Let’s play a word association game: law, contracts, remodeling, tools, dental hygiene, pathology, diabetes. Believe it or not, those words are all related to stops on Rob King’s career path that features a long list of associations from the American Bar Association to two separate dental organizations. In August, King started as the director of marketing for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
Association pro, remodeling newcomer
To set the record straight, King isn’t a remodeler. He’s a data guy that loves classic rock and the band Rush enough to put a picture up of their late drummer and lyricist Neil Peart in his office. At home, he teaches his kids “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the ukulele–no drill or hammer in sight. But what the Chicago resident lacks remodeling experience, he gains in his 20 years spent becoming an expert in running marketing and communications for associations.
“There are certain things that every association I’ve ever worked for has done the same, and then there are the unique challenges in members preferences and practices,” King says. “From how they like to get information to how they like to be treated to what resonates emotionally with them, it’s really a matter of honing in on that.”
A new game plan for NARI marketing strategy
A main focus of King’s game plan for NARI is on attracting and retaining new members, what he calls “the lifeblood of any association.” He aims to identify the diverse segments in the association’s membership--from contractors to design builds to hybrid companies--and find the most effective content that will engage each group. King plans to bring the juice NARI needs to double down on its brand strategy while learning the remodeling low-down from his NARI peers, including CEO David Pekel, a former remodeler.
“It was important to NARI, as we moved away from outsourced marketing services to an in-house model, that we had someone who understood and had the requisite experience with the multiple constituencies that associations serve,” Pekel says. “This, combined with the ability to innovate and think strategically while leading a team were also qualities that were necessary for the role. Rob possesses those qualities along with the right background to be successful.”
King’s hiring comes at a time when the association’s strategic marketing effort is focused on enhancing NARI’s brand awareness, new member acquisition, and supporting NARI Chapters with marketing materials fit for local marketplace distribution.
From local chapters to national headquarters
Fresh out of Loyola University of Chicago in the thick of the dot-com bubble, King started his career at the American Bar Association, jumping headfirst into literally creating website and email marketing strategies in real time. After that, he ended up at an association for corporate growth in Chicago where he worked at a local chapter.
I did all things marketing, and I got to see how much content and excitement a local chapter can generate
“We had a staff of three. I did all things marketing, and I got to see how much content and excitement a local chapter can generate,” King says. “But also know how short staffed they can be, how much they rely on volunteers, and how much they could use help from national.”
Managing a national association is no easy task: With diversity in geography, profession, and local culture, the phrase “you can’t please all the people all the time” rings true. But one way to ensure marketing strategy goes as smoothly as possible is to focus on the facts.
“Once you start having feelings, especially negative feelings, it can be hard to separate that from what you're doing,” King says. “I like to use data in these types of discussions and to make decisions as opposed to just saying, ‘Well, I think we ought to.’”
A lover of data ready to pivot
Relying on data instead of a gut feeling isn’t just a principle to keep the peace, however. In King’s experience, it also shapes the direction and leads to unexpected results. When he worked at the American Dental Association, a deep dive into what the members were searching for shocked him: The number one search was “antibiotic prophylaxis,” which concerns whether or not dental surgeons should give antibiotics to patients who recently had knee surgery.
Sound weirdly specific? King thought so too, as he was expecting results to cluster around fluoride or wisdom tooth extraction. Nevertheless, he built a campaign around that phenomena, and it actually increased the ADA membership’s engagement. King is excited to dig into NARI’s data and see what he can find–perhaps there is also a superstar marketing concept hiding within NARI’s servers. But as long as he can position NARI as “the trusted source in remodeling,” he’ll consider it a success.