February 23, 2015
Kellen’s Executive Lunch, held on 5th February in Brussels, brought together leaders in the association management field from the US and the EU. Let me start with the good news: The trends and challenges faced by associations on either side of the Atlantic are not that different after all! And there was broad consensus on the key take-home message: associations today need to rapidly adapt to take on new communication roles, and reach out to new audiences.
The event welcomed two distinguished panellists: Susan Neely, President and CEO of the American Beverage Association (ABA); and Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, Secretary General of The Brewers of Europe. They identified some key trends in association management, stimulating an animated discussion:
- The changing nature of advocacy: Associations have to engage with key stakeholders and interest groups, especially NGOs and consumers, and society at large! Reaching out to a handful of legislators is no longer enough. B2C communication is likely to become an integral part of an association’s role ten years from now!
- The need to engage at local level: In the US, associations need to engage more and more with local activist groups at state level, as state initiatives can quickly take a federal dimension.
- The rapid change of technology: New opportunities for communicating and engaging with target audiences via social media; BUT: challenges for staff, infrastructure and resources, requiring each staff member to take on some sort of communicator role in addition to their field of expertise, and resulting in a change of recruitment profiles
- The impact of EU Enlargement: For Europe, moving from 15 to 28 Member States had a big impact on the evolution of the association landscape, requiring associations to continue to adapt today.
- The association as a service provider: Taking the so-called “toolbox” approach, more and more associations invest for example into communication packages about their industry, and stress the national/local dimension for their sector.
Some of the questions raised merit a more in-depth reflection, and I would welcome any thoughts on these issues:
- What is the best way to get your message across to regulatory bodies and authorities? Is it getting your message delivered by 3rd parties with high credibility? Is building your case with other allies and forming broad stakeholder coalitions the way forward?
- What changes are ahead for governance models and the composition of Boards, and how can we assure diversity and balance of interests? Has the gender, racial and ethnical equality debate had an impact on the composition of association boards yet?
- Last but not least: How do we make association management itself an exciting career choice, attracting (and retaining!) best talent?
While there are no one-size-fits-all answers to the above, the key concerns are shared. And as for the cultural differences: they require a tailor-made approach to how we meet the needs of our associations, and we should cherish this cultural diversity!
If you have questions or want to know more about what was covered at the event, feel free to contact me by email. Kellen will be hosting its annual EuroConference on 2 April 2015 in Brussels, focusing on Trends in Association Management and specifically looking at ‘European Associations in a Global Context’. Click here to register and find out more.