It seemed that many branches were slowly but surely losing relevance, members, and the mandate to engage with policymakers from a common standpoint. A lack of decisiveness and a stuffy image led, according to many, to an inevitable end of the trade association. As an industry representative, but also as a member of an industry association, it is useful to reflect on the positioning of associations, and to look for new ways of representation and positioning.
In this article, I provide an analysis of the resurgence of collective advocacy, self-reflection and innovation in trade associations, and offer advice on the added value of branches in the future.
The revival of the trade association
It is, of course, tempting (and easy) to explain the revival of trade associations solely on the basis of the coronacrisis: after all, a trade can bail its members out, and with a good lobby can mean the difference between forced closure and opening the store or the terrace. However, developments prior to the corona crisis are also important for the following reasons:
First, there are more and more advocates in political The Hague and Brussels. This while policymakers prefer to engage with a sector: after all, this gives an overall picture of the solutions needed for problems in business, and it also saves a lot of time. This requires that the sector acts as a reliable partner, and is willing to compromise. In order for a company to influence choices that are made about/for you, good advocacy is a must, and a sector with which the government can make agreements can help in this.
In addition, industry associations themselves have for some time now been focusing on added value for members. One sector does this by offering member services, and another has been lobbying the government for some time. A resounding example of this is VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland with ‘a new (European) course’. This shows that these industry associations are committed to refreshment: an inclusive story in which sustainability, entrepreneurs, and inclusiveness are central.
What the corona crisis did unleash was further internal change at a number of trade associations. Whereas members often cannot agree on what a trade association can and cannot speak about to the outside world, there was broad agreement from the beginning of the corona crisis that the trade association could negotiate on behalf of its members on support measures, industry opening, and other issues. This gave many industries in, for example, retail, construction, and hospitality the broad mandate to engage and negotiate with ministries and politicians. For the government, there was also a one-stop shop where the conversation could be started with an entire sector. Many companies found out very quickly last year that the Ministry of Economic Affairs was willing to meet with sector directors on a weekly basis and not with individual companies. Although a trade association often takes the golden mean, membership opens many doors, and can therefore be interesting to join.
The future of the industry association
Trade associations will continue to be important in the future, provided they can demonstrate to (potential) members what the added value is, and position themselves as a reliable interlocutor on behalf of a sector.
For companies that are already members of a trade association or are hesitating to become a member, the following advice applies: membership implicitly includes a responsibility, become active and ask yourself what you want to get out of membership. Membership of a trade association can offer clear benefits, but active involvement is necessary.
How can your branch seek out and represent the common interest of members? Or do you want to establish a trade association? We like to think along with you! Please feel free to contact us for an introductory meeting.
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