On Tuesday July 5th, we threw a summer party on the rooftop terrace of Taylor Wessing. But we weren’t just there for the gorgeous skyline views of London.

The evening brought together professionals from the publishing and membership sectors to explore the subject ‘Building communities: What publishers and membership organisations can learn from each other’.

The theme sprang from something Diane Young, CEO of The Drum, told the Page Lizard ‘Visions for the Future of Publishing‘ event in February. “We wont necessarily be publishers in future,” Diane said “but we will be serving the needs of communities we have built in all sorts of different ways.“

So, publishers will have to behave like membership organisations. This begs the question; are they geared up to be good managers of communities, and what can they learn from the professional bodies who have this at the core of their businesses?

An emotional connection

James Roberts, Membership Experience Manager at The Royal College of General Practitioners, outlined the latest thinking in his profession by which membership bodies do not think of membership engagement as a transactional relation. The focus now is how being part of the organisation makes members feel about themselves; what is the emotional relationship?

“We ask ourselves what it means to belong to a membership organisation,” he said. “Membership should feel effortless” he added, emphasising the valuable “emotional connection” between the member and the organisation.

Need for quality

This was reflected by Peter Abraham, formerly Exec VP at Econsultancy.com which built up a 700,000-strong subscription-based community for digital marketeers.

“The focus has shifted to long-term member engagement, not just short-term acquisition,” he said, adding that being better connected to audiences “does not necessarily result in instant financial gain”.

Peter emphasised the need for a three-point ‘checklist’ for success: “Engaging content that connects with the audience and is of high quality over time”.

“Engagement is not necessarily what we think it is,” he added. “It’s not about Facebook likes and email newsletters. Engagement is where a user has achieved a step forwards towards a business goal, and has solved their own need”.

He also warned that audiences are increasingly turned off by monetisation models, so unless there is a clear value exchange, they will fade away.



Patrick Fuller, formerly Group Director of Haymarket Consumer Media, explained that magazine publishers are in an ideal place to have those value exchange with audiences, as demonstrated by PistonHeads.

By using their best editorial people, Haymarket’s What Car? was able to help people find cars because they already trusted the brand. By keeping the editorial mindset at the forefront, PistonHeads became a trusted site for people to buy and sell cars, as well as discuss an array of topics, turning the forum into ‘Mumsnet for men’, Patrick joked.

“We had to be very cautious about exploiting the community, who were very vocal about their concerns,” he explained. “We had to really make sure we knew the audience and what motivated them”.

Patrick looked at some case studies where brands had used true media skills – story telling, the correct tone of voice, innovation and creativity – to create commercial successes, like Lego and Makeup.com.


After questions the guests spent an evening on the terrace watching the sunset over The Thames.

Our next event will be on February 7th 2017. Let us know if you are interested in taking part or learning more.

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