Trade Associations Demand, and Deserve, Better Support

By David Fischer

I had just resigned from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) after 20 years when coincidentally I saw Carl Hulse’s insightful piece in The New York Times exploring profound changes in Washington trade associations. Hulse is right. His reporting matches my own observations.

I have spent over two decades in senior positions in both industry and public health associations in Washington, D.C., including most recently as Senior Director with the ACC. I have seen up close how the heightened political sparring on daily display in the halls of Congress has prompted trade associations to steer clear of partisan ex-legislators and instead pursue skilled managers, communicators and problem solvers who know how to work effectively with all sides in providing value to member companies.

Trade association member companies increasingly seek to tie their association dollars to tangible regulatory and legislative solutions that add to their company’s bottom line. At ACC, I used my unique blend of science, public health and legal expertise to create consortia of member companies to address specific regulatory issues. My pitch to companies had to begin and end with the consortium’s value proposition for them, even if the group’s annual fee was tiny relative to a multinational corporation’s bottom line. Companies increasingly, and rightfully, are insisting that the benefits they derive from their association memberships are commensurate with costs.

And benefits cannot be realized or costs minimized without competent, experienced association staff who are fully aligned with the interests of the companies they serve.

That imperative extends also to those who support associations with key services, including public affairs and communications support. The days when large firms with armies of staff could charge a trade association astronomical fees are ending. Agencies need to embrace a new service model, one that places a high premium on nimbleness, creativity, experience and adaptability.

I left a job at an association that I had served for 20 years to be part of that new model with IBEX Partners, a year-old public affairs and communications firm built around that service model.

Just as I took that leap, I was reassured by Hulse’s insights. IBEX Partners’ approach is straightforward — bring deeply experienced leaders to help clients build a strategy to achieve their objectives, and then build a bespoke team specifically around executing that strategy. I am delighted to deepen IBEX’s capabilities to support clients involved in complex regulatory matters at the intersection of public health, the environment and the law.

David Fischer leads IBEX Partners’ legal and regulatory practice. He is a 20-year veteran of the American Chemistry Council, a public health expert and an environmental lawyer.

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