Lobbying really matters for Brussels trade associations. There are around 1,200 Trade and Professional Associations with a Brussels office employing around 5,500 people with public affairs responsibilities. The author has written extensively on the ingredients of the Best Associations in Brussels in reports including ‘Key Success Factors for European Associations’ and ‘High Performance Secretariats’. Our research shows that achieving favourable EU policy outcomes is the primary expectation of the vast majority of European business association members, even ahead of promoting an industry and its reputation.
Most European associations are set up so that they lead on EU issues, but are restricted to lobbying the EU institutions in Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg, rather than contacting policy-makers in Member States. Our research identifies the importance of: keeping ahead of regulation; making timely decisions; conveying clear messages; teamwork between members and secretariat; building coalitions; and targeting the right audiences. These are all areas where external advisers can provide valuable support.
Typically, the best associations have excellent people within the leadership teams of their secretariats, at the level of Director General, Director of Communications, and Head of Regulatory or Public Affairs. Working together they communicate effectively internally and externally, and deliver favourable policy outcomes for their members. Behind every great leadership team should be a high performance secretariat, supported in many instances by first class public affairs and legal advisers.
Association expertise exists in all of the consultancies and law firms highlighted in BestinBrussels.eu; from the boutique firm Gibbels Public Affairs and their award-winning work for the European Small Business Alliance; to some of the largest such as FTI Consulting and FleishmanHillard.
Many groups employ external counsel for specific aspects of their public affairs activities, while some associations and coalitions are actually housed and staffed by consultancies and law firms as their secretariat, providing services from accounting to governance beyond the normal scope of the regular work of lobbyists.
An association management company (AMC) is a professional service company that specializes in providing management services for associations on a fee-for-service basis. AMCs provide the professional staff, administrative support, office space, technology, and equipment an association needs to operate efficiently. The global AMC Institute advances professionalism and high industry standards for association management companies, representing over 180 association management companies that manage over 1,800 associations. There are three members of the AMC Institute in Belgium – Cambre, Interel and Kellen.