All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy What we learned at ASAE 2021

What we learned at ASAE 2021

SmartBrief’s Kelly Bragg offers key takeaways from the 2021 American Society of Association Executive’s annual conference, which dealt with how COVID-19 has affected advocacy efforts and global partnerships, communication skills and other topics.

4 min read

Marketing Strategy

What we learned at ASAE 2021


It was our pleasure to attend and for SmartBrief to help sponsor the American Society of Association Executive’s annual conference ASAE 2021. Its virtual platform performed flawlessly, which was no small feat for an event that size.

Several members from the partner development team attended ASAE learning labs, which spanned topics from the impact of COVID-19 on advocacy efforts and global partnerships to communication skills for leaders, as well as from crisis management to customer engagement. Eighteen months after the world was turned upside down, there are a million and one lessons to be learned about life during a pandemic and ASAE wisely focused several of its sessions on those lessons.

One of the highlights from the learning labs was “Transforming a Crisis into a Membership Growth Opportunity,” with Carol Cohen and Stephen Fox of the American Nursing Association, a longtime SmartBrief partner. ANA detailed the challenges of managing through a pandemic, and outlined how it was able to rapidly respond and overcome those challenges, resulting in an entirely new set of offered value to its members and a quadrupled rate of member growth per month. The pandemic’s long-term effect on advocacy efforts remains to be seen, but in the short term, associations have been forced to adjust and innovate.

According to panelists in the “Advocacy after COVID-19” learning lab, the most positive effects have been inclusion and creativity. Associations with minimal budgets had to use creative methods — for example, the National Down Syndrome Society used TikTok — to make big splashes.

Other associations were able to pull in otherwise unavailable advocates to speak with lawmakers, because everyone already was working from home and could jump on a video call. (Being unbound by geographical concerns was freeing.) The partner development team has seen a similar benefit in establishing video calls with our partners rather than holding a simple phone call.

The speakers on the “Global Partnerships in the Post-COVID-19 Era” panel raised several good points applicable to all types of organizations — not just associations. SmartBrief’s partner development delegation particularly enjoyed sitting in on this panel, as it related to our day-to-day activities and the long-term strategies that we focus on with partners.

A key takeaway included the importance of being flexible and thinking outside the box when considering partnerships. Magdalena Nowicka Mook of Associations International discussed how her organization opted to find a partner to help their members with COVID-19 financial aid, rather than muscling through it themselves. By asking for help, Mook said the association got their members the assistance they needed in a timely fashion.

We run into this situation in our work as we often have to pull in several other departments to work on a project. This served as a great reminder that it’s not just permissible but advisable to outsource solutions or answers to challenging questions.

We also had a chance to place ourselves in the shoes of our association partners and experience how to successfully pivot sponsorships in a constantly evolving pandemic world. In “How we Linked our Strategic Plan and Sponsors,” Michael Tatonetti described how his organization strategically shifted his event’s sponsorships to a virtual experience by inviting sponsors to share his organization’s mission and values, and help serve members in a greater way.

Rather than negotiate over lost revenue value, Tatonetti and his team invited all stakeholders to join them in a conversation to identify ways they could mutually accomplish their ultimate goal of serving their members and sponsors. From those talks came innovative ways to generate leads through digital marketing channels, curate free content that resonated with event attendees and provide unique training to help manage pandemic crises.

As an organization with hundreds of association partnerships, the positioning of this message forced us to rethink how we can best support our partners and share in their mission to serve their members.


Kelly Bragg is a SmartBrief Partner Development manager and helps lead SmartBrief’s publishing partnerships with leading associations.