From AMC tot AMS and back: an eye-opener for association management professionals
Last week 2Mpact organized* an event in Brussels with representatives of several European countries. What was set out to be a meet-up of AMC’s (Association Management Companies) turned out somewhat differently. Although everyone was professionally linked to association management, the companies they belong to mostly were no established AMC’s as such. Notwithstanding this, the event resulted in an interesting discussion and exchange of ideas and best practices on managing and servicing professional societies and trade associations. It definitely shed an eye-opening light on the concept of the AMC as a mature and well-defined business model in the association industry.
Before going further into this, we need to go back to the reason for existence of associations. If not promoting and organizing the sector, they tend to jump in where other organizations fail, or where it is unlikely for individual companies or professionals to play it solo slim. In the United States associations take on a lot of social functions that are not provided by the public authorities (e.g. social security, insurances, loans,…). Together with the advantage of big numbers, resulting in bigger resources, associations are in need of firm management: hence the opportunity for companies with high-level experts to provide a one-stop-shop solution (the so called AMC’s). It is an approach that has landed in the Brussels European and International association community and in some countries, like the Netherlands.
A lot of other European countries on the other hand, as we learned from the participants, tend to have a different approach to association management. This is not just the case for those with only recently evolving ‘civil societies’ (e.g. in former East-European countries); other countries have competing ‘mechanisms’ or traditions to organize sectors and markets (e.g. the obligatory membership of a Chambre of Commerce in Austria). Finally, specific needs of associations have triggered specialized services within existing companies: e.g. events and PCO’s, lobby /advocacy and PA-agencies, CPD and training companies. As became clear, there is a lot of association management going on, be it more as supporting association management services (AMS) than strategic, full-service association management (AMC).
Nevertheless, when confronted with the extra potential of looking at association management from a clearly defined business model (e.g. the Pyramid-model presented by Tim Van der Rijken of Berenschot) and keeping in mind the unique selling proposition of an AMC as explained by Alfons Westgeest of Kellen Europe, all participants were excited by the insights for their own companies. Not only to get the basics right for their clients, but more importantly to create unique and added value for their own business environments of PCO, PA-agency and so on. And for the AMC’s present: they were reassured that association management – AMS or AMC – is facing a promising future.
* supported by Atrium Group and Kellen Europe (who also hosted the event at their offices)