July 22, 2013
Like many people in the association management industry, Kellen Company employees have enthusiastically answered the question, “And what do you do?” only to receive a blank stare and a polite “Huh?!” Although association management employs tens of thousands of people, most of the world doesn’t know about the thriving industry. Many of us didn’t even know about it when we started our careers. In this ongoing series, we’ll share how our employees discovered this career path and why they’ve stuck around.
How do you explain your job at cocktail parties?
It’s never been a simple one-liner. I usually say I work for multiple associations and nonprofits all under the Kellen roof. I wear many hats and each day is very different: One day I could be an association executive managing the day-to-day affairs of a national trade group, handling everything from strategic planning and board meetings to creating educational offerings and another day I could be fundraising, selling sponsorships, tweeting, etc. I generally get a long stare and so then I relate it to what they do, “do you belong to the copier machine association?” or I explain how every industry has some kind of trade or professional organization geared towards a specific business sector. If that doesn’t work I ask them if they were ever in a fraternity.
What did your 12 year old self think you were going to be when you grew up? Are you doing anything related to that dream job now?
Now that I think about it? There were definitely a lot of signs that I was destined for this business. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be back then but I knew it had to be creative and fun. I was always entrepreneurial — helping my Mom and Dad in their business and working locally at a very young age. I was never shy and always liked to get in front of an audience but I also always needed to know what was going on behind the scenes. I was always very diplomatic and good at conflict resolution.
How did you end up in the industry?
I was working for almost 10 years in a large ad agency and organizing events in the hospitality industry on the side and weekends. Someone mentioned I should be in public relations. A PR ad in The New York Times caught my eye one day and I ended up landing the job. I started working on associations right away and eventually transitioned to the management side. It’s where I still am now, 25 years later.
What’s your favorite part about working in association management?
There’s so many reasons it’s hard to choose one. Running an association is like running my own business, so I thoroughly enjoy the entrepreneurial challenge and strategy of building an organization, working closely with our teams of volunteers and staff, constantly having to come up with innovative solutions. The different industries are a blast – in one year I was an expert at plastic bags and comic books. I especially love the networking aspect and serving as a resource to so many incredibly talented people – members, marketers, speakers, etc.
What do you think the association management industry will look like in ten years?
Technology will continue to evolve, allowing us to connect faster, deliver a more customized product and communicate more efficiently. One thing I know for sure – face to face networking will be here to stay. It can’t be replaced by a computer screen.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It was pretty simple. Don’t communicate a complaint or talk about a weakness until you’re ready with recommendations or a solution at the same time.
About Holly Koenig
As Vice President of Kellen Company, Holly oversees multiple client associations and professional societies headquartered in New York, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals, New York City Chapter, The Home Fashion Productions Association and the Executives’ Association of New York City. Holly also has responsibility for a number of Kellen internal operations and initiatives, including serving on committees for business development, social media, sponsorships, and employee satisfaction. She volunteers for the New York Society of Association Executives and the Jericho Education Foundation. When she’s not working with nonprofits she loves spending time with her husband and daughter on Long Island.