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True Story: Turning Legislative Lemons into Membership Lemonade

Posted by Tara Puckey on Feb 15, 2017 12:00:00 PM


In case you haven’t noticed, the new tenant of the White House has waged a war of words with the journalism industry. From severe access issues reaching almost every government agency to challenges covering an administration that circumvents the traditional press through late-night tweets, journalists are working harder than ever to get the story fast and, most important, right.

As an association dedicated to a free press, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has been on a rollercoaster of emotions, rubbernecking from an unprecedented effort to trim time with the historic White House press pool to reporters arrested while covering numerous protests around the country.

But as we rode head on into the inauguration of the 45th, we knew we needed something to bring us back together, to take a united stand against eroding press freedom, to fight for the public’s right to know and, for that matter, to know the truth. We needed to do something, and fast.

Just two days before Inauguration Day, we drafted a plan (hey, we’re a journalism organization, last minute deadlines are kind of our thing). The goal: membership growth. We wanted to get more members to stand with us for what we believe might be a rough four years when it comes to a free press. How? A membership drive.

In 16 hours, we created a microsite focused on the fight. The SPJ president recorded a short video about our efforts and it was distributed to both members and nonmembers, along with a series of pre-written tweets and Facebook posts. We included graphics to share, with relevant quotes, and encouraged everyone to change their profile pictures with Twibbon to match our campaign. And, we worked hard to use – and spread – the hashtag #PressthePrez, building on an earlier effort surrounding similar advocacy efforts. Lastly, we lowered our membership dues (normally $75) to just $45 on Inauguration Day because Donald J. Trump would become the 45th President of the United States.

Then, we crossed our fingers and waited.

It worked. The hashtagged posts had more than two million impressions on Inauguration Day, a pretty big deal since most of our audience is “relatively” busy that day. By the end of the day on January 20, we brought in 252 new members to help us fight the good fight.

We celebrated, but recognized this is just the beginning. These new members, like our 7,000 others, need to become engaged in the organization, make connections and find helpful resources. Otherwise, they’ve just paid, they haven’t “joined.”

For now, we see more legislative lemons on the horizon. It probably won’t get any easier for this industry. Journalists, with the help of our association and others dedicated to protecting and supporting the press, will just have to keep making that lemonade.

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Topics: membership, Member Recruitment and Retention, Politics, Case Study

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