Trade Association Business People

Trade Associations: Breaking Bland

Trade Associations have a structural problem when it comes to PR. Getting timely agreement to say anything that is not just bland.

I once e-mailed a Brussels journalist friend to compliment his choice of quote from a trade association in an article he had written about a controversial European Commission ruling.

Trade Associations Brussels

There are hundreds of trade associations in Brussels that struggle to get their voice heard

In response he wrote:

‘Their press stuff is rubbish. I harvested it from their submission to the Commission consultation, which no one expects a journalist to read. I was just fed up by the bland stuff all these groups spoon feed us’.

Trade Associations: hampered by structural challenges

And herein lies the problem particularly here in Brussels. Hampered by structural challenges including speed and disagreement among members, most Trade Associations struggle to deliver something clear, credible and concrete in a timely fashion. However, the final diluted version is often unusable for journalists, meaning they either ignore it or, as in the case above, go digging around for something juicier elsewhere.

Trade Associations Business people

Journalists get frustrated with bland comments cobbled together by committee.

Below are some tips from my own workshops and clients on how trade associations (both at a national and EU level) can get agreement on sticky’ media messages.

Trade Associations: insider tips from Media Coach workshops

Be strategic
Sounds like a no-brainer. It’s not. If you want to make an impact with your message then the person doing communication at the trade association needs to be empowered by the Secretary General to act strategically, and not just be a service provider for colleagues who want a fact sheet printed.

Get the board involved early
Work with visionary board members to identify broad socio-economic issues that go beyond narrow sectoral interests and disagreements over positions. Invite them to take part in dedicated messaging sessions and get them to own and sell the outcome to their peers.

Think big
This may be controversial but I would try to avoid messaging positions/narrow reactions to legislative changes. It’s boring, technical and usually ends up having to be watered down to mask internal divisions.  You may be the two people Euro Widget Association but you should still try to aim big, inclusive and visionary and to link the messages to bigger issues that have a societal dimension. As Simon Sinek argues in his Golden Circles talk, the most successful communicators are those who can explain at a very fundamental level of ‘why’ they do what they do and why it matters.

Don’t confuse being interesting with being provocative.

A good message is clear, succinct and uses language, numbers and examples in interesting ways. This does not mean resorting to hyperbole. As EurActiv journalist James Crisp noted in a recent blog: if a piece of legislation is likely to be damaging, then use the word damaging. But if it’s not going to destroy the sector, then don’t say that it will. No one will believe you and you’ll look silly.

These are just some thoughts.

What’s worked for you?

About Laura Shields

Laura Shields is Brussels Director of The Media Coach. After graduating from Cambridge University in 2000, she worked as a financial producer for CNN and CNBC Europe in London before moving to BBC News as the Economics and Business Analyst. At the BBC Laura also produced political and financial news for Radio 4′s World at One and PM programmes and was a key member of the teams that produced the TV results coverage for the UK, US and European elections. Laura was a contributor to the BBC website and has also had her work published in Open Democracy and Communication Director and Outsource Magazines. Laura is now working as a media trainer, journalist and panel moderator based in Brussels. As a journalist she reports from the major EU Summits and moderates high level conferences and panels for clients including the European Commission and Parliament, the UN, businesses and NGOs. Laura hosts Media Training, Presentation Training, Social Media Training, Crisis Media Training and Message Building courses for The Media Coach.

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