Susan “Sue” Marchese, CAE, MS, is AIHA’s Managing Director, Strategy and External Affairs. AIHA is the association for scientists and professionals committed to preserving occupational and environmental health and safety in the workplace and community.
During her tenure, Sue has helped rebrand AIHA, rolled out numerous public awareness campaigns, and increased membership from new audiences. Sue holds a Master of Science, Organizational Development degree from New School University. She is a Certified Association Executive (CAE).
Connect with Susan on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Latest in MarTech in associations
- Modern P.R. approaches in the association space
- AIHA during the pandemic
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show we have Sue Marchese with American Industrial Hygiene Association. Welcome, Sue.
Sue Marchese: Hi, Lee, great to be here.
Lee Kantor: I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about the AIHA. How are you serving folks?
Sue Marchese: Absolutely. So air is actually an association that has been around for almost 100 years. Industrial hygiene has a little bit of a misnomer. And so the way we like to explain it is that H.R. is the association for scientists and professionals who are committed to preserving and ensuring occupational and environmental health and safety or RFS in the workplace and the community. So some people have thought industrial hygiene means that that’s for people, for professionals who are cleaning buildings. But it’s really not. It’s about ensuring that there is reduction of risk mitigation of any kind of problems that could lead to further health issues. So they’re really scientists and really not people who are just cleaning buildings.
Lee Kantor: Now when when there is sometimes confusion when it comes to a brand like that, how has that evolved over time? Did it start out always being about scientists and just the name was kind of created confusion, or has it evolved over the years?
Sue Marchese: Yeah. So back in 1939 when it was founded, it was it was the Industrial Revolution, right? So there were just it made sense for the professionals who got into this space to be known as industrial hygienists, because it was typically in the manufacturing factory type of setting. But then it really expanded to military, laboratory, academia. It just really expanded outside of industry or industrial. So over the decades it sort of became this misnomer. And that’s why back in 2018, when the board of directors of our organization took a step back, they said, you know what, maybe it’s time we need to revisit this. So after market research with our own members and some outside allied professionals, we decided, you know, it’s time to really just be known as h h a for the legacy factor. But when we try to introduce our brand and the concept of this association and what our members do, we introduce it by explaining what occupational and environmental health and safety is. So we’ve had to kind of do what I call a brand evolution. We really didn’t rebrand arguably, but we just have begun to tell the story of not just what our members do, but the outcomes and how they can affect lives and communities. So it has been a bit challenging, but we did do this brand evolution back in 2018 through 2020. We launched and it was three pronged approach. So it was change the logo, sure, but it was also about educating the general public. So through earned media, public awareness campaigns. And then the third and final is outreach to universities, trade schools, etc. to try and raise the awareness factor of what is this particular organization, what is this particular profession. And that was the hallmark of this brand evolution. Air used to just represent the membership strictly, but the evolution turned into an opportunity for us to brand the profession of these professionals.
Lee Kantor: Now, were the members kind of saying, Hey, great, finally, that creates clarity. Now people understand the importance of my work, or was it something that they were like, Did you have a struggle from a membership standpoint, or was this something they were hungry for?
Sue Marchese: So I think that the answer is yes, we have a little bit of both. And ultimately, when we started our market research studies, when we were doing interviews and a full survey to the membership and focus groups, we did it very deliberately to make sure we had the data behind the fact that the majority of members were all for it. And we’re full steam ahead on doing this brand evolution. So by all means, we definitely weren’t just doing this in a small, isolated room in our offices, and we made sure that we talked and communicated with the members in advance. And really they they really were the ones who made us go in that direction with the one caveat, and that is don’t get rid of our legacy. So there that’s where air still remains. And I guess we were kind of thinking, well, you know, Geico did it right or IBM did it. Nobody knows what those stand for acronyms anymore. And HHR is the opportunity for us to then explain. So that’s our brand is really just age, but then it is about who our members are. So, so that said, we we try to ask them, talk with them, communicate with them. And we did not do it. As I as I mentioned from 2018 to 2020 took us two years, not because we were dragging our feet, but we were trying to be deliberate. All that to say in 2020 when we launched, there were laudatory remarks from many, many members, even outside allied professionals, saying this really helps.
Sue Marchese: This definitely is going to help raise the awareness of the profession and the membership. And then, of course, we definitely heard from people who were super vocal and were not happy thinking that we were turning our back on the history of the organization. But, you know, they were really few and far between. I think that we actually counted about three people who were super vocal about it out of our 8500 members across the country and Canada. So, you know, we we had to be super cautious in how we approach this. And yet I do recognize the fact that people are going to want to hold on to their history and the hard work that they did in their careers. Why turn their back on it? But rather, we looked at it as an opportunity to enhance the future of the profession. So, yep, we had yes, we had a couple of naysayers and a couple of people who were not happy, but we also addressed them one on one and had opportunities to have open town hall meetings to get out concerns or whatever it may be, even after we launched. So I think that all in all, we had a very successful brand refresh and this brand evolution has really served us well as an organization. In fact, as organizations have been suffering over the last couple of years during and post pandemic and Chase membership acquisition has grown and our retention has been phenomenal.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, those are all clues that maybe you’re on the right path.
Sue Marchese: I think so.
Lee Kantor: Now, as a member of Air, what is kind of what are they looking to get out of the membership? How do you help them take the profession in their own career to a new level?
Sue Marchese: So there is a particular function of an industrial hygienist or an occupational and environmental health specialist. Those people are not just making sure people are wearing steel toed boots in a dangerous construction setting or they’re not making sure that there is no injuries on the job. Those are not the only things that they do. They’re actually taking scientific experiments and sending them to laboratories and digging deep almost as if they were kind of, I guess you can say, forensic scientists in the workplace and making sure that there were things that are not harmful. They were also they are also instrumental in making sure that PPE, which is suddenly become a household word. Where in the past it had not been. But with the pandemic, something that professionals have done for years to ensure that there’s proper PPE usage in the workplace. That’s one of their functions. And now that is that has become a household word. Unfortunately, I guess on one hand, because of the pandemic. So the the function of the of the professionals also leads to the fact that they need additional education. They need to keep up their relevance in the field. They also have an opportunity to go after a certification called the c i h certified industrial hygienist or ci h. Designation. Because of that designation, a lot of our members do turn to J to seek out very reputable education, webinars, courses, various opportunities at our annual conference, which happens in May every year.
Sue Marchese: So that is a predominant reason a lot of people usually say that they’re involved with. I j that’s predominant. But the number one when we do our needs survey or our member needs survey, the number one reason that they want to be involved with h.r. And the benefit that they feel they can take away is association with our reputation. Being involved with h.r. Has an opportunity for them, i guess for networking, but also for the the strengths of our of our role with these professionals and in companies. So this is where we always hear that it’s about i’m joining h.r. Because i need to i want to not just for the education, but because i have to for my to uphold my reputation as a professional. The other benefits, of course, there are numerous ones. I can’t even go on. I’ll waste everyone’s time telling you about them. But I can tell you the last. The third benefit that we always hear is our wonderful publications. We have the Synergies magazine, which comes out 11 times a year, and then we also have our journal for occupational and Environmental Hygiene. So those are just the top three reasons and benefits that members enjoy.
Lee Kantor: Now, are there chapters locally around the country for people who want to get involved, or is this a national conference that everybody goes to? Like how does an individual kind of plug in?
Sue Marchese: Yeah. H.r. Has local sections, although they are not directly part of national. They are our affiliates and they are their own standalone entities, their own 500 1c3 but we as an association, foster them, work with them, encourage them. In fact, we even have a staff presence person on staff who make sure that the local sections are provided with graphic design needs or things to keep them rolling at a very easy pace rather than them having to start things from scratch. So even though a national doesn’t necessarily manage all of the local sections, they are tied to us. We also have our annual conference, and our annual conference brings together a lot of our volunteer groups. Aj is one of the one of the most unique organizations and that our members cover so many different industries. You know, like I mentioned earlier, maybe back in the thirties it was just really manufacturing, but now it has hit every single industry you could imagine. So our committees are as numerically large as the industries that our members touch. So we have committees such as excuse me, Respiratory Protection Committee, biological hazards, committee incidents, response committee. So there are just there for first responders or for indoor air quality and things of. That nature. So because of that, our committees, I believe we are up to over 70 committees and working groups at. Super active volunteers. That’s an opportunity for them to all meet at our annual conference next year in 2023 is going to actually be in Phenix. And they we change locations every year. And this is an opportunity for the committees to get together, but also for the members to take advantage of concentrated amount of time to get their contact hours. So the conference usually is about 18 to 19 contact hours for three days. So our membership really does kind of span the entire country, as I mentioned earlier, but also a lot of people from Canada.
Lee Kantor: Now, getting back to that brand evolution that you were talking about, how are you seeing kind of public relations and this level of communications? How have you seen it evolved since, you know, in your career in working with associations?
Sue Marchese: I, I have a sort of like I like to consider that there is such a thing as modern public relations. You know, there there is the typical earned media of public relations where you you draft press release and you pitch it to different media outlets. That’s definitely still alive and well. And we do it, you know, my my team and I, we do that. But I the modern portion of PR or public relations that I have really espoused over the years in my entire career has been public awareness. And to me, that is done in so many different ways, whether it’s taking advantage of social media. But one thing that we do at age is we do in our public relations department that I run is targeted outreach. So, for example, we have this public awareness campaign that I mentioned earlier about getting the word out about the value of this. And when we launched that a couple of years ago during the pandemic, we were able to reach out to different. Large industry professional associations and connect with them. Connect our members with them.
Sue Marchese: Excuse me. So, for example, chemical manufacturing is specifically chemical as opposed to product manufacturing. Chemical manufacturing has a lot of hazards, a lot of potential impacts. And we know and our members believe that it is not just about checking the box and making sure that they are following OSHA standards. It’s definitely important. Of course it’s paramount, but there’s more to it. It’s about going that extra yard and making this a core value in a company. So that’s what we did. We had brand ambassadors from our membership, write blog articles and be interviewed and different things like that with various chemical manufacturing, professional associations or even trade American Chemistry Council, for example. I had done some coverage of the imperative for H in the workplace. So those are just a couple of quick examples of how I think it’s modern PR because even though we were not necessarily getting coverage in the Wall Street Journal or something of national impact like that, we were actually doing very, very targeted media outreach to those those key audiences that we know our members can impact.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, I think that as the media consumer is becoming more and more fragmented, they’re looking for those niche publications and outlets to find the information that’s important to them. And to show up there is probably more efficient than to be in the Wall Street Journal that, you know, a lot of folks that it’s not as relevant to them or as impactful as it is to the way you’re doing it, that the folks that should hear it need to hear it, are going to hear it. If you work through the the media that these people are paying attention to every day.
Sue Marchese: Exactly. Yep. That’s the philosophy. That’s our strategy.
Lee Kantor: Now, are you seeing that as a trend or is that just kind of the evolution of media now that it’s so fragmented and that everything is kind of on demand when people are they’re trying to find the information when they need it in the places that they, you know, are used to looking rather than, you know, maybe 20 years ago when there were just kind of the go to media outlets that everybody paid attention to. It seems like everybody nowadays is on their own journey and that they have their own kind of media that they look at and that it’s hard to reach any large group of people with one message efficiently anymore.
Sue Marchese: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s definitely a trend is definitely what I would call a modern PR professional. Should have that in in their quiver as a strategy. So it’s definitely a trend. And I like how you said it. You know, like everybody is really having the opportunity to choose their own news and their own outlets and things like that. And I think that that’s exactly what we as association, PR and communication professionals need to do, and that is to hone in on where we think. The right people are going to be reading and and then go where they live and go where they read and try to get in involved in their interests. And we at AIG are actually doing that through a bunch of other ways besides person power, where we pick up the phone or we contact associations and do some of the education like I was talking about earlier. But we’re also doing a lot of digital pure martech kind of, you know, types of efforts where we’re looking at geo targeting people, where for attracting them to become customers for our education, for our purchase of our books and other things like that. We are doing a lot of web advertising. In fact, just recently we took a we dipped our foot in the pool of hiring a digital audit to be accomplished because we wanted to make sure that we were actually doing things that were effective, that were actually going to be seen by the right people. So whether it’s for PR or for marketing, even, I make sure that we are trying to have some very targeted, very laser pointed types of efforts and campaigns, because after all, we are really tiny. Our organization is a total of 62 people. My team is a total of six, and yet we have some tremendous, tremendous energy and opportunities. But we also want to make sure that MarTech is working for us. The technology is smart and that our strategies are implemented properly.
Lee Kantor: Now, can you give some advice for the association leaders out there to in and around how to create that team that plays nice together? Because sometimes marketing, PR, advertising, there’s kind of a blurring of the lines of who does what and the impact that each are having. How do you kind of create a team that can work together well on that overarching mission?
Sue Marchese: Yeah, well, interesting story. When I got to Asia eight years ago, I was unfortunately met with that exact thing that you just described. There was a lot of kind of factions or, I don’t know, silos or whatever the thing may be, however you call it. I had to come in and see what I could do and try to see how we could all work together. The absolute first thing that I did was I sat down individually with each one of my team members and I talked with them about their personal brand. So I started one on one and helped them look inside themselves as to what how they wanted to be perceived as a professional. And I continue to work with each one of those people, whether they were here eight years ago or they’re new to our team a couple of months ago. I do the exact same exercise with everybody and I revisit it on a regular basis because that’s one way I can help coach my team into being the best professional that each one of them can be. So that is a mission of my own.
Sue Marchese: And as a whole, I have seen that work quite well. At our organization, we run our one. It’s really important for me to have a brand standard for our marketing communications and PR, and we as a department run the department with that brand standard first, first and foremost. And so if I had any advice to give to anybody, I would say look internally first and make sure that your team is where they want to be, because then as they are comfortable with themselves and they are more surefooted and know that they have someone who has their back, meaning that PR or that communications manager or director, they can then do their very best to work with others in in the department, in the entire association. So there’s a lot to be said about how you go about doing that and how much time you you spend doing that. But to me, it’s worth every minute of your of your time as a director or as a VP, because ultimately it really does come back and help.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, you have to listen. You have to allow people to be heard so you can all get on the same page of what we’re all trying to accomplish here.
Sue Marchese: Exactly. And and again, the brand standard, like I mentioned earlier, is something that we we try to revisit every couple of years because things may change. But ultimately, we’ve pretty much as a department, we have kept to our brand standard. And it’s it’s basically almost like running our internal Marcum and PR department, like an agency, you know, as if we were an internal agency for our different department teams, membership, professional communities, education, etc.. So yeah, that is definitely something. I think if Markham and PR could help become the hub of the wheel, that I think is very huge accomplishment for an association.
Lee Kantor: So what do you need more of? How can we help?
Sue Marchese: You have helped so far really phenomenally by allowing us to have this opportunity to to to speak on the radio show. What a tremendous way for us to get the word out about our profession and also for me to talk up my phenomenal colleagues who I work with and all of the phenomenal accomplishments, actually many award winning accomplishments as well. But one other thing that we can, if you all could do to help, and that is to get involved in A.S.A.P.. And I myself am a senior now, and it was something that took a long time. But I think that getting involved with CA with the association is something that’s important for association professionals, whether it’s just, I don’t know, you know, sitting on a committee or even just simply reviewing potential awards and being someone who gives back to the association. Because there’s so much, so much education, so much wonderful information that they provide for for those of us who are kids, who are certified association executives or even just in general for folks who are in the associate association space.
Lee Kantor: Well, so thank you so much for sharing your story today. If somebody wants to learn more about HHR or connect with you, what are the coordinates? What’s the best way to do that?
Sue Marchese: We have a website which is a IHH dot org. We also have 0ehs careers dot org. That’s for people who might be interested in getting involved in the particular profession. So please check it out. And they’re very consumer oriented and very useful tools for people.
Lee Kantor: Well, so thank you again for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Sue Marchese: Thank you, Lee. Have a great.
Lee Kantor: One. All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on the Association Leadership Radio.