The secrets of association membership and construction marketing

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Joamie Eegeesiak

Iqaluit economic development officer Joamie Eegeesiak

Trade and community associations can be among your most powerful construction marketing resources.  While you certainly should belong and support your own trade group, the associations most powerful for marketing, however, are the ones your clients support.  Even better, if you can, discover associations where you can leverage and expand your actual client base, and you’ll discover a marketing gold-mine.

That process explains my visit to Iqaluit — so far north in Canada that you can only get here by plane, where a chicken dinner can cost $60.00 and where the “first language” is an Inuit dialect.  The Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC) decided to host their annual conference in this northern territory, so we made plans to attend.

Economic development officers (EDOs) straddle a uniquely challenging environment within government organizations — they are paid and work for the “bureacuracy” but their primary task is to entice and encourage private-sector business activity.  They, essentially, are the bridge between business and government.

I have great respect for the EDO community and the leaders I’ve grown to know in the past few years.  It can be a true challenge to work within the bureaucracy to serve businesses effectively.  One EDO, for example, today described her challenges in dealing with an utterly incompetent employee, who had been in the office 20 years.  She can’t simply fire the ineffective worker — without paying upwards of 20 months in severance.  So she’s given the person 20 months working notice and now must deal with an employee who had not only been unproductive, but now is becoming beyond control.  (This is a reminder for private sector business owners to double check their employment agreements and contracts — the rules vary by province and state, but if you are not careful, you can be caught with extremely severe severance obligations unless you set out employment contracts/rules at the outset and understand fully your rights and obligations.)

However, our interest in the EDO community touches close to marketing as well as community service initiatives.  EDOs have marketing budgets.  They also know the movers and shakers within their communities, especially in the construction and development areas.  If we are on good terms with them, indeed, we can sell quite a bit of advertising (which is how our business makes money).  The trade off:  Publicity in our publications has proven to be effective for the economic development offices we’ve served — they report satisfactory inquiries/results and good will among their community and political leadership.  So they buy more advertising, refer others, and help our business.

That’s the “our” story.  What about you?  Maybe the association representing economic development officers is not appropriate for your business, but if you build schools, would the association of school superintendents or construction managers be useful?  If you build shopping centres, hospitals, roads, post offices . . . you can almost inevitably discover a relevant association representing the interests of construction purchasers.  (If you are working in residential construction, you can look at community, cultural and civic associations relevant to your market area. One successful plumber, for example, began providing support for a local arts and cultural group — which included virtually all of the community’s political and economic leaders.  He soon had more than enough plumbing work for his business.)

Note that association membership is not a quick-fix.  If you approach these groups with a mercenary and self-serving attitude, you’ll almost inevitably be invited to pay for expensive sponsorships and receive modest returns.  Your challenge is to share your expertise, time and resources — and really help the association and its members achieve their goals.

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