Post Covid-19 Trade Association Strategic Imperative: Build Core Strengths Beyond Federal-level Advocacy, Representation, and Legislation

trade association


A groundbreaking survey among 117 trade association executives surfaces new and significant opportunities for Trade Associations in a Post Covid-19 world. Actionable data about how organizations can build their strategic imperative and position for long term growth and success is uncovered through a collaborative survey conducted by Arlington, Virginia based Potomac Core – Association Consulting and Edge Research. It showed the need for trade associations to be nimble, a member resource, industry promoter, and collaborator with stakeholders within each industry.

Trade Association CEOs perceive Federal-level advocacy, representation, and legislation as a top priority to industry professionals and they rate their associations highly on this key metric. Anyone familiar with trade associations should have expected that result.  At the same time, they see opportunities for industry professionals and industry growth that trade associations can build upon:

  • Serving as a top resource for information, updates, and trend reports.
  • Flexibility/nimbleness to meet new challenges.
  • Raising public awareness/Improving public perceptions of the industry.
  • Expertise on key issue areas and market trends.
  • Regularly engaging with/taking the pulse of members to understand & center their needs.

As one participating CEO noted “The disruptive nature of the pandemic forces a redefinition of member and industry value. Moving forward, organizations have opportunities to improve alignment with emerging member and industry expectations. Essentially, this research opens the door to a new strategic imperative for trade associations and CEOs.”

CEOs took action to address or meet challenges brought on by Covid-19. Nearly nine in ten (88%) said they made changes, of those 31% said they made significant changes and 57% made some changes CEOs completing the survey provided insights into the actions taken on behalf of the association and the members they serve:

  • Significant Changes (31%)– Very proactive association, including Listening closely to members, adapting to a virtual environment, and making financial decisions to maintain the association’s financial viability.
  • Some Changes (57%) – More deliberative changes including Thinking through new approaches to member engagement and aligning staff resources around the future.
  • Not too much Change (12%)- Staying the course and not seeing much impact from Covid-19.

When it comes to the trade association’s work environment today, CEO’s report that 69% of staff are working from home, 26% have some staff working at home, and 4% with all or most staff working in the office.

At the other side of Covid -19. more than one year into the pandemic, and taking into account financial conditions and market factors, Trade Association CEOs describe better market conditions for the Industry.

trade association


(51% better) they represent than for their own Association’s situation (34% better). However, looking ahead five years, CEOs are optimistic for their Industry (76% more successful) and for the Associations they lead (83% more successful).

The research study also identified non Covid – 19 trends impacting Associations during the past year. CEOs offered their perspectives in four key areas:

  • Technology/Communication – Zoom, video, and social media enabled higher levels of senior level engagement at companies
  • New Administration and Congress – Change from republican to democrat control drove higher investment in government and regulatory affairs activities.
  • M&A/Industry Consolidation – The trend continues, it presents greater challenges on revenue models, in some cases drives organizations to provide more international resources, and results in corporate travel budget cuts.
  • Social Issues/DEI – Trade associations report different responses with one discontinuing public policy and reallocating funds to diversity and another intensifying the association’s focus on DEI and how to address racial inequities in society.
trade association

Jon Kulok

 “Thanks to the impressive vigilance, determination, and guidance of our Strategic Guidance Lab CEOs. We’ve been surfacing and working through these issues for the past year notes Jon Kulok, Principal at Edge Research. Some of the issues identified through the SGL were validated in our research, especially as CEOs look ahead and identify the capabilities needed to build or transform the trade association of the future”:

  • Flexibility – Many acknowledge the need to better anticipate industry changes and have the capacity to move more quickly to adapt to challenges and opportunities.
  • New Revenue Streams – Revenue diversification to help organizations steer away from large conference revenue dependence.
  • Better Education Offerings – Offering a wider variety of training and education resources to support members and industry segments increase the skills of the workforce.
  • Understanding Member Needs – Utilizing research to better understand evolving priorities and have the ability to focus on member roi.
trade association

Dan Varroney

Potomac Core President, Dan Varroney notes “Through this research and other client research, we’re learning how essential it is for organizations to build beyond their robust advocacy foundation. These results reflect a new call to action for trade association CEOs. It’s about delivering value plus offerings  helping members deal with a rapid pace of change and uncertainty.”

Survey Methodology 

Interviews were conducted among 10 Trade Association CEO members of the Strategic Guidance Lab.

The online survey conducted April 7 to April 30, 2021, among C-level Executives leading professional, trade, and industry associations has 117 completing the survey: 115 CEO/President and 2 Other C-level, e.g., CMO, CFO, & COO.

About Potomac Core – Association Consulting

Potomac Core’s end-to-end process develops market research, strategic assessments, Go-to-Market plans, and roadmaps that transform organizations into essential investments. We help implement new strategies that align the right strategic initiatives to reach the right audience, identify the right growth opportunities, and energize industry and member engagement. For more information, please visit

About Edge Research

Working in partnership with you, we’ll get to know your world and your specific objectives, and then develop a tailored research approach. We provide partner-level attention throughout the process and deliver reports that tell a clear, actionable story and embolden your organization to make data-driven business decisions. We help clients of all sizes uncover the insights needed to make their products and programs successful. For more information, please visit

About the Strategic Guidance Lab

Launched at the start of the global pandemic (April 2020), the SGL, engages 47 CEO members through monthly pulse surveys to remain current in new and emerging trends, brown bag lunch zoom calls, and a private Slack Channel. Daniel A. Varroney serves as Moderator, and is assisted by Jon Kulok, Principal of Edge Research in Arlington, Virginia, and  Dr. David Rehr, Research & Advocacy Consultant and Professor & Director of the Center for Business Civic Engagement at Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.

Request Copy of the Survey Research Report

Copies of the report are available to Trade Association Executives. Please send your request to Make sure to include your name, organizational email address, name of the organization, and phone contact information. 

post brexit associations

Post Brexit Associations

The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom along with modest and subdued global economic growth will continue to affect corporate decisions on external costs not related to top line growth and operating performance. Associations in a number of instances are increasingly more relevant, and have strategic objectives closely aligned with the industries they serve. These organizations also have the characteristics that define Post Brexit Associations.  However, in a rapidly evolving global market, how aligned is your association in order to help your members and their industries meet new challenges?

active innovation

Data Fuels Active Innovation

In a growing trend, Association CEO’s and their Board Members are utilizing economic data as important context for their strategic deliberations. Jobs data, Housing StartsInstitute for Supply Management Index (ISM), Oil Prices, Consumer Spending, and U.S. Dollar Performance against other currencies is a more frequent topic at Association Strategic Planning Sessions. Although Strategic Plans cover 3 year windows, Boards encourage their CEO’s to be flexible and to use trend data to meet shifting demands to help their industries. In essence, economic data fuels active innovation at Associations.

funding industry innovation

Funding Industry Innovation

Anemic economic performance is unfortunately becoming a mainstay in the U.S. economy. The release of the 3rd quarter GDP numbers where only 1.5% growth was reported is another reminder of how much the ground is shifting for associations. Companies will likely view membership through an even narrower prism of operating margins if economic conditions weaken further.  Associations who are Funding Industry Innovation can position themselves as essential partners in helping members achieve business outcomes.

Association Innovation Delivers Growth

Association Innovation

Association Innovation Delivers Growth

What capabilities should your association have in order to deliver revenue growth and strong retention? In the Strategic Member Engagement Survey, Associations & Professional Societies reporting upward 3-year operating results are far more likely to have a very high level of board understanding and strategizing about the business and professional outcomes members seek, and actively engage members in creating new solutions. For IARW, the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (Global Cold Chain Alliance Partner), these new and innovative capabilities are serving as an accelerant to revenue growth and retention.

Return on Member Engagement

“Together we achieve a return on member engagement” reflects a six month strategic planning mantra employed by Corey Rosenbusch, President and CEO, GCCA (of which IARW is a key partner) and the Association’s Board of Directors. Collaboratively they determined their industry’s strategic business outcomes and developed an innovation focused strategic plan to drive worldwide top line growth.

Throughout the process board members keenly focused on capabilities and priorities they wanted from their industry association. Their Board Task Force surfaced opportunities to broaden strategic alliances that will extend the industry’s visibility and global reach.

Business Outcome Focus Drives Revenue Growth

Identifying member industry “up-at-night” issues and positioning IARW as a strategic partner to drive business growth is already showing results through recovering former member dues, membership and sponsor growth, and a potential windfall through a new Global Cold Chain Expo to be held in Chicago in 2016.

Association Innovation Delivers Growth

Although Rosenbusch understood the risks of utilizing a different planning process he focused on a different path based on innovation and member business outcomes. To date he reports over $200,000 in new revenue and sees opportunity to grow substantially more and help the industry IARW serves achieve its business growth objectives.

Association Innovation Delivers GrowthFree eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives at

Disruptive Associations

Disruptive Associations


Disruptive Associations

A snapshot by the Conference Board of both the U.S. and Global Economy doesn’t necessarily paint the rosiest of pictures  GDP growth is projected at 2.9% in the United States while economic performance in the rest of the world will be shaped by “volatility.” In what appears to be a low growth scenario, how and to what extent can Associations be transformed into market disruptors that support market growth?


Be assured that the current slow growth environment or an economic downturn will inflict significant pain on your revenues and membership at some point. Organizational Association balance sheets took significant hits in 2008 and 2009, and there little reason to think otherwise in the current environment. Knowing this should CEO’s maintain traditional Association product and service offerings or should they analyze strategic alternatives?

Market Disruption

New products and services penetrating the marketplace have disrupted the U.S. economy from the start of the Republic. At each turn throughout our history, new entrants reshaped a dynamic marketplace. With big data, predictive analytics, and emerging technologies new companies are in several instances upending the marketplace and driving innovation and boosting higher levels of productivity.

Tough Questions?

Can an Association go beyond traditional roles and provide nontraditional solutions to industries in a slow growth environment? Are boards and volunteers ready for their Association to position and help drive their industry positioning and growth in domestic and international markets?

Competitive Threats

Since the great recession for profit firms are aggressively developing innovative solutions and products to more immediately help companies address business challenges and grow revenue. Why can’t your association play the same role?

Disruptive Associations

Disruptive AssociationsAt a time of unprecedented change your Association can become a Market Disruptor and position your members for success in a slow growth world.

Free eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives at

managing teams through crisis

Is Your Association Inside Out?

Recently reported economic expansion reflects only one part of an evolving and complex business environment. Cyber threats, disruptive technologies, innovations and social media, an aging workforce, and talent gaps weigh heavily on corporate bottom lines. According to a McKinsey December 2014 Global Survey, “geopolitical concerns remain paramount as a risk to growth for executives whose optimism for the global economy in early 2014 has faded over the course of the year.”

member outcomes

Member Outcome Focused Training

In a climate of disruptive innovation and tight operating margins where can companies look for education and training solutions? Quite simply it’s Associations, as they have the ability to facilitate new solutions to address evolving member business outcomes. While the traditional Association model “pushes” out training and education programs, innovative organizations structure these products to help members achieve their business outcomes.

Does Your Association Outdistance For Profit Competition?

for profit competitionDoes Your Association Outdistance For Profit Competition? At a time when for profit competitors pursue convention & conference space once owned by Associations, CEOs determined to thrive are reinvesting & sharpening their organizational competitive edge. In one case, PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, an organization whose principal source of funding comes from trade shows, takes nothing for granted. According to Chuck Yuska, President & CEO, the board & staff team always compete to maintain their “Convening Authority” mantle.

Strategic Partnership Emphasis

Securing market alignment is key for PMMI. Members & staff collaborate on annual goals, objectives, and measurements for the upcoming year.

Yuska emphasizes “we want to help our members be more competitive, give them the tools & information to grow their business, minimize their risks and obtain new business practices that help them become better companies and be more profitable.”

Address Member Pain Points   

Successful Associations like PMMI remain connected with member pain points, & provide business tangible solutions to:

1. Help members succeed. Support member global market needs, produce trade shows & conferences that studiously link buyers & sellers, members, & their customers.

2.  Use Customer Feedback Loop. Utilize exhibitor, member, & customer analytics & feedback to continuously improve takeaway value for all members & show participants.

3. Maintain High Relevance Factor. Accelerate organizational visibility through traditional & social media, direct mail, and industry channels.

4. Reinvest. Deliver the next “new thing,” and expand opportunities for members & customers.

Does Your Association Outdistance For Profit Competition?

for profit competitionDespite $2 million net operating performance in 2012 & 2013, and 7% operating growth and 95% retention in 2013, PMMI looks to consistently enhance its competitive position.

What’s next for PMMI? Expansion into regional trade shows with Pack Expo East

For a free copy of the “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” eBook, request your copy at

for profit competition

Association Develops $1.1 Million Non Dues Revenue Stream

non dues revenueAssociation Develops $1.1 Million Non Dues Revenue Stream. Data and effective research can help keep organizations on track to provide high impact non dues products & services which advance member business interests. Just ask Victor Parra, President & CEO, United Motorcoach Association who launched, a lead generation platform that makes their 900 plus members more competitive.

Data Driven Research

non dues revenueThanks to the utilization of environmental scans and industry assessments, UMA  board leaders & members identified opportunities for their firms to increase value to their customer base. The addition of makes it easier for buyers to find charter buses that best suit their needs. Today, both domestic & Canadian DOT registered bus companies utilize the platform.

In this instance, UMA’s data driven approach highlights the importance making these connections before the Association’s dollars are invested.

Results matter:

  • The web based platform drives a daily average of “150 requests for quotes.”
  • More than “130,000 group planners outside the U.S. visiting the site.”
  • 100,000 plus travel planners visit each month to identify and secure tour bus operators.

Wanting to extend its member reach globally, UMA also partnered with the National Travel Association.

ROI or Distraction

Member insights and marketplace intelligence can lead to the establishment of “core connections.” For instance, the platform measured against the core connection definition is a valuable member resource because it’s linked to established UMA business member priorities.

The fact that this offering provides $1.1 million in non dues revenues for UMA confirms ROI and, reinforces the strength of the core connection to member business interests.

Association Develops $1.1 Million Non Dues Revenue Stream

With boards insisting upon new revenue growth, a comprehensive data driven & core focused approach could uncover the right opportunity for an organization.

For a free copy of the “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” eBook, request your copy at

non dues revenue