Congratulations to Rick Whelan, president of Marketing General Inc., the recipient of the Association TRENDS 2016 Partner of the Year.
“Rick Whelan is among the most well known and respected consultants in the association community. He and his team at Marketing General have helped associations add and retain countless members over the years, and are behind associations when they need that push to the next level of membership engagement. We are more than pleased with the selection of Rick because he is most deserving of this honor,” said Joel Poznansky, president of Association TRENDS.
Whelan will be honored at the annual TRENDS Salute to Association Excellence early next year in Washington. Also to be honored at the Salute will be the Association Executive of the Year, the Leading Association Lobbyists, the Young & Aspiring Association Professionals, and the winners of the All Media Contest – programs of Association TRENDS and the highest honors of their kind in the association community.
Whelan has developed creative strategies for MGI clients for 29 years. As MGI president, he is responsible for the organization’s overall direction and guidance. He oversees a company of 70 marketing specialists who together have the day-to-day responsibility for the strategic marketing and creative needs of 125 organizations in 16 states and Washington.
His professional accomplishments include creating a membership acquisition program for a national educational association that netted more than 7,000 new members in 12 months. He also managed a nonprofit product sales division that increased gross sales of $1 million. Another notable accomplishment was creating an association’s first direct mail campaign that netted more than 1,000 new members during its first eight weeks. He also increased total annual inquiries for an insurance administrator by 51 percent.
Whelan is a past president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington. During his tenure, he brought the Production Club of Washington under the association’s umbrella and led the adoption of the DMAW Ethics Code of Behavior. He also serves as a board member for the DMAW Educational Foundation. In 2009 DMAW named him the recipient of its Award for Distinguished Achievement.
He is a past chair of the ASAE Membership Section and a member of the ASAE Key Consultants Committee.
A frequent presenter and speaker, he has written many articles on association marketing, including for TRENDS.
To hear him explain it, Whelan said he came into membership marketing “almost by accident.” Marketing General, a client of the company he formerly worked for, asked him to bid on a job, so he met with the MGI principals. “I got to like them, they got to like me, and a month or so later I got a call about a job opening here.”
He interviewed, but did not get the job. Then only 30 days later, he received a call from Scott McBride, who was president of MGI at the time. McBride wanted Whelan to join the company, anyway.
“I said, ‘Great, what kind of clients would I be working on?’” McBride told him there were no clients for him at the time, but he still wanted Whelan to be apart of the firm.
“I thought, oh sure, I’m going to leave a job where I am secure, to go to a job where I have no clients. But I came anyway, and have been here for almost 30 years,” he said.
He said the learning curve for him wasn’t very long, but he discovered that to work with associations, “it’s very different. I was brought up where we were talking about customers and profits, and associations talk about members and contributions to reserves. Many times it’s the same thing, but you have to talk about it in a different language….I can still tell whether people have been in the industry a long time or short time by the words they use.”
Asked if can identify a cataclysmic change in his time working in the association space in the approach to and the pursuit of membership, he readily offers up technology.
“The association community, just like any other community, has been struck by all the innovation in technology that has taken place. So for me and Marketing General, I think the big changes have been in new technology that we can use to bring to bear to recruit and retain new members. It wasn’t that long ago that the fax machine was considered cutting edge technology, and now we have the Web and all the social media that are happening, and smart phones and texting and the like. So I think the cataclysmic changes have been in just the way we can reach people. It’s really 24/7, and the smart associations are now taking advantage of that.
“…Increasingly we’re going online and we’re doing pay-per-click advertising, harvesting social media data and the like to reach these folks where they live and play online. That’s opened up a whole new avenue of reaching prospects, and not only reaching them to join, but also reminding them to renew and engage with the association.”
For Whelan, that last point “is huge because we have seen in studies that if we can get you to do one more thing with your professional association after you join, you’re up to 50 percent more likely to renew.”
TRENDS will roll out more of the interview with Whelan via video clips in the near future, including his thoughts on where membership marketing is going and the successful philosophy of Marketing General. Look for alerts via our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter, @TRENDSTweets and @EdDalere. Or visit our homepage, www.AssociationTRENDS.com.