There’s no doubt about it, the outlook for marketing professional bodies in the aftermath of the 2008 recession was pretty bleak.


The European Marketing Confederation, Europe’s largest marketing membership organisation, explores the importance of self-reflection in achieving organisational transformation, in their latest blog.

Coporate marketing budgets were slashed, salary increases were but a distant memory, and many marketing professionals faced the prospect of redundancy.

As a result, additional costs for things such as professional memberships (often paid for by employers), became a quick budgetary win.

30 years ago, 80-90%[1] of income at professional bodies came from their member subscriptions, but in the aftermath of the recession, membership rates dropped dramatically – particularly amongst corporate members and the ‘millennial’ generation.

The post-recession years bore witness to many the demise of a professional association – marketing or otherwise.

This led many organisations to go back to basics in terms of membership proposition, whilst student numbers declined and uptake of training/qualifications reduced dramatically.

However, for others, it proved transformative – and in the most positive of ways.

Faced with income from subscriptions at just 44% in 2015, diversification of income source became a strategic must.[2]

But what else did professional bodies have to do to transform themselves from surviving to thriving?

The first step in the process was self-reflection, followed by a period of repositioning.

Only by understanding where the organisation was at and what issues it was faced with, could the necessary steps be taken towards self-improvement.

Why did their organisation exist? Who were they there to serve? What was their offer? Were they a membership body, or a professional body? How representative of their sector were they?

What many professional bodies realised during this time of self-reflection was that, over time, they had become irrelevant to many of their members.

They needed to refocus and drive more value than ever out of their membership offer.

To help improve this, many focused on clarifying their proposition to help them find their voice and their true audience.

For some professional bodies, this meant completely redefining what business or sector they were in, or creating new strategic partnerships.

For others, it was about creating a range of membership grades to help attract a more varied membership base.

In recognition of the digital transformation going on around them, many committed to a digital transformation to help move their organisations online.

Ultimately, it was about taking stock and those that did are now reaping the benefits. However, professional bodies aren’t out of the woods yet.

The biggest challenge for professional bodies today, is how to retain the membership that they’ve worked so hard to build, and how to ensure that their proposition remains relevant for both their ageing and millennial populations.

Whether faced with a challenging future or not, it’s important for any organisation regularly to sit back and take stock of its approach, positioning and target audience.

Markets and audiences evolve and professional bodies, like any organisation, need to ensure that they keep pace with the changing face of their profession.

[1] PARN Professional Sector Review 2017

[2] PARN Professional Sector Review 2017