The TCA Members’ Day — The value (and limits) of association membership


tca members dayI’m at Toronto airport, awaiting my return flight to Ottawa after attending the Toronto Construction Association’s (TCA) Members’ Day.

I wanted to cover some important presentations on new prompt payment/construction lien legislation and there were some speakers with especially useful knowledge on this topic at the educational symposium to start the day. There also were plenty of networking opportunities and a free lunch.

Yet, we aren’t members of this association, and I doubt we will rejoin soon. (I attended on a media pass.)

We were members for several years, beginning in 1998-99, when I established GTA Construction Report. My initial reception was less than warm. The then-association chair happened to be the publisher of a directly competing publication, and he told me in no uncertain terms he would like me to go back to Ottawa, and stay there. (He mentioned in the next breath he had similar feelings towards another organization, which led me to make one of the most effective cold calls in my business career — and the beginnings of a strategic alliance that has survived several corporate/organizational changes over the past 15 years.)

Initially, I decided to ignore the rather negative reception and committed to treating the association with respect, arranging positive publicity in our media, and generally doing the right thing. And the association, to its credit, delivered on its promised services and benefits, including the Member’s Day, where all members (including us) were invited to set up table top marketing displays.

Nevertheless, about five years ago, after a budget and value-for-money review, we decided to drop our membership. I added up the business that I could attribute directly or indirectly from the TCA membership, and — having given the process enough time to validate our concerns — decided there wasn’t enough payoff for the dues, at least from the framework of relationship/business development objectives.

One of my biggest marketing mantras is that active and engaged association involvement can be one of the best ways to build relationships and business, and undoubtedly, we’ve achieved some incredible results over the years, including from associations where we didn’t see much value in the early goings. ?In fact, rushing the process or expecting some sort of immediate payback from association membership usually results in less-than-perfect results.

However, the TCA showed the other side of the coin. In some cases, other organizations — perhaps your direct competitors — have entrenched themselves well enough into the network that nothing you can do will change the fact that you will always be an outsider. At times, you then face the choice of banging your head against the wall, or moving on. We chose the latter.

This is not meant to be disrespectful of the TCA or other associations where things didn’t work quite the way we would have liked. I am quite confident many businesses find real value in the membership and develop worthy relationships and marketing opportunities and the TCA provides excellent community service.

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