Fragmentation of Associations

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Fragmentation of Associations

What if the Fragmentation of Associations is a Positive Trend?

This call for further debate is brought to you by ConCept G.

Associations are formed and made up of a number of organisations, usually companies, with common interests that operate in the same market or sector. They exist to represent and promote the interests of their members and provide collective services to businesses.

The functions of an association are fundamentally:
  • To provide the forum for members or sectors of the industry to work proactively to improve the profitability and competitiveness of its members or sectors.
  • To represent the interests of its members or sectors at all levels of the legislative and regulatory process.
  • To promote the industry members and sectors via public relations and communications.
  • To market opportunities.
  • To introduce training and education.
  • To promote and advocate standards and quality of service.
  • To promote innovation and technology transfer.
  • To offer commercial benefits.
  • To supply information and provide advice to members.
  • To promote the interests of the industry.

Within any industry, the companies that comprise the association have different needs. It is global best practice, in bodies such as ICCA and UFI, for each sub-sector to have its own association due to the sheer size of each membership base. But in South Africa, with its relatively small business-events industry, it is common practise for an association to form an umbrella body, such as EXSA, that strives to serves the needs of all sectors. This has led to conflict however, and some Organisers have split from EXSA to form AAXO, the Association of African Exhibition Organisers.

Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA, says that provided an association has a clear mission and area(s) of differentiation, it can easily make sense to be independent, even if the membership is small in numbers or only covers one narrow segment of the market. Where associations have major overlap of interest with each other and lack of clarity about why they exist, changes are always on the cards.

Andrew Gibbs, MD of ConCept G says ‘’Is it not advantageous for each sector to have representation and influence by way of their own association? – the ability to be seen as ‘the voice of the sector’ and be able to present the views of a sector without favouring any one member? Could this not provide economies of scale – where the sector association can act more efficiently on behalf of its members? Would this not instill trust – so that networking and other non-competitive discussions may take place freely and information provided by the association can be relied upon? We can still have partnership and collaboration between the individual sector associations.’’

Andrew is of the opinion that change is here and stakeholders need to step out of the box and create a new revitalized association or associations. This will only be able to be achieved through greater dialogue with all parties or with as many major players in the industry. Nigel Walker feels that EXSA has more Service Provider members, more than any other sub-sector, with Venues having the least member representation. This, according to Nigel, mirrors the structure of the industry. “EXSA does not place more emphasis on Service Providers, over any other industry sector. It is easy to stand to one side and say EXSA does not represent me or my interests, expecting someone else to take up the baton on your behalf”, said Nigel.

What if there were separate associations for the different forums, each run like a business? What Carol Weaving and the rest of the AAXO members are doing is very brave. I believe that once the forums have their own platforms, they won’t be afraid to tackle issues head on as would previously be the case when all were members of EXSA. Will it take the fragmentation of associations to make measurable progress?

Brad Alder, Chairperson of EXSA, explained that “The exhibition and event industry in South Africa relies on unity with our three forums within EXSA working closely together. The forums all communicate and rely on each other and the economies of scale dictate that one association can achieve more goals this way”. Justin Hawes, a former member of EXSA’s board, explained the structure as follows. “In South Africa we have a small exhibition industry, and because of this it’s possible to have all aspects of the industry represented together in a single entity. In order for an association to be successful, you need membership to achieve critical mass. By including all types of membership categories, EXSA has been able to achieve critical mass”.

Nigel Walker reiterated Justin’s thoughts by saying, “Critical mass is a very significant success factor for an association. Associations in Europe and America have very significant membership numbers, this allows for more resources at the association level, at a lower per member cost. The number of potential members in South Africa does not typically allow for the fragmentation of industry into smaller associations”. When asked to comment on Craig Newman’s standpoint that association fragmentation will do more harm than good, Brad Alder stated that they are in agreement with Craig, who is an expert in our field and sits on the Board of the global exhibition body UFI – of which EXSA is also a member. “The Organisers sit with four positions on the EXSA Board of Directors and are driving the same initiatives within our association. This could lead to a duplication of effort and further entrench disunity which can only be seen as a negative force. We all need to work together towards one goal – exhibitions are the best form of face-to-face communication,” Brad said.

The leadership of AAXO had this rebuttal:

The intention may have been to have one regulatory body to avoid “diluting” the industry. However, trying to diversify the activities of an association can lead to certain groups being underrepresented – for example, 18% of EXSA membership are organisers and 63% suppliers. Through personal experience and examining the success of global associations, the leadership of AAXO came to realise that it best serves the industry to have a focused association that is able to concentrate their efforts on the specific issues and challenges that a group – such as exhibition organisers – face. Thus, AAXO was formed to give exhibition organisers a more robust voice. For example, AAXO has reached out to the Department of Trade and Industry to give organisers a better link to the DTI, and is also working to negotiate a VAT ruling with SARS. These are tangible benefits that will provide great value for organisers. AAXO will also prioritise research, a hitherto neglected area, unfortunately. This research will define the size, value and economic impact of the industry, which will boost engagement with advertising and other agencies regarding the importance of exhibitions in the marketing mix; it will also help to demonstrate the importance of exhibitions to exhibitors in order to grow and develop the industry.

There were efforts to resolve the issues from within EXSA but it became clear that change was necessary. Whilst the formation of the association represents change, we believe this is necessary for growth and reflects the evolution of the growing needs of exhibition organisers. With the growing and interest into Africa we need to prepare organisers adequately for the influx of international African exhibitors. Thus AAXO activities will support the growth and profitability of the industry as a whole, and thus our intention is to continuously engage with EXSA as our big-picture goals remain aligned.”

“What if there were separate associations for the different forums, each run like a business? What Carol Weaving and the rest of the AAXO members are doing is very brave. I believe that once the forums have their own platforms, they won’t be afraid to tackle issues head on as would previously be the case when all were members of EXSA. Will it take the fragmentation of associations to make measurable progress?”, Andrew concluded.

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