OPINION: Trade bodies need to find perspective

There are so many trade associations in the City of London that there can be no-one who knows what they all do, or why they are there.

Perhaps there is some greying archivist deep in the bowels of the Bank of Eng­land who knows – as the BOE is the body that has traditionally exer­ted its influence across the financial community. When it felt it necessary, it would put pressure on such organisations’ office bearers.

Actually there is one other expert – the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation. The highly respected think tank once published a directory of them all as a small book. Afterwards the author was told he needed to get out more.

The problem most trade associations face is justifying their existence. Not to the Treasury or the other authorities – because these find them useful as a sounding board and a source of comm­ent on proposed legislation – but to their own mem­berships.

It is a curious fact of human nature that financial firms can spend millions on IT or pre­mises or bonuses, but are very reluctant to pay even a few thousand pounds in subscrip­tions to a trade body to represent them and their interests in the wider world. So trade associations are often des­perate for publicity because they see press mentions as a way to boost credibility with their own membership, and convince them they are doing something useful.

The challenge they face, but which they too often fail to realise, is that peo­ple other than their members read newspapers and have little inter­est in their arcane doings.

The next difficulty is that few but the biggest can afford an in-house PR team or external consultan­cy, so most of their PR is do-it-yourself stuff, handled by the chief executive. Sometimes they are good at it. Other times they clearly have not got a clue and tend to begin meetings with the question: ‘What do you want to know about us?’ The short answer from a busy journalist is ‘nothing’.

The optimist in me says that inside every trade association there is a good story trying to get out. But it never will until they realise that people outside the closed world of their speciality have no idea what the issues are; no idea of their wider imp­lications; and no idea what ques­tions to ask. If they want public­ity they must learn how to sell.



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