All Articles Leadership Communication Q&A: How associations can solve communications challenges

Q&A: How associations can solve communications challenges

SmartBrief's Tim Welsh, Director, Content Partnerships, shares his career path from associations to SmartBrief, as well as why associations can benefit from SmartBrief's email offerings and take advantage of the new normal.

6 min read


Q&A: How associations can solve communications challenges


Learn how a SmartBrief publication can fit your association’s communications strategy with our SmartBrief Strategic Partnerships Media Kit.

SmartBrief’s Chief Partnership Officer Amanda Darman-Allen sat down with Tim Welsh to discuss his lessons learned throughout more than 20 years in association leadership roles.

Meet Tim Welsh

In his role as Director, Strategic Partnerships, Tim develops and implements plans designed to expand SmartBrief’s partnership portfolio with trade associations, professional societies, nonprofits and corporations.

Prior to his role at SmartBrief, Tim had a long career as an executive with two construction associations. His leadership roles included oversight in membership, chapter relations, meetings, partnerships, sponsorships and other member benefits. A Maryland native, Tim graduated from Frostburg State University with a bachelor’s in communications.

Hi Tim, thanks for sitting down with me today. My first question has to do with your career journey. After more than 20 years at trade associations, what drew you to SmartBrief?

Joining SmartBrief really came out of my desire to utilize all the years of association management in a new way. My role here is so rewarding for me, personally, because it allows me to stay in touch with my association community, just in a new lane. In fact, I think I bring a new perspective to SmartBrief, one that really understands, and can empathize with, “the other side.” I hope the association partners that I work with see me as a colleague — one of them.

What were some of the toughest challenges you faced on the association side? How have those challenges evolved over time?

That’s a great question. In many ways, it has felt like attracting and retaining members has become more challenging as they really scrutinize the value and ROI of their membership. The sense of continuing to pay membership dues out of loyalty to the mission has diminished, as has the in-person, more informal opportunities to build personal relationships and loyalty that way.

Business leaders and professionals across all industries have embraced digital as their first form of communication. The opportunity to demonstrate the value proposition has taken the form of more consistent, reliable touchpoints through helpful content and thoughtful insights. Associations that can position themselves as thought leaders of their industry and a trustworthy source of need-to-know content are the ones that can build loyalty in this day and age. 

So about thought leadership — how much do members expect and rely upon the association to be an authoritative voice in their industry?

They absolutely do. Members now expect more than just association communications for the dues that they pay. They want to see their association getting out there and leading the way. They expect their association to bring them the breaking industry news and cutting-edge insights to help them stay at the forefront of their field.

In a world in which news is ubiquitous online, what is the need for SmartBrief to curate it in the form of an email newsletter?

The evolution of technology over my career has changed this value quite a bit. It is no longer just about delivering the news, because the news is everywhere, it’s actually the opposite — the value of cutting down the amount of news to highlight only the most insightful stories. The overabundance of news creates a lot of noise. Delivering the right news, alongside educational opportunities such as webinars, events and other resources, is where the value lies today. 

How does SmartBrief help meet this need?

Top news from the major outlets can be compiled easily, but when it comes to finding only the most relevant news across hundreds of sources, that is where SmartBrief’s proprietary technology can save associations a lot of time. And it’s not just a curation tool that drops stories into a newsletter, the technology helps our editors, all industry experts, write custom headlines and digestible summaries specifically for the association’s audience. When I say “save associations time,” I mean that we can take nearly everything off of their plate, from the search for content, to the writing, to the sale of advertising. 

Nurturing its audience through a reliable and valuable touchpoint should be a primary priority for any organization, not simply a nice-to-have. The member or customer is the ultimate stakeholder, and SmartBrief’s data-driven approach to engagement makes it a core component of any association’s strategic communications plan.

Your focus on the balance of technology and human editors is an important point. I recently read “How to Curate Valuable Content for Members During Uncertain Times” in which Hilary Marsh, chief strategist for Content Company, said, “[Associations are] sharing stuff with no context, like the latest industry headlines aggregated from another source. You don’t need to reinvent that work. You need to add the right context for your particular members. … The sense making and context providing, that’s what you bring to it. You can say, ‘This is why it matters for us.’” 

Exactly. Our editors can make sense of the news and highlight the implications of the developments in ways that AI-driven products simply cannot.

SmartBrief was ahead of the curve in delivering digital news when it was started back in 1999, but now the email inbox has become more crowded than ever. What do you say to someone who thinks their audience will be put off by the number of emails they receive?

I would say to look at the data to determine which emails your audience is finding the most valuable. SmartBrief publications consistently see higher open rates and click-through rates than association marketing emails. From my time working at associations, I remember how each department operated in a silo and wanted to send their own email, which resulted in overcommunication. Including marketing initiatives in the SmartBrief can be one way to consolidate for a better reader experience. 

When you think about the next decade, what stands out to you?

The COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting consequences for years to come. Associations that relied on large events and meetings will have to do that again, since there has not been an easy way to re-create the in-person conversations and revenue. However, in other ways, the pandemic has forced some of those who had been stuck in their ways to experiment with new ideas. For example, learning how to cater to members who don’t travel for events and prefer to engage online. Many organizations have become smarter and more versatile. 

As with the last major recession, associations have learned to prioritize their budget to keep only what is most critical. Something like SmartBrief, which brings your audience relevant and timely news summaries written by industry-leading experts, develops that steady and reliable touchpoint with your audience, and showcases your thought leadership, needs to be right near the top.


Learn how a SmartBrief publication can fit your association’s communications strategy with our 2021 Strategic Partnerships Media Kit.