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BY MARK TAYLOR
On a chilly early winter day in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, a dozen teenagers split into smaller groups walked through brushy fields following baying beagles.
The youth were participating in a state-sponsored rabbit hunt, an event that had started with a workshop. In addition to the dogs, the hunt included nearly 25 adult mentors.
And that’s how these things always go, don’t they?
Experienced hunters are always more than happy to help out novices, eager to sacrifice their own day of hunting – or just relaxing – to help bring along the next generation.
Yet as OWAA has struggled in recent years to retain some veteran members, and also to recruit new members who already may be fairly well established as outdoor communicators, we have fallen short on tap- ping into the altruistic nature of those folks.
We have been so busy touting what OWAA can do for communicators trying to get started – a noble mission and one that should remain a focus – that we have not paid enough attention to what we offer experienced communicators.
And, what they can offer us.
It’s no secret that OWAA’s membership, of both individuals and supporters, has been in decline.
If the organization isn’t able to reverse the trend we face having to take drastic measures, including potential cuts in staff and services.
Any cuts will make it more difficult to keep members and attract new ones.
It’s a vicious cycle, not unlike the one many fish and wildlife agencies are facing nationwide as license sales decline.
That there can be strength in numbers is among the many talking points OWAA members should keep in mind as we move forward on the recruiting push launched this past fall.
We are offering incentives during this membership drive, with members gaining raffle chances for great prizes from generous supporters for every new member they bring in.
OWAA members are the group’s best salespeople. We not only know what OWAA has to offer, but we know plenty of peers who are not members but could benefit from OWAA – and could help OWAA, too.
Sometimes it is easy. The other day I asked a fellow outdoors writer in Virginia if he’d ever considered joining OWAA.
“I’d love to join,” he answered. “You’re the first person who has asked me.”
Often a recruit, or a former member, will hit us with a host of questions and/or objections. We need to be ready with answers.
I’ll get back to the mentor issue. First, here’s a realistic look at the advantages of OWAA membership.
OWAA’s staff provides a number of tangible benefits for members, including the membership directory, how-to business manuals, and print and electronic versions of our Outdoors Unlimited.
Nowadays, OWAA’s comprehensive and constantly improving website has become a critically important benefit. Simply put, access to the members-only information on the site can help outdoor communicators do their jobs better and be more successful.
Access to an annual conference filled with craft improvement workshops and newsmaker panels is another huge benefit.
As a bonus, OWAA’s staff has shifted the emphasis on conference sites away from typical conference facilities in cities and toward exciting venues in amazing outdoor meccas such as Snowbird, Utah this coming summer, and Chena Hot Springs, Alaska in 2012.
Perhaps as important as anything, the conference allows us to get to know one another better.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is not just a catchy phrase. It’s reality.
If communicators are serious about this business, getting to the conference and developing relationships with editors, industry folks and other members will help those communicators make more money. It’s that simple.
Because OWAA members must meet membership criteria, affiliation with our group provides members with instant, important credibility.
In the age of the Internet, anyone can claim to be an outdoor writer, photographer or videographer. We aren’t people who simply say we are outdoors communication professionals. We actually are outdoors communication professionals, with extensive and legitimate readership and viewership – and the influence they bring.
Arrangements with supporters enables OWAA members to take advantage of generous discounts on items that help us do our jobs better, and help our bottom lines.
In many cases, the purchase of a single ￼big-ticket item at the OWAA discount rate more than covers the cost of annual dues.
The more members we have, the more at- tractive we are to supporters – the opposite of a vicious downward spiral.
OWAA IS A BUSINESS EXPENSE
The cost of annual dues for OWAA is a common objection for potential and/or lapsed members. No doubt, $150 is not chump change.
The board recently voted to eliminate the initiation fee to help soften the impact. First-time conference attendees also get a financial break.
Costs such as dues and conference registration fees are businesses expenses. All businesses have costs, and the outdoors communication field is no different.
As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Obviously, the idea is to spend as little as possible while still maintaining revenue.
For anyone who is trying to be a professional outdoors communicator, OWAA’s annual dues – and conference attendance costs – are a sensible, reasonable, important business investment.
The Excellence in Craft contests have traditionally been a popular selling point of OWAA. They not only offer cash prizes, but also the opportunity for important, confidence-building affirmation of our hard work.
Members know that the EIC contest rules underwent some significant changes this past year. Those changes, intended to streamline the contest and make prizes more prestigious, were generally not well received.
The board listened and another committee has been tasked with revisiting the contest and structuring rules that are more agreeable to most members.
Updated rules will likely be much more similar to the previous rules than to this one-year departure from tradition. No changes will be finalized until after the members have had their chance to weigh-in on any proposed changes.
Having industry pros among our ranks is critically important to OWAA. Those veterans attract the attention of novices who want to meet and learn from the best.
And by mentoring the next generation, those experienced writers, photographers, videographers, and industry professionals are helping to strengthen the outdoor communication profession as a whole.
This is absolutely critical as this industry continues on its rapid, uncertain evolution.
We all have a personal stake in how things in this business unfold. And, simply put, the more of us that are working together to get better, the better off we all are. There is no organization that can bring us together better than OWAA, which has been doing it for more than 80 years.
In the next few weeks, call five friends and ask them to consider joining OWAA. Be assertive. Instead of asking if the staff can send them application materials, tell them you are having the staff send the materials. Follow up a couple of weeks later and ask if they have sent in the application yet.
As we reach out to potential new members, or to our friends who have let their memberships lapse, our primary motivation should not be trying to score more raffle tickets for prizes (although those prizes are great).
It should be because we know that OWAA is an important part of this business, and can remain so only if membership remains a robust mix of supporters and members, novices and veterans.
Again, this isn’t just about you, me or them. It’s about all of us.♦
—Mark Taylor is the outdoors editor of The Roanoke Times, and a freelancer whose work has appeared in Petersen’s Bowhunting and several other national outdoors magazines. He is OWAA’s second vice president. Contact him at mark.taylor@ roanoke.com.