Opinion: A 360-degree approach to advocacy is needed
Once perceived as a bit slow and ‘old school,’ European and international associations have transformed over recent years into effective advocacy and lobbying tools for its members. Advocacy is key. Not only externally – but also internally and as alliance builder – a 360-degree approach to advocacy is needed
The last 15 years have seen a dramatic shift in terms of management and the repositioning of associations. European and international associations have transformed over the last decades into service and information hubs for their members, into effective lobbying tools and into alliance builders.
While trade associations were perceived in the past often as administration focussed and inflexible, the association industry is today often a driver for innovation. They help to position industries with one voice towards regulators and policymakers on the national, European and global levels. In Brussels alone, about 20.000 lobbyists try to inform and lobby for the interests of their clients. Additionally, in all capitals of the EU member states, lobbyists are trying to make their voice and cases heard.
National authorities and European institutions need a reliable partner when drafting legal proposals. Partners that can provide background information on sectors and industries the policy makers often lack solid information on, or where they are sometimes not aware of potential side effects of new legal proposals. Here, associations are the preferred counterparts as they have the experience and speak with one voice for a whole sector. The establishment of these partnerships needs time and a deep understanding of the decision-making processes from the associations’ side.
For trade associations the external advocacy and lobbying strategies are becoming the core focus, but the internal lobbying towards the association’s members is as important, but often neglected.
Trade associations today have often diverse memberships: from stock market listed global operating companies to smaller SMEs and national associations. The coordination and alignment of the different priorities within the membership, and to align a sector on crucial policy developments is key. Increased internal communication and advocacy towards the membership on developments and quick and direct information on policy discussions are crucial.
The tools to do so have also changed. Restricted member networks, that do not only allow access to information and internal libraries, but that allow for simultaneous editing of position papers by the secretariats and the members, are helping to speed up coordination processes and enhance transparency.
These internal communication and advocacy tools also allow for faster coordinated input into public consultations of institutions, are increasing the profile and visibility towards the partners and related associations of the industry, especially in the context of B2B. The increased dissemination of information through social internal networks like restricted LinkedIn groups helps to keep the members always directly involved and informed.
But there is a third element to a ‘360-degree advocacy:’ the building of cross-sectoral alliances, common positions and the alignment with related associations. Alliance building and long term positioning or ad-hoc coordination comprise the third essential elements in advocacy to sectorial positioning.
For companies engaged in associations, the benefits are clear: first-hand information from in-house policy experts familiar with all aspects of the business. Technical expertise as a base for long term advocacy strategies – not on single, isolated aspects – for holistic strategies that tackle strategic issues for the respective sectors and industries.
By doing this, trade associations today do to some extend the regulators work. Here the associations play the role of moderators and drivers at the same time. This is beneficial for both sides. The transformation from ‘old school’ interest representation towards external audiences, to a ‘360-degree advocacy’ has massive consequences for the association structures, the resource allocation and the day to day work, but it is the future of the association industry.
Alexander Mohr is the executive director of the European Flavour industry association, EFFA