Adland’s associations: self-serving social clubs or a vital industry resource?

The Australian marketing and advertising industry is awash with associations, dubbed "self-serving social clubs", eating up resources and competing with each other for members. Mumbrella's Simon Canning looks at the crowded landscape and asks if it is time for consolidation.

When Trinity P3 founder Darren Woolley branded Australia’s marketing and advertising associations “self-serving social clubs” who are “peddling crap”, at least one major industry association CEO demanded a right of reply.

Woolley’s incendiary comments on a panel at Mumbrella360 debating transparency have been far from welcomed by those marshalling memberships, but the question remains: is Australia overrun with associations, councils and institutes?

The list of associations reads like a bowl of alphabet soup. There is the IAB, AANA, MFA, AMI, IAA, ADMA, PRIA and the Communications Council.

Added to the mix are local chapters and another host of stand-alone associations: The MADC, AADC, PADC, BADC, AWARD, the AGDA, IIA, APSMA and the IABC.

Each of them claims ownership of a “unique” market, serving specific needs but many overlap, recruiting the members from the same agencies and in some cases even sharing board members.

Speaking after the presentation, Woolley said the industry would be better served with just three or four better-resourced organisations which could be more focussed on serving both the industry and raising the profile of their members.

The IAB’s Vijay Solanki

The profusion of associations sparked Woolley’s attacks, but the IAB’s CEO Vijay Solanki has been the first to reject the assertions.

“I wish we could be a social club but we are pretty flat out whether it’s developing all the standards and guidelines that we’ve been doing from viewability to evolving independent measurement to doing the revenue work we do with PwC,” Solanki tells Mumbrella.

“The IAB has a mission to simplify and inspire in digital advertising to grow trust and value.

“Digital advertising revenues have grown from 5% to almost 50% in the last 10 years – you will recall that [recent] PwC numbers predict more growth. But whilst we have grown, so has the number of vendors and technologies. For some people, this has created a complexity. So we have a professional duty to help simplify and also to remind the industry of the ‘magic’ you can do with digital with data, UX, creative, engagement etc – the inspire part – changing all the time as technology (smart phones to smart everything) evolve.”

The Australian Marketing Institute is the peak body for marketers and offers courses and accreditation to practitioners, but last year the future of the organisation was thrown into peril after it was warned to cut costs and grow membership. Auditors said there was “significant doubt” the AMI could “continue as a going concern” unless the organisation was turned around.

AMI chair Andrew Thornton.

AMI chair Andrew Thornton, co-founder and director at advisory business Customer Edge, agreed there could be a perception that the market is overcrowded.

“On the face of it, there seems to be too many associations within the broader spectrum of ‘marketing’ in Australia,” Thornton says.

“But we need to be mindful that ‘marketing’, in its broadest sense, incorporates multiple disciplines.

“Associations exist for the benefit of their members. The key challenge for any association is to remain relevant to and valued by its member base – whether individual members or corporate members. That is, how relevant to me (the member) is what the association represents and how well do I value the benefits the association provides me? The other challenge, of course, is to remain financially viable to support the delivery of the desired benefits to members.”

Australia’s media and marketing industry associations. Source: MediaScope

He says there could be an argument for the number of associations representing the industry to be reduced and indeed that it could already be happening.

“Whilst I believe there is scope for consolidation within the industry, this needs to be balanced by the interests of members – who, after all, are the life blood of any association,” Thornton said.

“I do think that we will see consolidation occurring across the industry – it is inevitable given the changing needs of members and their expectations. And the costs associated with running an association.

“From the AMI’s perspective, we have focused on having a clear understanding of what our members want and expect from their association. In short, this is about helping them to fuel their careers through access to education, training, professional standards and accreditation supporting them across each stage in their career path. In this way, we are aiming to remain relevant to and valued by our members now and into the future. That is what our members tell us they want from us.”

Thornton admits the AMI itself is open to aligning with other industry bodies if the fit is right.

“Is the AMI open to considering alignment with other industry bodies? The short answer is yes, but the caveat is that it must firstly be in the best interest of our members and, secondly, also in the interests of the members of the other association,” he says.

Financial viability is a major question facing many of the groups, with the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association wound up at the end of 2015 after failing to broker a merger with the IAB. Small to medium publishers’ association, Publishers Australia (for which Mumbrella parent company Focal Attractions provided management services) also went into administration briefly in 2014.

AIMIA’s assets were swept up by ADMA, once know as the Australian Direct Marketing Association, which has reinvented itself for the digital age as the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising under the leadership of Jodie Sangster.

ADMA CEO Jodie Sangster.

Sangster has overseen the growth the association to become the largest media, marketing and advertising association in Australia,  and has struck strategic alliances with the AMI and the Australian Retail Institute.

ADMA is the only organisation in the marketing and communications sphere to make its full financial statements available online through its annual report.

In its 2016 annual report ADMA had a profit of $113,127, a turn-around from the previous year’s loss of $306,939 on income of $7.72m.

ADMA’s 2016 Annual Report cover

Under Sangster’s leadership ADMA has shifted from an organisation that represented direct-mail specialists – the purveyors of what was disparagingly referred to in the industry as “shit that folds” – to become the focal point for marketers using data to support their campaigns.

During her tenure ADMA has continued to grow and the association now boasts a number of events including breakfasts, lunches, courses and the 2017 ADMA Global Forum while membership has nearly doubled from 350 to 650.

Having overseen the metamorphosis of the association she sees industry consolidation as a certainty, but believes even though there is overlap in some sectors, ADMA has strong proposition for its members.

“If you go back 10 or ever more, 15, years, there were some very distinct areas that needed representation,” Sangster says.

“For example, we were the direct marketing association and that was quite a different discipline to mainstream advertising, which was different from media, which was different from online. At that time that was the reason those associations came up, because it was a community of people who needed representation in a specific area.

“If you fast-forward to now what we have seen over the past five, six years has been a merger of marketing, advertising, content, technology and they have all kind of come together and are now becoming much more part of one discipline which is much more around customer, customer experience. So that’s why you are starting to see overlap and that the associations are starting to overlap each other in terms of some of the subject matter that they represent.”

She said ADMA had managed to create a clear position in the market across member education, and other areas because of its clear focus on data and technology, but the sheer number of associations was a real question.

“Are we over-serviced? I think the answer is yes, we are over-serviced and there probably does need to be some consolidation moving into the future and I have said that for a while,” she says.

“What is important is that people will join a place that they feel they belong and I think that community is so important, whether its in our personal lives or our professional lives.”

Communications Council CEO Tony Hale

Tony Hale, CEO of the Communications Council and former CEO of the newspaper industry body, The Newspaper Works, says he believes each organisation services very specific needs of their memberships.

He says constitutionally any industry organisation has to serve its members.

“If you went back to the constitutions of all of the different industry associations you would find a different membership base by constitution.

“The AANA and ADMA are organisations that serve the marketer’s community,” Hale says.

“Even by name the Australian Association of National Advertisers, they represent clients. ADMA used to be the direct marketing association but its now the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising, they are there to represent clients, to represent advertisers. Now they are very different organisations because the AANA are really there, at the heart of what they do is to protect the self-regulatory system. ADMA are there for data-driven and analytics and all of that sort of stuff and the marketers who hook into ADMA are anyone with a big database.”

He says the IAB is not a membership organisation but is similar to the OMA, ThinkTV and other representative groups.

“The Comms Council is for creative agencies. It was set up as a single entity for the AFA, the APG, AWARD and that sort of stuff which were entities on their own, that’s what it was set up for, was to bring those together.

“Our objectives are clear and we are the only one in the commercial creativity space doing this.”

The two associations some are suggesting should come together are the Communications Council and the Media Federation of Australia which many believe should be working as one with the re-convergence of media and creative.

MFA CEO Sophie Madden.

Sophie Madden, CEO of the MFA rejects such a alliance should take place, although she admits it is an issue and will always be a possibility.

“We have a purpose that we deliver to,” Madden says.

“There is a strong feeling that, certainly in this market, we have a reason for being and our members are all really engaged with that.”

The MFA represents all the media agencies aligned with the major holding companies and a number of independent agencies.

“From a member perspective there is clearly a view that we are needed. I think that certainly with the Comms Council, because that represents creative agencies, we don’t see ourselves as in competition to them and I don’t believe they see us as competition to them.”

She says the two organisations worked together where there were common issues and where it was appropriate but the two groups diverge when it comes to systems development and research specific to their members.

“That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t necessarily change in the future because the industry constantly changes, but certainly for now that is how we operate and that is how our members want us to operate.”

AANA chair Matt Tapper

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) is on the hunt for a new CEO after the resignation of Sunita Gloster to head to Ten.

Gloster is credited with having reactivated the organisation which some said had come to represent the epitome of the “boys’ club” under its former leaders.

Gloster has grown the membership of the AANA significantly, launched the annual Reset conference and created a business show series for Sky, Marketing Dividends.

Chairman Matt Tapper says the role of the organisation was to champion self regulation.

“The Australian Association of National Advertisers’ core purpose is to ensure that we evolve Australia’s self-regulatory system of advertising so that we continue to meet community standards and thereby preserve our right to commercial free speech, free of government regulation,” Tapper says.

“We also are responsible for prosecuting brand owners’ views on the major issues that impact the effectiveness of our advertising spend, be that advocating for accurate, independent measurement and standards or any other matter that leads to better accountability for how our money is spent.”

He says working with other industry associations was also at the heart of the AANA’s remit.

“To achieve these outcomes we work closely with a range of other associations that represent different stakeholders including agencies, media owners, regulators and the wider community.  Finally, we undertake a range of activities that are designed to advance the profession of marketing, including exposing Australia’s marketing community to global best practice and encouraging debate on matters that impact our profitability and reputation.”

Tapper says the AANA is also continuously evaluating how it works with other associations.

“Given the fast-moving changes in our industry and the pressure on time and expenditure it is a question that we ask ourselves regularly but we’re not actively pursuing anything concrete at this point in time,” he says.

The AANA charges a sliding scale for members based on advertising spend, with companies with marketing budgets of more than $50m paying $37,352, while those with spends of less than $10m pay $6,255. Marketing services companies with ad revenue of more than $200m pay the same top rate on a sliding scale.

More than a dozen associations are hoovering up millions of dollars in membership fees from agencies and individuals, used to sustain administrations ranging from just handful of people to more than two dozen.

The sacking of Alex Malley as the CEO of accounting body CPA Australia after a sustained campaign questioning his salary and marketing focused on building his personal brand has also thrown a wider spotlight on the costs of association executives.

With agency and business margins squeezed, the value members are able to extract from their membership fees is also under scrutiny.

Mumbrella asked all the associations interviewed if they would publicly disclose executive salaries if asked by members, with all but the IAB saying it was a matter for their boards and that their financials were independently audit.

The IAB’s Solanki said he would disclose his salary if requested by members and the board.

But the question remains, is the Australian marketing and communications industry drowning in its alphabet soup?

While every organisation sought to justify its existence, convergence means lines between them are increasingly blurred.

Some are already contemplating a future of amalgamation, while others are steadfastly resisting the idea.

Time, it would seem, is the only factor in doubt. Willingly or grudgingly, the world of marketing and communications associations seems set to have its alphabet culled.



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