Reflections on Memcom18 – a Chair’s perspective
Sue Upton

Sue Upton – Former Members and Markets Director, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), now working independently – chaired Stream 1 ‘Maintaining Relevancy’ at this year’s memcom conference. Sue is an experienced senior business and marketing professional, with a successful track record of delivering growth, efficiency, performance and change in business, people leadership, marketing and communications. Sue kindly guest blogs below about her learnings from the conference and provides us with eight key points for professional organisation leaders to reflect on.

This year I had the pleasure to chair the conference stream on Membership Relevancy. The aim of this stream was to challenge the audience to reflect on whether their strategy was ‘fit for purpose’ in what are changing and challenging times. To help answer this question, we heard from industry experts and speakers from a diverse range of professional membership organisations. Here’s a brief summary of what was covered and some of the key lessons learned.


To set the scene we had previously been encouraged by our plenary speakers Ann Franke, CEO at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Lee Davies, CE at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) to ensure we were clear on our purpose, to stop obsessing about membership growth, and to think about how to transform our organisations from ships to drones.


Cath Hill

This theme was developed further in a case study from Cath Hill, Group Director, Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) in which she was clear that in order to be the true voice of a profession we need to engage beyond our core membership base. Cath demonstrated how a content-led strategy helped deliver profitable engagement with the procurement and supply community, and ultimately has led to member growth.


Emma Thompson and Emma Bradbury

We also heard about the perceptions of professional bodies from our potential next generation members in some new research presented by Emma Thompson and Emma Bradbury on behalf of Ashridge Communications. The delegates were encouraged to think about how to tailor and time their communications and to ensure that we offer products and services that are relevant to the needs of this audience.


This theme was picked up by Sarah Allen, Editor and former Director of Membership and Communications at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Sarah reminded us of the importance of going back to the basics of segmentation, particularly by stage of career and suggested that what works for Gen Z actually works for everyone. One theme that emerged from these presentations was a challenge to the leadership in professional membership organisations to ensure they understand and respond to the demands of the next generation of members and that they lead by example.


Victoria Barlow (speaking) and Sarah Allen

Getting closer to our members and markets also puts us in a strong position to look for signals, as well as to respond to the changes in the political landscape and to regulation. This was the message from Victoria Barlow from the newly formed National Education Union who presented a case study on the amalgamation of two organisations including how a positive outcome was delivered via a well-executed and thought through communications plan and member vote.


We also learnt about some innovative approaches to promoting diversity and social mobility from Kate Denham from the Public Good Company. A really positive message that came through from Kate’s research in this area was that professional bodies are embracing these issues and really believe in them – something that was described as a win/win for the organisation and their members.


Finally in a thought provoking session from Mark Sherwin from Accenture Interactive we explored how the biggest membership organisations in the future will be those that provide the most remarkable human experience, and not the ones with the most assets. Mark introduced us to many new concepts and explored how a blend of human and machine has the potential to create a better experience for members.


8 points for professional organisation leaders to reflect on


  1. Be clear on your purpose and what you offer
  2. In the future membership organisations will need to operate less like ships and more like drones
  3. To have a voice and be representative we need to engage beyond our core membership base. Get your content strategy right and member growth will follow
  4. Don’t forget the basics – segment your audience and target them with timely and relevant communications
  5. Leaders in professional bodies need to rise up to the challenge to ensure they understand the perceptions, attitudes and needs of their next generation of members
  6. Getting closer to our members and markets puts us in a stronger position to look for and respond to signals of change
  7. Embrace issues such as diversity and social mobility, not from a compliance perspective but as a win/win for your professional body and its members
  8. The biggest membership organisations in the future will be those that provide the most remarkable human experience, not the ones with the most assets