A reinvigorated NorCal BMA marks its 75th anniversary this year, having reversed a six-year decline in membership. The chapter grew its ranks by 40% over the past year, outpacing its peers and earning the Large Chapter Growth award when chapter leaders met last month in Chicago. Nancy Chou, NorCal president, spoke to BMA Buzz about the initiatives that helped drive the growth of the 117-member network.
BMA Buzz: What were the challenges to growth?
Nancy Chou: The NorCal BMA chapter is in the hotbed of technology. There has been a seismic change in the technology industry as a whole and in b-to-b marketing in general.
In the past six years, we’ve seen the incredible acceleration of innovation on the part of the social media companies—the best known being Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It really marks a new era—one built on the foundation established by the IBMs, HPs and Intels of the world.
Traditionally Norcal BMA drew many of its members from these “legacy” companies, but during the downturn, many of these companies were forced to lay off significant staff from the top layer of management downward in order to survive in the increasingly competitive and challenging markets. NorCal’s decline in membership was a reflection of what was happening.
What’s new and exciting is that in the past, we never had the members from the younger generation of companies, and this is now where we’re seeing our fastest growth.
As soon as I was elected as president I had a vision of wanting to bridge the generational divide. It became my personal mission to increase awareness of NorCal BMA as a place to foster professional development and growth, particularly for marketers with the new companies.
I was interviewed for BMA Buzz, and young professionals reached out to me because of that article. One of those people, Jenna Cheng, architected the YP program and became the director.
Today we have 11 young professional members and are well on our way to bridging the seasoned professional and young professional gap. With the help of Kathy Button Bell and national board members, we’d like to connect C-level executives with members who are up and coming. If I’m able to do that, I will be ready to step back and hand the reigns to the next leader.
BMA Buzz: What were other strategies that grew the membership?
Chou: Leadership begins at the top. I personally closed 25% of new members who joined NorCal BMA. I attend every evening program and roundtable to stay in touch with what people need. People are more than willing to join—but they need to be asked. We’re a marketing organization so we’re great at strategy, but we’re not always comfortable with sales. In this era of marketing aligning with sales, of going for the close, I want to set a good example, and that’s what I encourage in our chapter.
Selling BMA is not like selling a router. It is a person-to-person selling process that has to be supported with good content. That’s the cornerstone that makes our chapter successful. We are really blessed because we’re in the high tech epicenter of the world. We don’t have problems accessing VP and C-level marketers. We work really hard to bring those talents to NorCal BMA. We also have a laser focus on growing this community, on building this generation. We’re not afraid to align with sales and reach out to people. That’s what it takes to experience 40% growth.