summer and holiday months. This means, however, that there are several opportunities for speakers.

When approaching state level associations you want to ask for the “Executive Director”. Is he/she the decision maker? Sometimes. If not, he or she will know who you should talk too. This is a big advantage over national level associations. When you speak to the decision maker, you need to make your case. (See my earlier post on the “10 Questions to Book More Business”). Be aware that state level associations pay less than national level. Many who wouldn’t fit at the local level need to move directly to the national level. The only way to find out if state level associations can pay your fee is to do some “testing” of organizations at this level. See what you hear about fee. If you are constantly hearing you are too high, jump directly to the national level.

When seeking out opportunities on the national level, you will rarely get a chance to speak to a decision maker. When contacting, ask for the “Meeting Planner”. Note: the meeting planner will not be the decision maker. He or she will be a person of influence. The meeting planner is the person who will insure that your materials get on the table – considered for the meeting.

Typically on the national level the decision is made by a volunteer committee of association members. Members who you will never be able to contact. Hence the challenge! Your materials must carry the day!

The meeting planner will probably say “Just send us your stuff and I’ll put it in the files”. Many just punt at this point thinking they just got the run-around. Not so. That is the process. What you want to ask at this point is “How would you like my material to be submitted? By email, snail mail?

After you send in your material it’s a waiting game. You’ll hear if you get the job, you won’t if you don’t, and if you want to be considered to speak at next year’s association meeting you have to start the process all over.

See what I mean by frustrating? Then why do it? The pay-off is huge! Everyone in the audience may be a good prospect to bring you in to speak. If you get the job ask for an attendee list. Most will be happy to supply it.

When you return to your office, work the list! Call the members and say “Did you get a chance to see my program at your association meeting? Do you think it would make sense for me to come in to your company and do a program like this?”

If they say they missed your meeting say “Sorry you weren’t able to make it. The feedback was positive! I’m calling to see if a program like this may make sense for your company?”

So that’s why we play the association game, no matter how frustrating it is! Good luck!

Copyright 2013, Lois Creamer. Lois Creamer works with professional speakers who want to book more business, make more money and avoid costly mistakes! She can be reached in the following ways:

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13 Responses to “Time to Play the Association Game!”

  1. Karyn on February 21st, 2013 8:05 pm

    Great points! I love speaking to associations. And generally they find me, not vice versa. When I ask how they found me, often the answer is vague: “One of our members saw you somewhere.” So definitely pursue the market as Lois suggests (I ALWAYS do what Lois tells me to do), AND also when speaking, plant into the audiences minds that you have spoken for other associations, and make sure they always come away with something that has your contact info on it–a handout, poem, bookmark, book, whatever! You never know when it will work it’s way into the hands of an association committee.

  2. Lois on April 25th, 2013 11:53 pm

    Great advice from one of my favorite clients … and friends! Karyn is right on! Make sure they know how to find you after the event is over. If you are doing a handout, have your one sheet as the last piece of the handout. Thanks Karyn!

  3. David Hults on February 22nd, 2013 2:14 am

    Excellent advice once again!

  4. Jack Sims on February 22nd, 2013 1:43 pm

    Lois, from my perspective, speaking for associations is fantastic, I get to be with real people, who have started or run real businesses, and share my real world experiences that help them get to where they want to go.

    As you hinted, getting to be the keynote speaker is not easy, and getting through the system is to say the least, somewhat frustrating. But the payoff is always great.

    There are similar audiences in the corporate world too. And to be honest, they are equally as good. They are the folks who are the dealers or distributors of a particular manufacturers products. The events, pretty much have the same feeling because the attendees are usually the management teams of small to medium sized independent companies, and I love speaking for these groups too.

    The difference is that the decision making process is somewhat clearer, not necessarily easier, but there are lines of demarcation, and this does help reduce the frustration factor.

    Hope this helps, best wishes, Jack

  5. Lois on April 25th, 2013 11:52 pm

    Association gigs are great Jack! And yes, the audiences are much the same if your message is a fit. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Amy Dee-Kristensen on February 22nd, 2013 2:11 pm

    Great advice! I’ve also been successful getting into the national market by speaking at the state level for a lower fee first.

    During state level negotiations, I will ask if they would recommend me for the national meeting and they have. I’ve also asked for recommendations for other state meetings.

    Often these people all know each other and are happy to recommend a speaker that “brought the house down”.

    Thanks again Lois for the great advice!

  7. Lois on April 25th, 2013 11:51 pm

    Great advice! You are right on! I also recommend that when you do corporate events you ask if they are members of any associations. Often they are, and may be able to open a door for you. Thanks for chiming in!

  8. Wayne Perkey on February 22nd, 2013 3:32 pm

    You are generous with your, I’m certain, hard-earned wisdom.
    Thanks, Wayne

  9. Fergus McClelland on February 23rd, 2013 2:52 pm

    Lois, you always speak such good sense – thanks!

  10. Jeneen Nicole Barlow on March 13th, 2015 5:51 pm

    Clear. Concise. No nonsense. Doable. I was just introduced to you, but I’m a definite fan already, Lois! 🙂 Thank you for this excellent article.

  11. Lois on September 7th, 2015 11:07 pm

    Appreciate your kind words Jeneen!

  12. Candy Campbell on March 16th, 2015 2:48 am

    Lois, I also appreciate your encouragement, as I have also been frustrated with the run-around at the national level associations!

  13. Lois on September 7th, 2015 11:07 pm

    Good luck Candy!

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