Capitalising on Content in Intl Markets


Capitalising on Content Opportunities

in “International Markets”

When it comes to online learning programs, US headquartered international associations are leaders in both technical resources and staff competence, but many still struggle to reach their potential outside of North America. With the massive increase in online learning and events due to the COVID-19 crisis, bringing participants together 24/7 regardless of location, how can associations better engage audiences around the world?

The first barrier to overcome is that associations need to accept that a uniform “international market” likely doesn’t exist – the terminology can be convenient shorthand for internal communications or resource allocation, however, it doesn’t translate into customer-centric thinking.

There are a multitude of global issues with collective professional interest. However, whilst an issue may be global, approaches and solutions will often be considered differently at local, regional and global levels. Delivering content successfully means being relevant, and to address global issues in a relevant way they often need to be looked at through a regional or local lens.


Colm Clarke

Partner, Consultancy


A second barrier is that that good quality content does not always equate to relevant content. Content not being relevant is not a judgement on quality, it may be that the subject matter or the angle taken does not apply in other parts of the world.  Association content creators and decision makers need to acknowledge this complicates the usual selection of “top rated” speakers, articles and webinars etc. This can be due to the performance metrics themselves not drilling down into regional specifics, or in needing to explain to respected subject matter experts that their content will not be included in a regional initiative.

Exempla’s work is primarily focused on Europe, but we have also worked in the Middle East and Asia Pacific and believe the same broad principles apply.

Looking specifically at Europe, another issue is that “international” topics are now very much part of day-to-day activities – they are not necessarily of global significance and can include a host of cross-border matters that many professionals face as a matter of routine. So, showing that you understand the difference between global challenges that unite an industry or profession and international/cross-border topics is also an important mark of credibility.

When coaching new staff working with association boards, I often say, “Remember the Treasurer didn’t pick the role because they secretly like playing accountant at the weekends”.

Volunteers take these roles on top of their real job in order to give back to the profession, shape a collective vision, advance personal professional or company opportunities, or as a fulfilling leadership experience.

I doubt that doubling up their professional crises to manage, whilst juggling family schedules and health concerns was high on anyone’s list.

But that is where volunteer board members find themselves in 2020.

As a global health crisis morphs into an economic crisis (or maybe both in parallel), and even after navigating the initial impacts, boards now need to make more brave decisions to plot a course through an uncertain 2021.

To make those decisions, bravery will also be needed from staff to unveil uncomfortable truths about business models, dysfunctional parts of the organisation, or projects that generate questionable returns.

In the same way as everyone prefers to be asked “who should we hire” instead of “who should we fire”, Boards are typically wired for a “what should we do” discussion rather than “what should we not do”.


Two valuable supports Boards can ask for from staff or advisors in this phase are context and scenario sketching.


Colm Clarke

Partner, Consultancy


One neat illustration of how normalised cross-border work and travel is in Europe is the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport which serves 3 different cities in 3 different countries!

So how can associations make the most of today’s opportunities? Key focus areas include:

  • Identify regulatory or standards differences that significantly impact content relevance
  • Understand business and market conditions in the locations you are targeting
  • Do not underestimate differences in business culture and style, this applies to both the content presentation and related marketing and communications
  • Be clear on what are truly “global/international” issues and what is information about “international issues” of interest for North American members
  • Live sessions and the availability of live customer service in the right time zones demonstrate commitment to members
  • Commercial opportunities exist – if you need to adapt content to regional differences, then there will also be diversity in products and services geared to serving specific regions

With pools of subject matter experts amongst their membership and volunteer leadership, associations are uniquely placed to generate the quality, relevant content that professionals need in these uncertain times.

To discuss how you might engage regional expertise and facilitate the right dialogue between regional insights and overarching global objectives, feel free to contact the author.


Published in July 2020

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