When researching the South African market, there are a myriad of associations over and above the chambers that businesses can belong to, such as, The Plastics Association, The Marketing Association, The Direct Marketing Association, The Franchise Association and The Publisher Association just to name a few. Basically, for every industry and career choice, religion, sport and hobby there is an association that one can join. Companies always pay to belong to these associations and chambers, but what is the return on investment received as a result of belonging to such an association?
The cost of belonging to these associations varies from between R1000 to R2000 per annum for individuals and from R5000 to R25 000 for corporates, depending on criteria linked to turnover, budget or staffing ratios. The benefits which the various associations offer vary from legal assistance, networking opportunities (the favourite one), business guidance and training, governmental lobbying with a collective voice, receiving of communications on industry trends and information, and links to other associations. Often the association also provides a listing of accredited service providers.
In 2005, the Centre for Association Leadership did a research study to determine the value of associations in America. They found that most associations do not get involved in financial assistance for their members nor do they provide medical or retirement funding. The value they provide is in what they call “making a better world”. The other value associations are perceived to provide is to govern the delivery standards across the industry. Especially in industries where registration is not compulsory, belonging to an industry association, and by implication adhering to their standards, the member can prove to a prospective client that they are qualified and able to fulfil on the required service level agreement.
In answering the question of whether associations provide value, we have to assume that they do. The concept of associations has been in practice for centuries, if we include their ancestors, namely the Guilds and other trade associations. If they do not provide value they would not have survived. William Fisher (1997) proved that the value received from an association is in direct correlation with the effort contributed by the member. A member has to “use” the benefits of the association in order to derive value from the membership.
Another value an association can provide is to update the academic body of knowledge amongst its members continuously, thus ensuring that members are up to date and can provide the appropriate knowledge to their customers or colleagues. Accepting a business as a member of an association is by default an endorsement of that business. Professional development of members will, in turn, build the image of the association.
The onus is on the association to demonstrate efforts to provide value actively. The Marketing Association of South Africa lists the value it provides as:
• Enhanced accountability for individuals and corporate.
• Linking to the above, membership becomes a component of the company’s risk management strategy, especially with regard to brand value and reputation.
• Access to a network of credible business and marketing professionals, locally and on a global scale.
• The ability to influence national policy, legislation and strategy on marketing and business issues.
• The assurance of world class educational and training standards for our profession.
• Guidance and support on issues of strategic and professional interest and importance.
• Enhanced personal credibility as a marketing professional.
• Immediate subscription to a code of professional conduct.
• Discounted rates to marketing and other business events.
• Participation in recognition programmes and awards.
In addition, The Marketing Association of South Africa has a technical panel of experts, such as Christo Bishoff from North West University, Roger Sinclaire, Chris Moerdyk, Ivan May and Traci-Leigh McMillan from Sappi, standing by to address questions from members and offering advice on various industry matters.
These benefits are very much in line with the global trends. Upon speaking to a couple of the members it seems as if they do derive the value as listed above. Does this provide return on investment? That is an entirely different study, but it does provide comfort in knowing that there is power in numbers and that somebody else has taken the responsibility to watch out for threats in the market and is acting protectively on behalf of the industry.