Needed: Association Consolidation To Drive Industry Collaboration

It’s not your father’s media business anymore. For a lot of us, it’s not ours either — or at least the one that we came of age in. Whatever your sector, the business models are overlapping fast. And it will keep going this way, because we’re all rapidly habituating to an on-demand, multi-channel standard.

See it, click it, get it. It’s a faster life.

That’s redefining the business of everyone in the delivery chain. What used to be in print now has to be in every format, and all channels have to support that same impulse in an interconnected way. Whether they’re selling dishwashers or tractors, marketers need to know every possible channel and how to mix them for a surround sound effect.

Content needs to be tailored not only to channel, device and individual, but also to different points in the purchasing funnel.  Because we as individuals think differently on iPads, on Web sites, at events, reading magazines, watching TV, or pulling data from subscription services.

Simultaneously, there is increasingly room for only one primary media brand in a particular segment. To overcome the horizontal search impulse that is now ingrained in all of us, a media brand must be able to provide all aspects of that surround sound effect. That means making deep vertical expertise available to us on every format.



Media companies increasingly need to reach their audiences through advertising supported media, subscription information and paid content, face to face events, and via an explosion of devices and technologies. With the knowledge that only a database of audience activity across platforms can provide. Ultimately, it’s the knowledge created from the database that will make the media company irreplaceable to the marketer.

Media companies are adopting information products. Events businesses are becoming media companies, and information companies are becoming both. To a marketer, they’re all ways of reaching audiences and, increasingly, supplying the data their companies operate with. So success isn’t just about what we can create; it’s about how we collaborate. It’s more effective to combine premier assets in an integrated solution than it is to create them from scratch, particularly when critical components must come from other disciplines.

We’re heading toward a wave of association consolidation. It’s inevitable and it’s important.

It’s inevitable because business models are overlapping, so more companies need access to ideas, information, resources and people outside their silos. It’s a simple matter of supplying what customers demand.

It’s important because associations are the mechanism through which top executives can understand the models – and meet the players – they need to create complete solutions. At their best, associations should be the nexus of creative labs and cauldrons.. Nowhere is this truer than in the media world.  

My own association, ABM, is merging with the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) for this reason. And other industry segments can benefit from similar association consolidations. If you go onto, and watch the videos of CEOs in Leading Opinions, you’ll notice they’re talking about inescapable truths that apply well beyond B2B.

Industry executives are confronting increasing complexity, which they have to figure out in less time. They need more support from complementary businesses to keep their customers satisfied. Yet they have less time to devote to developing foresight and connections by participating in association meetings. That’s a prescription for fewer, bigger, more diverse associations, following the same integrated model that’s remaking marketing itself.

Last year, ABM and SIIA staged five events on paid content and business information. Anybody in that space had to decide which one or two to attend. By creating shared events, we can get deep, broad and specialized, and attract all the A players. It’ll be substantially more efficient for businesses to learn, do professional development, figure out what works, and gain speed to market in launching new products. And we can still field the narrowcast conferences for micro players.

Some have suggested that the merger with SIIA seems “far afield” and ask why not other publishing or pure media groups. The answer is a simple one: More people just like us won’t help us incorporate the new technologies and create the new models marketers are demanding. Creating the intersection of all of these channels plus the related technologies will unlock the business models of the future.  We can protect much of the value of the independent club while bringing together all the components of a hyper-connected industry.

By doing that, traditional players in the media and information space can become their own disruptors. And we can do it with marketers at the table, so we end up creating services with real value. In the process, we can transform without having to go through the valley of death that newspapers and music are enduring.

To support this level of change, an association has to speed up its members’ learning cycles. New approaches to product, talent, technology and service development have to happen in days and weeks, not months and years. That’s possible when power players are brought together to share in real time.

Neither the realities nor the solution are unique to B2B. The same pressures are bringing together TV, mobile and social sectors. As they do, the associations that serve them will have to come together in new ways to mirror where the industry is going rather than where it has been.


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