On Behalf of the Industry…

18 March of 2014 by

I run a trade association. Like most such bodies, we’re funded by all the businesses in our industry to act, work and speak on their mutual behalf. And like most such bodies, that means we’re sometimes seen as the poor relation living on their scraps.
All too often, trade bodies don’t have the glamour – or the well-known brand – of a member business. This can mean their voice struggles to be heard, especially in the media. Of course there are exceptions – organisations such as the British Retail Consortium, Association of British Insurers and Retail Motor Industry Federation are regularly quoted in the press alongside their most prominent members, but they are certainly not the rule.
I suppose there is an argument that trade associations are always not as close to the coal face as the companies they represent, but it’s also true that they speak for the industry as a whole – whether that industry is high street newsagents or glamorous advertising agencies – and thus can provide a big-picture view untainted by individual corporate agendas.
But it’s not just about the media. In fact, trade bodies provide a host of benefits, as the Trade Association Forum (yes, there’s also a trade body for trade bodies!) has pointed out. Perhaps most importantly, we’re the conduit between business and governments, helping to lobby on key industry issues in a way no individual business can.
If we say the proposal for Law X will hurt our sector and needs to be changed, even in another country, it carries a lot more clout among policy-makers than a single company saying the same. In fact, research has shown that trade bodies are seen as the most effective lobbyists across Europe.
And speaking of other countries, trade associations also lay the foundations there for members to break into new markets and boost exports.
Trade bodies also set best practice and codes of conduct, providing peace of mind as well as, often, a badge or accreditation to demonstrate that a given company is trusted and reliable. Because we represent the entire industry, we’re the go-to source of information on that industry’s economic and social impacts and the force behind networking events and newsletters that allow people in the industry to find out what’s going on and make their lives easier. We’re also able to raise sensitive issues commercial entities might be scared to raise, such as allegations of market abuse.
And if that were not enough, we even provide somewhere for people to go if their experience with a member business, heaven forbid, goes wrong.
So with all this going for us, not to mention the fact we often get scale-based deals from suppliers so that our members can benefit from cost savings, you’d think trade associations would be beloved by all their member companies, constantly in demand by the media and some of the most powerful forces in global lobbying and policymaking.
The fact that this clearly isn’t the case shows that trade associations still have a lot of work to do to improve their public and private profiles. I think, although I admittedly am rather biased, that trade bodies could do with more recognition for all the good they do. With both media and the general public always keen to find out more about the businesses that keep the global economy buzzing, it seems to me a no-brainer that the trade associations – the organisations that have all that data and more at their fingertips – should be their first port of call.
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