Are trade bodies worth the money?

Do the members of trade associations continue to get bang for their buck, Arif Durrani and Mark Banham ask.

It feels appropriate when you begin a new year to take stock of your finances and review some relationships. For businesses in challenging times, this process can be all the more pronounced. Any costs that do not have direct returns attached to them can fall under scrutiny, including the membership fees of trade bodies.

The space is wide and varied, encompassing overarching associations such as the IPA, ISBA and the Internet Advertising Bureau, as well as media-specific bodies such as Thinkbox, Newsworks, the Radio Advertising Bureau, the PPA and the Outdoor Media Centre.

Historically, industry organisations have been essential for better networking through events as well as training, lobbying and providing specific information and advice. But in an age when collaboration is now second nature to many, and every man and his dog seems to be having a stab at hosting in­dustry events and publishing sector-specific information, are there still tangible benefits to joining an association?

The notoriously frugal Richard Desmond, the boss of Northern & Shell and owner of Channel 5, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and OK!, has long questioned the benefits that being part of any industry body can bring.

His multimedia group is not part of Thinkbox, Newsworks or the PPA. Campaign understands that Channel 5 came close to rejoining Thinkbox at the end of last year before a change of heart at N&S and, it seems, a potential sale this year.

The situation is further muddied by the consolidation of business models and practices. Publicis Groupe’s dig­ital agency DigitasLBi, for example, resigned its IPA membership in November. The underlying tone seemed to be one of feeling misunderstood and misrepresented.

Don’t be fooled into thinking annual membership fees are just nominal amounts, either.

Thinkbox’s broadcast members are believed to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to be part of the collective. But it should be noted that it continues to set the benchmark for industry representation and was voted association of the decade at last year’s Media360 event.


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