Communicating your chamber's value
If you’re a membership sales pro at a chamber of commerce, you’ve probably heard something like this before while recruiting prospective members: “I would love to join, but I just don’t have the time.”
It’s one of the most common objections that chamber professionals hear as they try to recruit companies to join their ranks. And, it’s rooted in a misconception about the value that chambers offer their members and communities.
“If possible, try to identify your value in terms that rely less on attendance and participation,” advises Shari Pash, founder and CEO of Strategic Solutions for Growth, a consulting firm for chambers of commerce and other membership associations. “We have to be able to put our values into words, and then put them into our messaging. What is our brand? What are we known for?”
Pash says that chambers need to do a better job differentiating between members who primarily seek networking opportunities and those who join because they believe in the chamber’s broader mission to advance their communities as better places to work, play and live.
“I like to ask my clients: Are you a member organization that has events? Or are you an events organization that has members?” she says. “So many chambers tell their members’ stories beautifully, but they don’t take the time to tell their own stories.”
When approaching prospective members, Pash advises her clients to think in terms of WIFFM: “what’s in it for the member?” Chamber pros need to learn their value points; both functional services like trainings and discounts, as well as networking services like referrals and exposure.
“Because our prospects don’t know what they don’t know, we need to make sure we ask the right questions,” she says. “The more value points you can learn are important to them, the more effective conversation you will have.”
Even the best recruitment pitches, however, can fall flat when prospective members believe they lack enough free time to get their money’s worth from joining. Pash likens this attitude to that of a gym membership, in which the benefits of joining are only realized if you actually take the time to work out regularly.
“From a mission standpoint, all of the things you’re doing for your members are way beyond having to be involved like a gym membership,” says Pash. “Nowhere in your mission statement is it written that you have to have time to join.”
But, how can you tell if a prospective member will be more receptive to a networking-driven message or a mission-driven one? A good clue, advises Pash, is to look at their size.
“Small businesses are more interested in exposure and growing their business; they need more customers and clients,” says Pash. “Still, it’s up to us to educate small business on the importance of mission and why it ultimately impacts their success.”
“Larger businesses naturally stay mission-focused,” she continued. “They want to see what kind of values we have and what we provide for the larger community, like education and workforce.”
A good way to develop the tool-set needed to effectively pitch membership have a group strategy session, in which someone transcribes your chamber’s various benefits and value-points in a written document, so the entire team will be on the same page, says Pash.
“There are 520 hours in a calendar quarter, so I recommend taking half a day to work on these tools,” she says. “Think about those four hours you spend. What does that do for the other 516 hours left? Are you more efficient and do you have better outcomes?”
Watch the full Webinar and question-and-answer session here.
As the world becomes increasingly diverse, the number of minority-owned businesses is on the rise. This shifting demographic landscape is encouraging chambers of commerce as they provide programming that supports these under-represented businesses.
Below, we provide brief overviews of two ongoing and successful chamber-led programs that are working to advance the state of minority-owned businesses in their regions.
West Michigan Minority Contractors Association
At the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Vice President of Business Services Dante Villarreal says the biggest obstacle facing minority-owned businesses is a critical lack of access to resources and connections.
“A lot of it boils down to lack of networking opportunities,” said Villarreal, adding that “part of the challenge facing minority firms is connecting with large companies, some of which just don’t know where to look to find them.”
Villarreal heads the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association (WMMCA), a program that strives to help minority- and women-owned contractors develop business relationships with larger companies in the area. The program offers bid announcements, monthly meetings and training sessions as part of its benefits package.
“The WMMCA is made up of two groups: minority contractors and non-minority firms in town that want more diversity in their supply base,” said Villarreal. “We bring the two groups together every month for a structured meeting, and that facilitates collaboration.”
At the monthly meetings, guest speakers from the business community conduct workshops and seminars on topics like contracting, insurance and marketing. The contractors review each other’s business plans and consult on goals and strategy.
“We help them understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they can address those,” said Villarreal. “These are very good masons and carpenters, but we want to help them develop their business side,” he added.
Villarrreal says the WMMCA stays in touch with participants after they complete the program, and continue advising them as necessary.
“This isn’t something you just do for a couple years and then you’re done,” he said. “Even after they’ve graduated and are successful, we want to continue to be the go-to resource for our minority business community here in Grand Rapids.”
Minority Business Accelerator
In Tampa Bay, the seat of Hillsborough County, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sponsored a study that found that minority-owned businesses, which account for nearly half of the county’s firms, contribute less than 5 percent of the county’s total revenue.
“The survey found that most minority-owned firms are predominantly small businesses that have 10 employees or less, and contribute about 9 percent of the total employment in Hillsborough County,” said LaKendria Robinson, director of the Greater Tampa Chamber Minority Business Accelerator. “They are making a big impact, but there are some disparities that are preventing them from having the impact they should be having.”
Five-to-eight businesses are selected to participate in 24-month cycles, in which they learn strategies to identify and overcome barriers to doing business. Companies selected to participate must have at least $500,000 in annual revenue and an active business plan.
During the first year, participants meet for 16 hours each month to participate in workshops and training sessions, and undergo a deep-dive assessment of their business plans. In the second year, they meet 10 hours per week and use the skills they learned during the first year to develop accelerated-growth plans.
“We have business development courses where we look at things like human resources, talent management, organizational management and leadership development,” said Robinson. “We’re really looking at a comprehensive curriculum to make sure they have the knowledge they need to continue to accelerate their businesses.”
Robinson hopes the Minority Business Accelerator will lead to increased job creation and more diversity in a wider array of industries in the region. She hopes that other counties will look to Hillsborough as an example of a community that has fostered inclusion in all sectors of the economy.
“We, as a chamber, are measuring our success in fulfilling our diversity and inclusion mission through our program participants,” she said. “If they’re successful, then we’re successful—and we can continue to fulfill that mission for years to come.”
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Growth is a good problem to have, as the saying goes. But, for some communities, it can a concept that causes friction and resentment—particularly when they perceive it as not benefiting society at-large.
The challenges created by such misunderstandings are on display in the Cayman Islands, where 21,000 indigenous Caymanians often find themselves in direct competition with the 39,000 foreign nationals who supply much-needed manpower to the island nation’s $3.2 billion economy.
“Because our economy is growing at such a fast pace, we now have a situation where more than 50 percent of our workforce is held by foreign nationals,” said Wil Pineau, CEO at the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce. “Locals sometimes feel as though they’re not getting the direct benefit of that growth, and as a result, they’re feeling a bit threatened by it.”
To better educate its community about economic opportunity, the chamber launched Growth Matters, an award-winning campaign about the the importance of growth and the synergy between the private sector and increased prosperity. The initiative features a fun and creative 10-part animated series that explains the role of the private sector in a format that appeals to viewers of all ages.
“We’re trying to inform our community that economic growth is something that originates in the private sector,” said Pineau. “Growth is vitally important for any economy, and we wanted this campaign to provide examples of how growth happens and why it’s important for our future.”
After bringing together a committee of experts to write scripts, the chamber tapped ThinkMojo, a San Francisco-based animation company for help with production. Next, they partnered with Bliss, a local marketing firm, to create a standalone website, which integrates their Youtube channel.
“We developed the script, put an RFP together, got our fundraising in line and consulted our members,” said Pineau. “We really believed that animation was the best way to appeal to the widest cross-section of people.”
The campaign partnered with a local cinema to use its VIP screen as a venue to promote the new video series. Attendees at the premiere included elected officials, political candidates, media chiefs, business leaders and the general public.
“The cinema liked our message so much that they agreed to broadcast our series as advertisements for free over a 10-week period,” said Pineau. “They would air our videos as part of the ad scrolls before each movie, so we got massive exposure to our local community through that partnership.”
Pineau says he was caught by surprise when he learned the campaign had won a Communications Excellence Best in Show award at ACCE’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in July.
“As a chamber on a little island that’s really just a blemish in the Caribbean sea, I felt proud and humbled,” said Pineau. “It just demonstrates that good ideas can win awards when they’re well-executed and supported by your membership.”
The next step, according to Pineau, is for the campaign to develop educational materials and a curriculum for Cayman Islands public schools to use. He says the program will be geared for students ages 12–16, and will use the videos to teach them basic principles of economic growth.
“We just really want them to absorb the materials, because there are so many misconceptions and negativity about the private sector, especially in the media,” said Pineau. “We want to make sure students understand that the private sector isn’t the evil cousin out there, that they’re the ones who generate jobs and growth and positive energy in any community.”
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From the winner's circle: Chattanooga 2.0
In 2008, as the world wrestled with the fallout from the global financial crisis, growth in Chattanooga, Tennessee barely skipped a beat. Now, the city is showing signs of growing pains, with its workforce lacking the education attainment levels needed to fill the high-paying jobs arriving every day in Hamilton County.
To correct this misalignment, the Chattanooga Chamber and its community partners introduced Chattanooga 2.0, an initiative designed to increase the portion of Hamilton County adults with a college degree or technical training certificate from 38 percent to 75 percent by 2025. The chamber estimates that 80 percent of the 15,000 new jobs expected over the next several years will require a post-secondary degree.
“There’s not only an economic imperative, but also a moral imperative,” said David Steele, vice president of policy and education at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of what makes Chattanooga such an awesome place to live and work was not awesomeness that was being enjoyed by everyone in the community.”
The initiative has already begun reshaping education in Chattanooga. The coalition has launched a new polytechnic academy housed in a local community college, which welcomes students from each of the eight city high schools and trains them in four localized career clusters. A partnership with Volkswagen AG provides industry credentials that often lead to high-paying jobs at its local plant.
“We are distributing certificate programs that lead to other degrees and credentials earlier in the pipeline, when the kids are juniors and seniors in high school,” explained Steele. “The goal is not simply degrees and credentials, but degrees and credentials that have a value within the context of our economy.”
The chamber solicited feedback from stakeholders over an 18-month period to identify obstacles to accessing college, successful programs for replication and strategies for bridging the gaps in available opportunities. At the same time, it kept the community updated through weekly print and online newspaper columns, letters to the editor, op-eds and email newsletters.
“We had school board members host town hall meetings, and we made presentations to every level of government,” recounted Steele. “The 2.0 program schedules two to three meetings a week, so an awful lot of communication takes place in conference rooms and around board tables. It’s become a really dominant factor here in our community.”
Although 2025 still looms far off, there are signs that the initiative is on the right track. Chamber publications predict that 20 percent of the graduating class of 2018 will have been involved in an industry credential program during their junior and senior years. The chamber's communications also speak volumes, with the coalition's website earning 3,600 average monthly visits and 1,500 subscribers to its weekly newsletter.
The coalition’s success was further validated when the Chattanooga Chamber was named Chamber of the Year by ACCE in July. The award recognized the chamber for its success with Chattanooga 2.0, as well as Thrive 2055, a regional growth campaign that complemented the 2.0 movement.
“The award has been a tremendous source of pride for our entire staff and the membership,” said Steele, adding that the chamber has taken the trophy on a tour of its regional councils. “It’s something the entire community has taken ownership of, and that’s been very exciting for us.”
But, even with the chamber still reeling from its big award wins at the ACCE convention, Steele insists the best is yet to come for the chamber and the Chattanooga community.
“It’s very gratifying to have received the recognition we have, but if you were to talk to our staff, the sense you’d get is that none of us feel like we’ve peaked,” he said. “We’re very focused as individuals and teams on building on the success we saw last year, and maintaining the momentum as we continue to enhance our organizational infrastructure.”
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Montana on the mind
At 3,000 feet above sea level, tucked away between Big Mountain and Glacier National Park to the North and Blacktail Mountain and Flathead Lake—America’s largest— to the south, Kalispell, Montana, isn’t the first place you think of when you think winter getaway.
So, when United Airlines announced it was launching a two-month trial series of direct flights from San Francisco to Glacier Park International Airport in December 2016, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitor Bureau (KCVB) knew it had to find a way to capitalize on the opportunity to attract tourists and increase regional awareness.
“The main driving factor was filling the seats on those flights,” said Kate Lufkin, marketing and communications specialist at the KCVB. “With a trial flight like that, the better it performed, the more likely the airline is to expand service, so we really wanted to fill those seats.”
The KCVB teamed up with a public relations firm based in Missoula, Montana, to brainstorm a marketing and advertising campaign to promote the region as a wintertime tourist destination in the San Francisco Bay Area market. The intended target audience was young, active adults who are passionate about outdoors adventure and skiing.
“A lot of people don’t think of us as a travel destination in the winter, but this area doesn’t shut down by any means,” said Lufkin. “We wanted to promote our skiing, snowmobiling and other winter activities, and San Francisco was a fantastic addition, because of the likeminded folks there that are drawn to the outdoors.”
The PR firm created native content for the Weekend Sherpa, a popular northern California-based e-magazine geared toward outdoors adventuring, which was promoted through social media, email newsletter blasts and as a feature on the online magazine’s homepage.
The series of sponsored stories, dubbed “Montana on the Mind,” featured rousing images of northwest Montana’s rugged, snow-covered landscapes, and generated hundreds of thousands of impressions on social media.
The KCVB also targeted outdoor enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay Area through Facebook advertising, including carousel ads on both mobile and desktop newsfeeds. These digital efforts garnered over one million total impressions and generated nearly 3,000 link clicks to the campaign’s website.
The biggest development, however, occurred just after the campaign’s conclusion in February 2017, when United Airlines and Glacier Park International Airport announced expanded daily commercial air service to and from San Francisco for July through September 2017. The KCVB credits the success of the campaign in-part for the decision by United to expand its flight offerings to the area.
“I think it’s a huge testament to see the confidence United had to expand the flight beyond the two-month trial period,” said Lufkin. “We hope to see it continue to grow, and maybe even become a new year-round direct service.”
Another rewarding moment for the KCVB came when it learned it won a Communications Excellence Best in Show award from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives at the group’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee in July 2017.
“As a smaller chamber in a smaller market, we were thrilled to be recognized, even just as one of the finalists,” said Diane Medler, director of the chamber’s convention and visitor bureau. “When we found out we won Best in Show, we were just over the moon.”
Medler says the KCVB has continued to build on the winter campaign’s success with a spring and summer campaign. She says the key to launching a successful destination campaign as a smaller-sized chamber is to “be targeted and strategic” in your communications.
“You can’t be everything to everyone, and you have to decide who your audience is and what results you hope to achieve,” said Medler. “If you’re more targeted, then you’re ultimately going to be more successful, because your message will amplify and resonate within that group.”
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Congratulations, Best in Show winners!
ACCE’s Awards for Communications Excellence celebrate top-notch marketing work that effectively communicates policy work, the accomplishments of the chamber of commerce, community advancement and economic development initiatives, membership attraction and retention, events and more.
The top three entries — one from each size category — are presented the Best in Show award.
At the #ACCEAwards Show in Nashville, Tennessee on July 18, three organizations — Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Portland Business Alliance — were recognized as this year’s Best in Show winners.
Judges of this year’s Communications Excellence awards selected one entry — submitted by the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce — to receive a specially-created recognition called the “Literally Perfect” award. Honored for creative execution and attention-grabbing results, Chattanooga’s Literally Perfect series is, well, literally perfect.
In addition to celebrating winners of the Best in Show and Literally Perfect awards, Grand Award winners took to the stage and Awards of Excellence winners were recognized. (Check out this blog post, where we announced Grand Award and Award of Excellence winners.)
Meet the newest Certified Chamber Executives
Nine chamber of commerce leaders from six states have recently joined an elite roster of professionals who have earned the Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) designation.
Since the first CCE designation was conferred some 40 years ago, more than 500 chamber professionals have become certified. More than 250 people have an active certification today.
ACCE celebrated this year’s Certified Chamber Executives — Lucia Cape, Brad Dean. Megan Lucas, Cheryl Millsaps, Mark Owens, Jeff Rea, Barbara Thomason, Michael Ward and Joyce Waugh — in the heart of downtown Nashville at the #ACCEAwards Show on Tuesday, July 18.
“The CCE program assesses and tests the applicant's knowledge of core chamber management areas —management, planning and development, membership and communication, and operations,” says Bob Quick, CCE, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington Inc. and CCE commission chairman. “Chamber professionals who are designated CCEs have rightfully earned this outstanding recognition through hard work, countless hours of dedication to their field, and leadership of their chamber to achieve the chamber’s goals. We are proud to have this year’s class join a long tradition of professional excellence.”
Congratulations, from your friends at ACCE!
Lucia Cape, CCE
Senior Vice President, Economic Development, Industry Relations & Workforce
Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce
Brad Dean, CCE, IOM
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Megan Lucas, CCE, IOM, CEcD
CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer
Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance
Cheryl Millsaps, CCE, IOM, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Vice President of Finance and Administration
Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
Mark Owens, CCE, IOM
Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce
Greer, South Carolina
Jeff Rea, CCE
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber
South Bend, Indiana
Barbara Thomason, CCE, IOM, PCED
Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce
Michael D. Ward, CCE, IOM
Senior Vice President, Government & Public Affairs
Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce
Joyce W. Waugh, CCE, IOM, CEcD
President & CEO
Roanoke Regional Chamber
Congratulations, Chamber(s) of the Year!
Last week at the annual #ACCEAwards Show, nearly one-thousand community-builders gathered at Music City Center in downtown Nashville to celebrate winners of many special awards, including Chamber of the Year.
Sponsored by WebLink, Chamber of the Year is the most prestigious and competitive award presented by ACCE and is the only globally-recognized industry award that honors top chambers of commerce for exemplary work.
Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
Huntsville/Madison County Chamber
Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce
O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce & Industries
This year's competition drew entries from chambers throughout the U.S. and Canada. To ensure the fairest competition, applicants are grouped into five categories based on: annual revenue, membership, area population, and several other factors.
Learn more about Chamber of the Year here.
Funding the Detroit Promise
The ongoing economic recovery of Detroit has produced some real success stories. Since filing for municipal bankruptcy back in 2013, Motor City has enjoyed a solid comeback, accompanied by a building boom in its downtown core.
But, as is the case in much of the country, the recovery in Detroit has been markedly uneven. Since 2007, employment for suburban residents has increased by more than 16 percent, while at the same time falling by 35 percent for the city’s urbanites, according to data from City Lab.
At the Detroit Regional Chamber, Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent programs, wants to attack this inequality by its roots—by providing low-income students at Detroit public highs schools with funding to attend community college, tuition free.
“There’s this big economic revitalization going on, and a lot of these new jobs demand a highly skilled workforce,”explained Handel. “There’s a hope that if we get more students onto a pathway for college, they’ll be able to fill these jobs that are coming back downtown.”
Handel says the program will also help reduce the the number of families leaving the city. Detroit’s population, which stood at well over a million residents for most of the 1990s, has fallen to just 676,312 residents in 2016, the last year data was available.
“This is largely about retention of residents,” said Handel. “The city has been losing residents, so there’s a hope that this will slow down or end that drain away from the city.”
In 2011, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder formed a working group with the Detroit Regional Chamber to brainstorm ways to reform the city’s education system. They settled on a last-dollar scholarship program, to be administered by the chamber and funded by the Michigan Educational Excellence Foundation, a nonprofit business foundation created to improve education outcomes for low-income Detroiters.
The new scholarship, which made community college available tuition-free for all students in the city, became known as the Detroit Promise.
“As we look to the future, the next generation of leaders is being developed here in our schools,” said Gov. Rick Snyder last Fall in a blog post. “The Detroit Promise helps to provide access to a high-quality education, so that our students are equipped with the skills necessary to continue the city’s comeback for generations to come.”
More than 2,000 students have used the funds to attend community college since the program’s inception four years ago. Starting last year, the Promise was expanded to several four-year universities in the area—although students must have at least a 3.0 GPA and a score of 1060 on the SAT to gain admission.
Of the students who attended community college through the scholarship, about 20 percent graduated, which is roughly the national average for low-income, first-generation students, said Handel. To boost success rates, the chamber hired coaches to help students navigate the college experience.
“From research, we know that some low-income, first-year students enter college with a feeling they don’t belong,” said Handel. “Coaches encourage them not to get too stressed or too down on themselves, especially after that first setback.”
Looking ahead, Handel hopes to increase the numbers of students attending community college through the Promise from 500 to 700, and to roughly double the graduation rate for participating students to 40 percent.
“As employers look to hire Detroit residents for jobs and internships, we want to encourage our students to be in that pipeline,” said Handel. “A lot of these students believe that college is a luxury they can’t afford, even if the tuition is paid for. We want to show these kids that a pathway to success exists.”
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Solving San Francisco’s gridlock puzzle
For decades, the San Francisco Bay area has been a region of prosperity. Fueled by the wealth of Silicon Valley, the city’s population growth shows no sign of slowing down.
Now, the region’s renowned public transit systems are feeling the strain of decades of expansion, as traffic congestion makes it hard to move around and causes headaches for everyone—businesses and consumers alike.
At the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President for Public Policy Jim Lazarus sounds a sanguine tone about traffic in the city.
“We don’t have congestion—we call it traffic,” he chuckled. “Traffic is good, congestion is bad.”
Lazarus has a behind-the-scenes view, as a member of the city’s new taskforce on reducing traffic, led by the San Francisco Chamber, which includes staff from the mayor’s office, regional agencies and a coterie of business associations.
“We have a fairly robust rapid transit system, but it’s bursting at the seams carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers a day,” said Lazarus. “There are no reverse commutes anymore. The traffic moves in all directions, all the time.”
The working group launched in 2015, in response to concerns the city would struggle to accommodate the one million expected visitors for Super Bowl 50. After the city successfully handled the influx, the group decided to continue meeting monthly to further develop strategies toward curbing the snarling congestion enveloping San Francisco’s winding grid system.
“This kind of ad hoc process led into some major meetings to give input to the city and the NFL,” said Lazarus. “That Superbowl, transit carried record loads, business didn’t grind to a halt and we survived with the kind of security constraints that were imposed on the town.”
At the working group’s monthly meetings, the agenda deals with strategies for enforcing traffic and parking control, as well as incentivizing sustainable options like carpooling and public transit. The group also studies current trends, like the effects of ride-sharing firms Uber and Lyft, which now comprise roughly 20 percent of the city’s traffic, according to a report from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
“There’s probably 5–6,000 ridesharing vehicles on the streets at any peak time in San Francisco,” said Lazarus. “It obviously adds to traffic, but it’s also replacing vehicles, so we’re trying to learn what the real net impact of all this is.”
And, in a nod to its Silicon Valley DNA, the working group is planning with an eye toward future adoption of autonomous vehicles, which Lazarus believes is looming on the horizon.
“Autonomous vehicles are going to give road capacity a big bump up, meaning there will be more vehicles in the same amount of roadway,” said Lazarus. “We don’t know what the full effects will be, but we think it will move traffic better if you take some of the human error out of the equation.”
Public transit in the region accommodates nearly one million passengers daily. The city has slated transit improvements for the next 5–10 years, including the electrification of the Caltrain commuter line and the addition of new several planned subway stations, that are expected to boost the system’s capacity.
“With the growth of deliveries, jobs, private vehicles and rideshare, San Francisco can’t add to the street grid,” said Lazarus. “We can only try to make it more efficient, and that’s our real goal here.”
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