The professional body for marketing people in Ireland had been established in 1962, and among its strongest early supporters was Seán Lemass, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and architect of Ireland's modern economy. Very early into the new century, the Marketing Institute of Ireland (MII) had run into deep trouble, and faced a set of unprecedented challenges. Despite the stellar growth rates of Ireland's 'celtic tiger' economy during the previous ten years, and the rapid development of the marketing disciplines in organisations across all sectors, the Institute was suffering multiple declines simultaneously.
The 'leaky bucket' of membership (losing customers) was a continuing challenge and the Institute was out of touch with the newly emerging leaders of the profession. The Marketing Graduateship qualification which had been almost a rite of passage for Irish marketers over several decades was being eclipsed by the explosion of marketing degree courses at third level. Since the Institute was dependent on membership and education fees as the primary sources of income, this meant revenues were now severely threatened also.
With the expanding universe of young marketers working in the Ireland's burgeoning technology-related sector (Ireland hosts most of the major blue chip global digital players' European Headquarters, e.g. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook) not automatically joining the professional body as previous generations had done, it seemed like the market was moving away from MII. Services previously seen as the preserve of the main professional body were now being offered by a range of niche groupings and private companies.
Ironically, the professional body for marketing was missing out on a basic marketing approach to understanding and responding to its situation.
"The Institute was slow to grasp the fundamental changes that were taking place beneath its feet. It was shedding members, and its offerings were starting to look dated. But the 'penny didn't drop' until it hit financial trouble", said Tom Trainor.
The initial and most urgent objective was to deal with the financial situation and bring the organisation back to financial stability, as this was an existential threat. From there, a new and more modern vision of the organisation would be required, along with a reinvigorated sense of mission that would drive the Institute forward.
Vision: The approach was to envision the desired outcomes for the marketing community that is served by the Institute, "A professional marketing community that is qualified, effective and valued".
Mission: The mission was articulated in simple, yet compelling terms, "To strengthen the profession of marketing in Ireland".
To achieve this, a short-term remedial actions and a medium-term reorientation would be necessary.
Reposition the Institute in the minds of key audiences from a bureaucratic and 'old boys' image to one that was dynamic and relevant, offering cutting edge knowledge, skills and networks for a new generation; win over the leadership of the marketing profession in Ireland, attract younger profile and develop new profitable revenue streams by the following strategic steps:
- Streamline the governance structures
- Empower and upskill the executive team
- Reposition from 'old boys institute' to a 'dynamic and relevant network for a new generation'
- Win over Ireland's marketing leaders
- Launch new refreshed suite of offerings
- Become a customer-centric organisation
1. Streamline the governance structures
"We streamlined the decision making, replacing the 23-person council with a 10-person board, and the key benefit of this was the clear focus that was brought to bear on the most important issues", says Tom. The governance review was supported by external specialist assistance, and this major project also required some education of members on the imperative for change. In the end, the new approach received unanimous support. There was an immediate uplift in board cohesion and effectiveness, with rapid decision-making clearing the way for action.
2. Empower and upskill the executive team
The empowerment of a professional executive team was critical, and new skill sets were recruited to ensure effective execution. "We placed staff members fully in charge of their areas, and did away with long-term committees in favour of ad hoc short-term taskforces" explains Tom. New skill sets were recruited, and the corporate culture was shifted from wide involvement in tasks of people with various degrees of commitment to the clear allocation of accountabilities.
3. Reposition from 'old boys institute' to a 'dynamic and relevant network for a new generation'
"We needed to reposition the Institute in the minds of key audiences from a bureaucratic and 'old boys' network to one that was dynamic and relevant, offering cutting edge knowledge, skills and networks for a new generation of marketers" explains Tom. The new positioning needs to be reflected through everything MII does online and offline. This repositioning is a long term strategic shift that doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to embed itself in the minds of the team and, ultimately in the minds of our marketplace.
4. Win over Ireland's marketing leaders
A member recruitment campaign was directed at winning over the leaders of the profession, on the basis that these are the opinion leaders best positioned to influence widely across the marketing world. Senior level professionals require specific approaches and the proposition needs to be compelling. The call to join was centred on the mission to strengthen the profession of marketing, as this would have most resonance among this target segment.
5. Launch new refreshed suite of offerings
A whole new suite of events was launched, including the All Ireland Marketing Awards, DMX Dublin, Ireland's largest digital marketing conference, and the CMO Summit. In addition, a partnership was established with Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland's largest marketing educator, and a range of new fully-accredited postgraduate educational qualifications was developed.
6. Become a customer-centric organisation
It was recognised that the Institute would have to be responsive to a changing world on an ongoing basis, and to do this it would have to monitor and listen very closely to what was happening. By getting the professional staff close to members, it was found that informal ideas and feedback were received. Surveys and periodic research helped answer specific questions and generate particular insights.
New initiatives driven by the strategy have included the following:
DMX Dublin: Recognising the gap in the market for a conference focused on digital marketing, and the attractiveness of such an event for young up and coming marketers, the Institute launched DMX Dublin. This is staged in the Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road (the world's newest international rugby stadium located in the world's oldest international rugby venue). It has featured cutting edge players from across the world who fly in and share their knowledge with the 800+audience in a multiple themed streams. Speakers have included Rand Fishkin, Yuri Van Geest, Ryan Holiday, Mike Volpe, PR Smith and Scott Brunker. This, now annual, event was promoted via social media, PR, email and telemarketing, and it was immediately successful, providing a highly engaging, fast moving platform that engages younger marketers with MII.
The CMO Summit: As an important element in its targeting of senior marketers, MII created an exclusive annual event aimed at the very top level of the profession. The CMO Summit provides an opportunity for this key segment to come together, network with their peers and be exposed to thought leadership. This event has provided the Institute with a compelling basis for engagement with CMOs in the recruitment campaign, and over 200 of Ireland's senior marketers have been prompted to join the Institute through this forum.
The All Ireland Awards: The annual All Ireland Marketing Awards black tie event is the must-attend formal event for senior Irish marketers, attracting 900 attendees. This events programme is successfully differentiated in a crowded marketplace through its two-stage adjudication process, whereby entries which make it onto the shortlist of finalists then make presentations in person to panels of judges drawn from the membership of the Institute. The inclusion of a Marketing Champion Award which is presented to a well-known business leader each year helps to position the event as one for senior people. Each of the awards, which cover the full range of marketing disciplines, is commercially sponsored by blue-chip businesses. (Interestingly from an Irish perspective, since the institute is driven by the market, and with research highlighting high levels of consumer goodwill towards the Irish language, there is an award category for the use of the Irish language in marketing). "We knew we had positioned our awards correctly when the President of Ireland accepted our invitation to attend" says Tom.
Educational Qualifications: MII entered into a partnership with Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) under the auspices of which a range of qualifications are offered, including the pioneering MSc in Digital Marketing & Analytics, which taps directly into the market need for marketers to be skilled in data-related activities. This MSc was a world’s first (many Masters programmes included digital marketing but this was the first MSc programme to include ‘Analytics’ in its title). “Data-driven marketing delivers better business results, and so this programme meets a market need, and sometimes the challenge is to get acceptance of the need before the market realises it’s there” says Tom Trainor.
Short-Course Training and Networking Events: In addition to breakfast briefings, learning lunches and evening events, the Institute offers half day, one day and two day short courses ranging from half day SEO crash courses to PR Smith's popular two-day workshop SOSTAC® Marketing Planning for Success. Once again, these events often attract a largely younger profile of attendee which provides another solution to the challenge of getting younger people to realise earlier the value than can be gained from engagement with MII.
The DIT partnership enables MII to offer full academic accreditation.
Tom Trainor explains "Education and training offerings can sometimes be difficult to assess, but recognised academic accreditation sets our qualifications apart in the market, providing our membership with confidence in the quality of the courses."
A new 14-week part-time Executive Diploma in Strategic Digital Marketing (now running several cohorts each year) is another first in the market, with full academic accreditation through DIT.
The action plan for delivering on the strategy, and the subsequent tactics, involved allocation of accountability for key deliverables to individual staff members. Roles and responsibilities were revised to reflect the new priorities and a number of new people were recruited to bring skills in professional event management and digital marketing.
Whilst the team size increased only marginally, the activities of the role holders changed a great deal, and became proactive rather than reactive. Individuals are expected to bring forward ideas and initiatives for the development of their own areas.
Regular team meetings helped to keep everyone informed of progress in the bigger picture and issues arising, as well as building an 'esprit de corps', but the emphasis was on regular informal communication among team members, with team-working becoming an essential requirement for individuals to fit in the organisation.
An important element in staff motivation was the sense of freedom of action in pursuance of agreed objectives. The team developed a pride in their achievements and began to actively seek out feedback at every opportunity with a view to continuous improvement, even in instances of clearly excellent delivery.
Staff training was driven by the individuals themselves, each of whom is expected to take responsibility for their own learning and development. Staff were encouraged to undertake the Institute's own training courses where these were appropriate.
A new membership management system was procured and implemented.
Whilst event management was dealt with internally by the staff team, the support of external agencies was secured where required in areas such as PR and web services.
The overarching view of the Institute's progress involved (1) Audited annual financial statements, a statutory requirement; (2) Annual General Meetings of members, required by the Institute's constitution; and (3) Regular board meetings which review the Institute's performance against key metrics.
Maintaining profitability has been a critical goal, and formal monthly reporting has enabled the business to remain on track and take whatever corrective action is required.
Membership numbers are a key metric, both new and renewals, with churn being the main indicator. This has been reduced to single digits, and compares very favourably with others in the professional association space.
Event performance levels is an important metric which contributes to overall performance, with P&Ls being produced after every event.
NPS is measured, and an annual satisfaction survey indicates sentiment.
"In the past 10 years we have come from being a very troubled organisation with many challenges, through to one where we believe we are in a very strong position and look forward with confidence" says SOSTAC® Global Member, Tom Trainor.