The Association Development Group’s lead copywriter, Beverly Seinberg, sat down with the company’s founder and president, Kathleen Van De Loo, for an interview about its 20-year milestone.
How did the Association Development Group come to be?
I spent the first part of my career working in government relations firms, doing communications, organizational management, advocacy and political campaign work. While on maternity leave with my first child, I received a call from a client who said, “We’re in negotiations with the firm, but we’d like to work with you independently. Would you consider it?” I hung up the phone, and with my little one on my shoulder, wrote a business plan.
The goal was to create a company that did association management and communications in a way that was different from your traditional AMC. Our focus and emphasis from day one was on working with associations that were interested in having a strong brand and identity, that needed strong support in the core areas of organizational management - however, with an emphasis on communications and all that entails.
I remember at the time saying to my husband, “Well, let’s try this for three years and see if the Capital Region is ready for a new approach.” We opened our doors with one client, within six months took on a second, and within the first year we were working with six associations.
Can you elaborate on how ADG was – and is – different from other association management companies?
Now everyone’s talking about the need for 21st century communications, and how we use appropriate communications tools to reach our internal and external audiences. But at the time, organizational management was very internal. We were speaking to ourselves. What we understood from the early days – and this probably came from my government relations and political campaign work – was that we needed to engage members, coalitions and outside audiences in our mission as an organization.
ADG is not a lobbying firm but works closely with clients on advocacy efforts. How do you see your role in the advocacy process?
We do the communications and event planning portion of the advocacy. Lobbying is about political strategy, knocking on the doors of lawmakers, monitoring legislation and maintaining political relationships. The role of the lobbyist is critical. We’re focused on the communications around it. Our advocacy campaign work is on engaging the member in the process, developing advocacy programs and communications that support what we’re saying to our legislative representatives. It’s exciting work. We are seeing a lot of growth in video messaging in particular.
Your event planning division also gets involved, right? With Advocacy Day activities?
Just as much as the communications pieces weave through everything we do, so does event planning. A well-orchestrated conference call, a well-managed board meeting, a well-executed webinar, a regional training program, a multi-day convention, advocacy day, trade show, anniversary celebration, video training – are all key to organizational management. Event planning is also intricately tied to creative communications today. They go hand in hand.
How did Studio136 and ADG Events evolve as their own divisions?
They’ve always been a part of the company. Since we opened our doors 20 years ago, they’ve been here. We used to call Studio136 “ADG Communications and Design,” and when we moved to our new offices at 136 Everett Road, we rebranded our creative division.
What was happening was that more and more organizations were contacting us for communications services. They were seeing our work throughout the community and were excited about our ability to understand both their organizational and communications needs. We’re now a multiple award-winning team of the most creative people I’ve ever met. They’re amazing at what they do.
ADG Events had a very similar evolution to Studio136. We happen to be very good at this and have an amazing team. Associations, large and small, are more comfortable today with seeking to outsource their event work or portions of it. They call us and say, “Hey, ADG, can you take this piece for us?”
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
This is a people business. I have been truly blessed working with some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. My staff, who are incredibly talented, dedicated people -- who I have grown and learned from, too. Our clients, who challenge and inspire us.
I can’t say I have one proud moment, but my proudest moments are when organizations come to us, and they have great need, and in a year or two years or sometimes three, they evolve into a fundamentally different organization than they ever thought possible. And that happens all the time here at ADG.
What are your plans, goals and hopes for the future?
Our goal of 20 years ago is really no different today. It is to do good work for good people and good organizations. It’s that simple.
The Association Development Group didn’t open its doors with a plan to be the biggest association management company in the country, or the Northeast, or the state for that matter. We opened our doors to a target audience of associations and association leaders who are interested in growth -- professional growth, growth of their organizations, growth in their communications and their reach.
One of the things I personally would love to do more is mentor. Most of us who have been successful in this field have had strong mentors. It’s been a blessed 27 years in this profession, and I’d like to honor that by giving back.