Tag Archives: trade association

Trade Associations Spending More on PR and Less on Lobbying

According to this article in Associations Now, a trade magazine for those of us in the association management business, trade associations are moving dollars away from lobbying and into public relations:

Overall, the trade groups spent $1.26 billion on advertising, far more than any other service, and nearly twice the $682 million that was spent on lobbying, legal services, and government affairs. A huge portion of the $1.2 billion total came from just one relationship: The $327.4 million the American Petroleum Institute paid public relations firm Edelman over the four-year period. The amount was most of the $372 million the association spent over the period.

In its report, CPI portrayed advertising as an area where trade groups had more freedom to push their message, compared with more traditional means.

“The public relations industry is on a growth tear while the number of federally registered lobbyists is actually shrinking,” CPI reporters Erin Quinn and Chris Young wrote in their story. “Public relations work, unlike lobbying, is not subject to federal disclosure rules, and PR and advertising campaigns can potentially influence a broader group of people.”

I’d imagine that another factor is that with the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, many companies that would have funneled “political” dollars through trade associations are now taking the DIY route.

Should You Treat the New Customer Better?

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the local apartment industry. The way we’re set up is pretty typical for a trade association, but it can be pretty difficult to explain to people who aren’t familiar with how these types of organizations work. So here are the basics:

  • We have two types of members which is association speak for customers. Our primary members are owners and managers of apartment communities. Our other class of members are “affiliate” members who are basically vendors who sell products and services to our primary members.
  • Our primary function is to provide education and advocacy services, plus networking opportunities for apartment owners and management companies. Our affiliate members are most interested in those networking opportunities because that’s where they can interact with the primary members and hopefully do some serious selling.

One of the questions we get all the time comes from companies that are interested in becoming affiliate members and it’s this: “When I join will I get a chance to speak in front of the members at the next event?” A lot of them are surprised when we say no and of course they want to know why. Here’s our answer:

We don’t allow new members to stand up and give their sales pitch because we have members who have been with us for years, decades even, who don’t get that opportunity at every meeting. We also have sponsors who pay extra to be recognized at our events. Why would we treat a new member better than a member who’s been with us and supported the industry for years on end, or give a new member the same exposure as sponsors who have paid for the privilege? What we can promise you is that when you become a member we’ll do everything we can to make sure you’re treated as well as every other member, that you have equal opportunity to build relationships with the primary members and that you have access to all the sponsorship and selling opportunities that every other affiliate member has.

There are many associations that disagree with this approach and do allow new members to get up and speak at their meetings. I’m sure it works for some folks, but at our place we just feel like it sends a terrible message to our long-time affiliate members who have supported the industry with their time and treasure if we treat the new kid on the block, who might be their competitor, better than we treat them. The analogy I use is this: how do you feel when you see that your cable company is offering a special deal to new subscribers, but when you call to see if you can get in on the action they tell you that you aren’t eligible? Pretty crappy I’ll bet, and the last thing I want is for our members to think of us like the cable company.

How Not to Run an Awards Ceremony

Anyone who's spent time working in a trade association is probably familiar with that uneasy feeling that occurs when one of the organization's most prominent members gets upset and starts throwing its weight around. That feeling comes from the knowledge that if you find the member to be in the wrong and you have to stand up to its representatives, then you risk losing them as a member, and their hefty percentage of the budget as well. On the other hand if you cave in to their demands you lose credibility with the rest of the members, and in all likelihood you'll lose plenty of them as members as a result. All told it's a very uncomfortable situation, but ten out of ten times it's better to stand up for the principles of the association that were, after all, established by consensus of the membership.

For an example of exactly how NOT to handle a prominent member throwing a hissy fit we need only look to the British Institute of Innkeeping Scotland's handling of a pissy member at its annual awards ceremony. From the post on Boing Boing:

BrewDog is a spunky craft brewer in Scotland. Diageo is a titanic owner of bar chains, a kind of Wal*Mart of booze. The British Institute of Innkeeping is their mutual trade association. Last Sunday, the BII's independent judges awarded BrewDog a prize for Bar Operator of the Year. When Diageo found out — just ahead of the ceremony — that they hadn't won the prize, they threw a tantrum and said that they would cease all sponsorship of BII events unless the prize was given to them. So BrewDog — who'd been told in advance that they'd won — sat at their table at the banquet with jaws on their chests as Diageo's name was read out by the announcer, and representatives from Diageo got up on stage to accept an award whose plaque clearly said "BREWDOG: BAR OPERATOR OF THE YEAR." 

Of course this blew up in the association's face and it did no favors for the "prominent" member either. The folks at Brewdog, the offended party, are running with it on their blog and in the process highlight how the head of an organization such as BII can begin repairing its image after such a mistake:

On Tuesday, 2 days after the award, I (James) took a phone call from Kenny Mitchell, Chairman of the BII in Scotland and Chairman of the Award Committee explaining the situation. To directly quote Kenny:

"We are all ashamed and embarrassed about what happened. The awards have to be an independent process and BrewDog were the clear winner’

‘Diageo (the main sponsor) approached us at the start of the meal and said under no circumstances could the award be given to BrewDog. They said if this happened they would pull their sponsorship from all future BII events and their representatives would not present any of the awards on the evening.’

We were as gobsmacked as you by Diageo’s behaviour. We made the wrong decision under extreme pressure. We should have stuck to our guns and gave the award to BrewDog."

Here's the part where they have some fun:

As for Diageo, once you cut through the glam veneer of pseudo corporate responsibility this incident shows them to be a band of dishonest hammerheads and dumb ass corporate freaks.  No soul and no morals, with the integrity of a rabid dog and the style of a wart hog.

Perhaps more tellingly it is an unwitting microcosm for just how the beer industry is changing and just how scared and jealous the gimp-like establishment are of the craft beerrevolutionaries.

We would advise them to drink some craft beer.  To taste the hops and live the dream. It is hard to be a judas goat when you are drinking a Punk IPA.  

Walk tall, kick ass and learn to speak craft beer.

Those last two paragraphs are sage advice for us all – right up there with "Live long and prosper."