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Value: STC's and Yours
2004, Q3 (July 05, 2007)
By Andrea L. Ames, STC President and Associate Fellow, Silicon Valley Chapter

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2004 edition of Intercom.

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When we pay for something, we want value for it. Whether it's a USD $20,000 car or a USD $20 DVD, we expect to "get what we pay for" or more. Our employers and clients expect the same — value for the money they spend on our salaries or fees — and we expect professional development value from our STC membership fees. As the STC board of directors discovered while investigating the cause of a drop in income in recent years (dues income, as well as annual conference and other income that underwrites the cost of memberships that dues do not cover), this value is lacking for STC members. We heard the same story from former members, potential members, and many current members: Not enough value in STC to justify the cost of the dues. The Society's financial situation was merely a symptom of this greater problem — a lack of perceived member value. How will STC deliver that value in the future? That question is at the heart of the Society's current transformation effort.

"What unique value do I offer my employer?" STC can help us develop professionally and answer this question.

Surviving the Changes in Our Industry

When all other aspects of a product or service are equal — for example, between two mid-class sedans with essentially the same features, two professional organizations with the same services, or two technical communicators with equivalent skills — the value is in a lower price. When the only difference between two products or services is the price, that product or service is known as a "commodity."

As the technical communication services that we sell to our employers and clients are increasingly provided by others at lower prices, those services become commodities. We can bemoan this fact, which is quickly becoming commonplace in our global economy, or we can take advantage of the opportunity to compete in new ways that remove us from the commodity market. We can ask ourselves, "What unique value do I offer to my employer or client? How do I demonstrate that value?" If answers to these questions don't come readily to mind, STC can help us develop professionally and answer these questions.

Can STC Provide Value to All of Us?

Can one society meet the needs and provide significant professional development value across disciplines as diverse as usability and editing and across diverse skill sets and industries? Yes, we can, because STC's strength is in our "communities" — what we currently call "chapters" and "SIGs." Rather than trying to create the content of these communities, the Society provides infrastructure, mentoring, financial and administrative support, and policies and processes for those communities to form and flourish at the will of the interested members. However, Society-level support for and representation of communities — and members' experience across international and local communities — is inconsistent.

Member Value of the Transformation

Members want value, and value means something different to each of us. For the Society to increase its membership and engender greater visibility and prestige within and outside our industry, our research shows that the Society must provide the following:
  • Communities from which members will derive personalized professional development value
  • A flexible membership model to customize the professional development experience
  • Rich, readily accessible content providing depth of practice as determined by members
  • Richer opportunities to network.

This strategy is not only critical to retaining our current members, but it's also the key to drawing in new members and presenting a strong value proposition to nonmembers, related technical industries, and potential employers and clients. In other words, if there's professional development value in STC for members, there's professional value in members for the people, companies, and industries that hire us. This is the work in progress this year by the transformation committees.

In upcoming issues of Intercom, I'll address each of the transformation initiatives in detail, describing the changes we're making and the value those changes will bring to you. In the meantime, I encourage you to take advantage of the information resources described on the transformation Web site (http://www.stc.org/transformation/):
  • transform at stc dot org (send your questions and feedback!)
  • Transformation News listserv (subscribe from the Web site)
  • Local evangelists
  • Virtual Town Hall meetings

Andrea L. Ames can be reached at aames at pobox dot com. End

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