Why Professional Associations Fail

I’m in Toronto keynoting for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) tonight. In two weeks I’ll be in Key Biscayne helping to facilitate an “elite” speakers workshop for the National Speakers Association (NSA). I’ve made well over 60 appearances for NSA and the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC). I’m one of only two people in history granted the highest honors of NSA (Hall of Fame) and IMC (Fellow).

I tell you all this because I’ve been very involved in these organizations and have tried to “pay back” the professions which have been so important to my success. So I was saddened to receive an email today from the New England chapter of the IMC—historically highly innovative and organized—stating it is considering disbanding.

The problem with these organizations is historic (I’ve been a member since the 1980s): They have failed to brand themselves and their primary certifications. No one—no buyer—has ever asked me about CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) or CMC (Certified Management Consultant). Never. Moreover, there are thousands of superb speakers and consultants who choose not to belong to the organizations, because they see no need or benefit. (I believe you support professional associations in your profession, and try to help others.)

Scores of chapter officials, national presidents, officers—and thousands of board members—have failed to understand the need to create a brand powerful enough to distinguish members and recipients from others—in other words, to create a gravity toward them and make marketing easier and more effective. There has been insufficient understanding, interest, investment, and action. Stringing initials after your name that are not recognized immediately by prospects creates skepticism, not acceptance. But using those that are readily known—MBA, PhD, PE—creates credibility.

Too often, these designations are simply used for elitism and “rank” within the organization, but rarely transcend those borders. Recognition is irrelevant if it doesn’t influence buyers. You can’t send your plaques and certificates to the mortgage company.

In a world where we see successful branding on a global basis, from commodities to services, small firms to large, why is it that professional associations don’t understand that their major function is to create brand recognition for their members? Nothing else is as important.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses to Why Professional Associations Fail

  1. Jeff Simon says:

    Couldn’t have said it better, Alan.
    Particularly about the inward-focus of prof associations.
    All the best,

  2. Stephen Hay says:

    And when an invitation to join is delivered via Twitter for iPhone and reads “please think about joining IMC New Zealand”, it’s hardly surprising that their brand is suffering…

  3. Alan Weiss says:

    No one seems to understand that it’s all about branding. I have a stronger brand than the IMC. They have far more resources than I do. It’s about volition and an understanding of the market.

  4. Thanks Alan you have raised a very real issue with the branding of the IMC globally and the CMC certification mark.

    Stephen thanks for the feedback. IMC New Zealand uses twitter to drive traffic to our web site. We do not mass market our services. You would have got the auto response after following us.

    IMC New Zealand membership is driven by personal introductions and relationships and via our web site http://www.imcnz.org

    Regards
    Gordon Shaw CMC
    President IMC New Zealand

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