Associations’ Advocacy Challenges

Trade associations are effective at external advocacy and lobbying. But internal advocacy, toward members, is often neglected, says European Flavour Association Executive Director Alexander Mohr — and it shouldn’t be.

By Alexander Mohr

Alexander Mohr Headshot

Alexander Mohr

Trade associations today are comprised of a diverse membership, from stock market-listed, globally operating companies to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to regional or national associations. It’s important that associations coordinate with members on priorities and structures, especially when it comes to crucial policy development.

In an increasingly challenging political environment, policy statements often have an immediate and direct impact on entire industry sectors — especially in terms of trade disputes and developments. Member companies need information for planning and to adjust human and financial resources. Therefore, concise internal communication and advocacy toward the membership are crucial if associations want to stay ahead of developments and offer quick responses.

Trade association management often believes their membership is aware of day-to-day operations and challenges, but this is a general misconception. Due to time constraints, members may lack detailed understanding of internal association structures. Trade association secretariats often fail to communicate or place their work in an economic or political context, especially when it comes to complex technical and regulatory achievements.

Legislative proposals that could have a direct impact on an industry — or would result in higher costs for entire sectors — are sometimes not highlighted enough. In the long run, actions that result in the prevention (or partial prevention) of any extra burden for companies creates high cost savings for the industry. This becomes even more important during budget discussions. The value of association work is most easily expressed in numerical fashion, and avoiding costs creates indirect value, providing association board members with tools to express the trade association’s value during such discussions.

The question now becomes “how?” How can associations focus more on internal lobbying? In addition to membership publications and newsletters, general assemblies and board and committee meetings are the most common forums of communication. However, these traditional tools also have their limitations. Online member networks are helping speed up coordination and enhance transparency. In my experience, policy makers who offer quick, unified, and internally coordinated responses are what stakeholders and members value most.

In our association, the European Flavour Association (EFFA), which consists of global companies and SMEs, we wanted to increase our visibility to stakeholders, so we needed to rethink our collaboration strategies. We did this, for example, through joint internal publications or external information letters. Quotes and statements from our stakeholders, which we published in our newsletters, were, in this context, a visible sign of endorsement. Our general assemblies were also a great opportunity to invite stakeholders and partners of the industry to share further and to identify possible future fields of collaboration.

Basic standard office software allows today’s associations to work in a collaborative manner on joint documents and statements. This allows for faster, coordinated input. By increasing dissemination of information through internal and external social networks (such as restricted LinkedIn groups), members and external stakeholders will be directly involved — and kept informed.

For companies engaged in trade associations, increased internal information and enhanced collaboration offer a clear benefit: first-hand information from policy experts familiar with all aspects of the business. By bringing external lobbying efforts in line with internal advocacy, associations can ensure long-term success and continue propelling industry interests forward.

Brussels-based Alexander Mohr, Ph.D., is the executive director of the European Flavour Association (EFFA). This article was contributed by Boardroom and has been excerpted and modified for Convene.

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