CAN's communications and what we should be doing with Chainlinks

CAN's communications and what we should be doing with Chainlinks



One of the issues that came up at the AGM while the fee increase was discussed, was the cost and the value of our magazine Chainlinks. Some think we should discontinue Chainlinks and concentrate on getting information our to members by other means, for example by using our website. Others think that Chainlinks is valuable as it is, either as a tool for informing our members, or to give to interested stakeholders to convince them of CAN's work.

Does Chainlinks need to focus more on just one of these roles than the other? CAN had planned to have a communications workshop at the same time as the 2010 AGM to develop and discuss this, but this didn't work out and a 1 hour discussion on the 2nd day of the CAN Do was all we had.   

This is what was recorded in the 2010 AGM  minutes on it: 

Background: Our membership rates were set a few years back on the basis of covering the cost of Chainlinks. When GST rises to 15% in October 2010, CAN is going to be hit with a reduction in income because our memberships are inclusive of GST. At the same time, our expenses (printing, postage etc) will rise, leaving us with a shortfall - and no money to do our advocacy work with.

Discussion: Pippa Coom said she was hoping Chainlinks would be discontinued (at least in hard copy form), which would make fee increases unnecessary. Simon Kennett said he still saw some advantage in having the hard copy version for advocacy purposes. Illona Keenan also reported good feedback on the hard copy of Chainlinks. Simon Kennett suggested there was still room to increase advertising in Chainlinks, to help cover costs. Stephen Wood suggested that the question at hand is really how much funding do we want to have available- a decision separate from the Chainlinks question. Stu Edwards said he considered Chainlinks very good value, and that fee increases would be necessary anyway just to keep pace with inflation.

The following day, as part of the CAN do, I hosted a session on discussing CAN's communications (see the presentation I made for this session).  Some of the slides are from a presentation I gave to committee and staff earlier in the year and were not actually used in the CAN do presentation. The discussion this generated was quite lively.  It involved people that thought the status quo for CAN's communication methods were OK and those that thought they needed an overhaul. Much of the debate was centred on the cost and value of the Chainlinks magazine as a paper copy.

The main outcome was a decision that a communications workshop should be held in the near future. However, the committee thinks that a workshop might be expensive to run and will only involve a limited number of people.

As an alternative, to get the ball rolling we want to start a discussion of the issue here. We'd like to know what members and groups think about this. We (i.e. the committee) are thinking that we can include more people in a discussion this way that if we reconvened a communications workshop to consider it. 


A step forward - some decisions

CAN's committee had a meeting in the second weekend of February, and considered the views that had been expressed on this so far.  We have resolved the following:

  • we will continue publishing Chainlinks, but aim for 3 issues in 2011 as a trial
  • we will remind whose who are concerned about the costs to CAN of their printed copy of the option of getting Chainlinks as a PDF file
  • we will investigate making a more detailed copy of each Chainlinks issue, with separated and text search-able articles, available on our website.

So Chainlinks lives on. It is one of the tools CAN has of communicating with CAN member of CAN, its local groups and others interested in our activities. It has a valued place amongst the other communication tools we use, our electronic newsletter e.CAN, media releases, campaigns and our magnificent website.

Groups audience: 
Group content visibility: 
Public - accessible to all site users

I guess one of the questions we could consider is that we're trying to do two jobs with Chainlinks,

  • inform our membership, and
  • use it as an advocacy tool to give to interested organisations.

Are we compromising one at all to do the other? is combining the two jobs into one publication the best way of doing it?

I agree Chainlinks is carrying out a dual role, but I would say its primary role is (and should be) to inform membership.  For most members, particularly ones who are not actively involved, Chainlinks is the most tangible benefit of being a CAN member.  In fact some see membership as almost synonymous with a Chainlinks subscription.

I think the makeover Chainlinks got a few years ago (going to glossy A4 format and getting a designer to do the layout) has had benefits both for members (lots said they 'loved the new look') and for Chainlinks to function as a more effective advocacy tool.

It may be that we should be using other advocacy tools as well as Chainlinks to influence other organisations and decision makers.  The 'Annual Report' we did last year was a good example of such a thing.  Perhaps that would allow Chainlinks to focus on its primary role of informing membership.

That matches my way of thinking about the roles. The primary role is to inform the membership, and that in turn makes it a regularly freshened advocacy took to demonstate our activity, which is a secondary role. it doesn't preclude using other things for advocacy, like the report, or fliers to atract members, describe ourselves or aimed at particular campaigns.

However, for the primary activity we have compromised the ability to inform members in a timely way about activites that are coming up because we have a lead time between submission of material and getting the printed copy out. one tactic used is to allow a shorter lead time for content from local groups than for other articles, but it's still there. So chainlinks is less than ideal for notice of upcoming events, and so needs to be supplemented with "quiicker" tools like our current e.CAN newsletter and possibly other on-line tools, like the website or social netwoks.

I've had mixed feedback from members as to whether Chainlinks should 'go electronic' to save costs. Some are happy to read the PDF and save trees/costs. I'd say these are a minority though. Many have said they really value the hard copy version and don't read the PDF. I think for the majority of members the experience of reading the hard copy is still much preferred to reading it on a screen.

Chainlinks used to be our biggest single expense, but that was before we started to employ staff.   By not printing hard copies we could save less than $10k per year, but that wouldn't buy us a whole lot of staff time/ office rental etc.  Of course we can use all the funds we can get, but if we get good value from printing Chainlinks (and I'd say we probably do), and the amount saved isn't huge in the scheme of things, then it may not be the place to try to cut costs.

There is another potential role for CL and that is to attract new members. We tend to use extra copies of ChainLinks as giveaways at bike events (e.g. coming BikeWise month activities); if people like what they see, they may be inclined to join up as a paid member. So there probably does have to be some appeal to those outside CAN's membership. I'd say that we're generally meeting that these days, with a glossy professional look, general-interest cycling articles, and a bit of local/Committee news.

I tend to agree however with the other points raised above:

  • The long lead-in times for ChainLinks mean that we can't use it for quick-turn-around news or events (longer-term activities like the Cycling Conf and CAN Awards are OK). And so that's where we have to rely on our electronic resources to fill in the gap i.e. e.CAN, website, Facebook, etc. It also means that we have to focus on more "timeless" articles in CL, i.e. feature articles (such as cycle touring experiences) and regular columns (perhaps like the technical/research ones we used to have).
  • A more long-term document like an Annual Report is probably a handier way to convey to external stakeholders what we're about and what we've been up to. I guess technically we should also be sending such a report to our members as well? (although I'm happy with us just pointing them to the electronic version) There is a bit of work involved in preparing such a document each year (esp. if we don't have contractual reporting obligations to nudge us into doing something like this anyway), so an alternative is to just have a more timeless "Introducing CAN" glossy, that we simply update every now and then with some of our more recent activities.

The email responses I had from local groups were supportive of retaining a printed Chainlinks, but varied in the strength of that support.  One group even made a donation towards keeping a printed Chainlinks.

It's clear that there are people who value the printed Chainlinks, and it's also clear we're achieving more than one thing with Chainlink. However, the issue of making our communications efficient is more than just a decision about Chainlinks.

some points to consider

  • If more immediate notices of things happening is occurring via the website, or via the e.CAN newsletter, how often do we need (or want) Chainlinks to come out?  would there be benefits in dropping the number of issues per year to save costs, or is four issues a year the optimum? I think in the early days of CAN Chainlinks was a newsletter that was put out every couple of months, so 4 issues a year is already a modification of that. (The group that put money behind their opinion suggested dropping to 3 issues a year). 
  • We do produce an electronic version of Chainlinks in the form of a pdf file.  This can be provided as an alternative to the printed copy for anyone that chooses, and we base the print run on the number of hard copies required or anticipated.  However, in the discussion at the CAN Do, it was pointed out that Chainlinks articles in a on-line text searchable form would be a useful resource. Should we try and achieve this - i.e. load individual Chainlinks articles on the CAN website? Many magazines and newspaper keep a printed copy and an on-line version, should we try and do the same? 
  • In general how much should we use material in more than one communication channel? We already put media releases on the website, should material fro the e.CAN newsletter go the same way. should there be some items that are in both e.CAN and Chainlinks, or would it e annoying to reread the same material?
  • Which, it any, should be the communication medium we use most. You could envisage concentrating on the website as the main communications tool, and rather than collecting special content for Chainlinks, you could make Chainlinks a printed "Best of CAN material" at regular intervals. 
  • how much is this changed by the increase in popularity of social networks. Should we be increasing our use of those to reach more people? It's relatively easy to post links to our site onto facebook, but should we encourage it even more by adding links on our website for sharing something in this way?
  • The communications workshop we were going to hold before the CAN do in October suggested that we consider what out various communication needs were and then matched tools for the jobs. When we've already got communication tools set up, there's a tendency to keep them or tweak them, rather than making major changes. it's difficult to do, but do we think we'd do things the same way as we are if we were starting from scratch again?

As I've noted already on this page. CAN's committee is meeting in this coming weekend (12-13 February) and will consider what the next step in this should be. so if you want to have a say, please do, either on the website here, or by emailing me or another committee member, before then.

I can assure you that most of the members of KCI value their Chainlinks. But e.can is a marvellous quick info tool. So I would like to go with status quo as I know our members would too.Also the secondary purpose to introduce CAN to prospective new members is invalueable, much b etter than any business card.

I am not sure why it is an issue with regards to cost, because it more than pays for itself now that we print 1,000 at $2 per copy. The distribution cost is also not that huge.Like Adrian says, should we stop printing it the money we saved and lost (in advertising) will not produce any other resource that is as valueable.

However, as Glen says what I know most of us miss are the technical articles - and we also need more articles from all the groups. There is so much happening around NZ, but there are some groups we hardly hear from. I think phone calls would be the way to go on that one.An Annual report just before the Christmas holidays is a good idea too.

I heard some discussion about the social websites vs other media. The opinion seemed to be that the social websites were all over the place so very difficult to get to the kernel of truth/information/politics to get the real story so to speak. But I never go there you can be sure, so I don't really know.

Other communication tools, as always meeting people is great. CAN needs to encourage groups to meet their members more often and encourage new people to participate. Start cycling with a group of friends and expand that into membership of CAN. Go to markets and sustainable Garden shows (like KCI have done in previous years) etc. How CAN can help with that is to ask Staff to pay a visit to at least 50% of our groups each year and organize a public meeting.




Im a CAN reader and not a very ept on line user...I tried to log my comments on the link but it asked for CAN user name..god knows what that might be so here is my comment hopefully you can feed it into the system somehow for me.

CAN in hard copy is great. I get to read it at leisure anywhere and get to pass it on to possible converts. Whats happening around the country is good to see.