Since January 2016, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the APA California Chapter Vice-President of Marketing and Membership. It’s a unique position which includes general management of five programs: Great Places in California, Membership Inclusion and Diversity, Young Planner’s Group (YPG), University Liaisons, and the Chapter marketing program. Each of these programs, except Chapter marketing, has one or more coordinators. Most are Chapter Board members.

The main goal of the Vice-President of Marketing and Membership is to “strengthen and expand the value of APA membership throughout the state and further establish the Chapter as a ‘go-to’ organization for planning and related activities.” All of the programs support this goal, while addressing specific marketing or membership needs.

The Great Places in California program, for example, which began in 2015, is primarily a marketing tool modeled loosely after APA National’s Great Places in America program. It’s a feel-good program that celebrates the result of good planning while burnishing the APA California brand. Everyone loves to receive the award which in itself is a valuable marketing tool.

The Diversity and Inclusion program, among its many other benefits, is important for recruiting and retaining a diverse membership. For the past 11 years, every Chapter conference has offered a “Diversity Summit” conference session to explore a wide variety of topics related to diversity and inclusion. Last year’s topic was The History of Diversity and Planning in California. A video of the session is still available on the Chapter website. The Chapter Inclusion Directors (north and south) hold monthly conference calls with the Section Inclusion Directors who share information and contribute to the Diversity Summit.

The University Liaison (north and south) and YPG Programs are designed to meet the needs of student members and young planners. Both are critical to recruitment and membership retention. Much of the statewide effort involves coordination with counterpart programs at the Section level.

I share Chapter marketing responsibilities with other Board members including the Vice-President of Administration who prepares the Chapter annual report and the Vice-President of Information who is responsible for the Chapter website, e-blasts, CalPlanner, and social media.

A perennial question at every Chapter retreat is: Aside from the state conference, how do we as a Chapter create value for our members? Having served 15 years on the APA San Diego Section Board including a term as Section Director, my typical answer is: by supporting the Sections. It’s at the Section level where our sense of community reaches its fullest expression. What’s good for the Sections is good for the Chapter. We all share the same Chapter logo. So the question becomes: How can the Chapter best support the Sections? That question comes up at every retreat, too.

An example of how this might be done can be found in the Chapter’s recently updated communication strategy. One of the goals is to promote two-way communication that increases membership engagement. We took notice that many APA members now utilize social media as their primary source for planning news and announcements from APA and other sources. At the time, many of the Section Facebook pages were flourishing while the Chapter’s page had fallen by the wayside. Would APA California members ever be motivated to follow the Chapter page? Not if there wasn’t anything worth following!

We immediately updated the Chapter Facebook page and set-up a Twitter account. At that point we made sure all new Chapter announcements were posted. We then followed all the Section Facebook pages paying daily attention to the incoming newsfeed. Soon we were sharing interesting Section posts on the Chapter page. Now anyone who visits the Chapter Facebook pages will get a pretty good feel for what goes on in our Chapter. We also post material from APA national and many other planning related sources.

Our vision is for all the Sections and the Chapter to freely exchange information via social media. Anything created by the Sections can be shared—newsletters, web-based articles, blogs, announcements of regional or statewide interest, etc. If we build up our social media network, maybe we can actually create a statewide planning community. At the very least, sharing information should be of value to all APA members and prospective members. This is the type of low cost, potentially high value marketing and membership building tool that resonates with me. Let’s give it a try and see what we can achieve together!