Although some might question the need for more than one trade body, senior industry figures value highly the benefits that membership of an association can bring. By Richenda Wilson
There is a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where members of the People’s Front of Judea are having a heated discussion: “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the Judean People’s Front.” “Yeah, splitters.” “And the Judean Popular People’s Front.” “Yeah, splitters.” “And the People’s Frontâ¦”
It sometimes feels like that when it comes to the industry associations representing practitioners in marketing. “Why can’t we just have one organisation to promote our industry, lobby for us and provide legal advice?” is a lament often heard from promotional marketing agencies.
Part of the problem is that promotional marketing is so broad, encompassing many methods from instant-win offers to live brand experiences, and the mechanics, measurement, strategy and legislation affecting each of them vary greatly.
Some organisations aim to represent the interests of one segment and focus on lobbying on its behalf. Others prefer to concentrate on the similarities between the disciplines and bring them together to share knowledge and exert influence.
The Voucher Association, for example, is a single-minded body that aims to promote the use of vouchers, raise the industry’s profile and address consumer and legal issues.
Andrew Johnson, Voucher Association chairman, lists the advantages for members: “We negotiate discounts with exhibition organisers, we provide information for members and their clients on tax, national insurance, VAT and setting up sales promotion schemes, we offer advice on a rapidly changing market in terms of legislation, technology, and so on.”
The Live Brand Experience Association (LBEA) was set up a year ago to do something similar for experiential agencies – explaining the nature of the discipline, extolling its virtues and promoting best practice.
But these smaller organisations may find it hard to generate the clout to make their presence felt. The LBEA, for example, has been criticised for failing to raise the discipline’s profile, or to create a robust code of practice.
Perhaps these jobs are best left to the big guns. After all, the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) and the Marketing Communications Consultants Association (MCCA) have been representing the industry for decades, advising practitioners and educating members.
“We’re concerned about best practice of all things below-the-line, especially the content of offers made to consumers to get them to change their behaviour,” says ISP director-general Edwin Mutton. “We see ourselves as custodians, legal advisers and educators.”
Some 70 per cent of ISP members pay the legal supplement to their membership fee, which entitles them to run campaigns past the legal department to check for compliance, and to point out additional implications arising from mechanical, budgetary, logistical or administrative aspects of the promotion.
“We are heavy users of the service,” says Deborah Hennessy, director of integrated agency Haygarth. “They are brilliant on legal approvals, and very good at pointing you in the right direction if you need to check something out.”
In the early 1990s, Graham Green, now chairman of Meerkat Marketing Communications, was a founder and director of the MCCA, originally called the Sales Promotion Consultants Association. “We felt you couldn’t have your views expressed by an organisation that also represented clients, premium suppliers and the like,” he explains. “We thought consultancies needed their own body to unashamedly represent their members’ interests.”
But things have changed, he believes/ “Now the MCCA has weak finances, weak management and poorly attended seminars. I don’t know why anybody in their right mind would belong to it. Anything it does, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising [IPA] does better, especially now that it has broadened from just representing above-the-line agencies.”
But MCCA managing director Scott Knox maintains that members have a lot to gain from paying their membership fee (currently between &£4,000 and &£9,500 a year, depending on gross profit, compared with the ISP’s &£2,000 flat rate for corporate members).
“The MCCA represents agencies as agencies,” says Knox. “Our strengths lie in our unique services and consultants, and in our understanding of what it means to be an agency.”
He adds: “We also have an information service, and a search and selection service where we can help clients find the right agency to work with.”
Mutton agrees that the MCCA and the ISP have different roles: “We are about content, while the MCCA is about agencies. We tell you how to do sales promotion, while it tells you how to run an agency.”
To focus on this strength, the MCCA is launching training in procurement, leadership development and stress management
Sam Noble is a director of promotional agency Iris, which is a member of both the ISP and the MCCA. He has been working closely with the MCCA on its training programme.
“There is much more potential for industry bodies to help agencies progress as businesses,” he says. “We have been working with the MCCA to create a programme of professional development initiatives that are built around helping agencies realise their potential – from coaching leadership to targeting key market trends. We put the Iris board and group account directors through the leadership training, and it proved really successful.”
But if Noble now offers the programme to other agencies, isn’t he in danger of losing his competitive advantage? “No, it creates an opportunity for us to adopt a position of leadership among our peers.”
Iris is also a member of the IPA. “It’s full of people we want to associate with, such as Mother, Fallon and Naked,” says Noble, and his agency is also considering membership of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA). He adds: “[the DMA] has a depth of specialism that we need to access, because of the increasing amount of direct marketing in our agency”, while the ISBA is important “for its in-depth knowledge of specific industry categories”.
Indeed, one of the major benefits of joining any trade association is the opportunity to network, to discuss relevant issues and share best practice, although Hennessy wonders how extensive the benefits really are: “Access to seminars sounds appealing, but no one really gives away any trade secrets.”
One of the best places to do this is reckoned to be the Marketing Society. It has 2,500 members, of which 60 per cent work for client companies and 40 per cent for marketing services agencies. Stringent entry criteria also ensure that half the members are at director level or above.
Hugh Robertson, managing partner of experiential agency RPM, is a fan. “In an agency it is easy to get bogged down in the detail, so it is nice to stick your head above the parapet sometimes and get out there. The Marketing Society offers hearty debate on more longer-term, strategic issues. You don’t tend to win any business, but you have good, useful discussions.”
As Noble says, trade associations offer “a broader community of people to learn from, and contribute to. If you drive an active relationship with them, it will be of mutual benefit.”