At the association annual general meeting

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oca agm
Paul McCarney
OCA chair Paul McCarney

This posting is full of local detail. Please bear with me. I will get to the broader significance at the end. You can skip the details.

Last night, I and Tim Lawlor, Ottawa Construction News‘s associate publisher, attended the Ottawa Construction Association (OCA) annual general meeting. In addition to the ritualized process (the standard motions, somewhat canned speeches, including a state-of-the-economy presentation from a publishing competitor’s representative, something we will respectfully ignore in our own publication), we gathered some real  news, some personal knowledge, and (most importantly), developed and enhanced our business relationships.

In-person association events are vital for marketing in an era of automation, bots, and online communication. Several members spent significant funds for sponsorships though our cost was somewhat more modest, two $70 tickets.

I learned from association president John DeVries that the OCA has received a conditional $4.6 million offer for its downtown Ottawa site.  The building is worthless, but the land assembly is large enough to support a multi-story condominium or office building under the city’s land development intensification policies. The developer (DeVries won’t identify its name yet), can walk from the deal under conditional clauses for a couple more weeks, then has seven or so months to complete due diligence with a much larger non-refundable deposit.  I asked him how much. “It is less than seven figures but greater than six figures,” he said, meaning the deposit is between $100,000 and $999,999.99.

In a few hours, I’ll meet the OCA’s new chair, Greenbelt Construction president Paul McCarney. Then I’ll travel a few miles to a planning lunch committee meeting for the Construction Specifications Canada Ottawa chapter. (I’m incoming chair of the CSC chapter, a much smaller group than the OCA, with about 1,100 members.  The CSC chapter has about 90 members.)

These details probably don’t mean much to you outside of Ottawa. However, they provide clues about the ways and whys of association membership and participation.

Obviously, we aren’t new to either of these associations, so it is natural to be there.  The challenge is, how and where can you most effectively work with associations for marketing objectives?

Here are some guidelines:

This is a long-term, not a quick fix.  While sometimes you can gain some immediate marketing and business development value from your association participation, if you are expecting anything fast or quick, you should consider telemarketing, canvassing or (more productively) calling on your existing clients for some repeat or referral business, instead.

You gain by giving. But if you worry about how much you can gain, you aren’t really giving. This is the culture of generosity. The more you share, support, contribute and help others, the more trust and genuine relationships you are able to build. If you think of association membership as a “lead development” or sales program, you’ll probably fail.

The best way to connect initially is through referral. Do you have a good customer who is a current association member?  Have him or her bring you as a guest to an association function. You’ll have some ready-made introductions, and you’ll accelerate the process of integrating yourself into the association. More importantly, if one of your clients is there, probably others will, or can be.

You will gain value from your own trade or community groups. You will gain real marketing value from your clients’ associations.  So, yes, if you are a general or sub-contractor, it makes sense to belong to your mixed or specialized association. However, your marketing objectives are generally better served from client-focused groups. Consider owners’ associations or associations representing the special interests among your potential clients.

Our business spends most of its marketing funds on association membership and activities.  Yes, we measure the results, but we also take a longer-range perspective. We assess the activities, opportunities to contribute, and relevance.  In some cases, very large associations may appear to be highy relevant, but they have established networks and in some cases our competitors are well-entrenched there. Rather than fighting the big ship inertia, we may focus our efforts in other associations where more modest contributions have a larger impact.

Do you have any thoughts or observations about association membership or participation?  Please feel free to comment or email me at  buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com.

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