What is the point of a trade association?

They are the lobbying bodies du jour. The modern day equivalent of the traditional craftsman's guild. But how useful are trade associations really, asks Oli Christie, CEO and founder of mobile games developer Neon Play...

by Oli Christie
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

In the run up to the Budget 2012, it was evident that trade associations were vying for space in the broadsheets in a last ditch attempt to convince policymakers that their respective industries were worthy of support and investment. Now, as they move into the consultation periods that will make or break their proposals, it seems a pertinent time to ask: just how relevant are trade associations to UK businesses?

The video games industry, of which my company Neon Play is part, is represented by a dedicated trade association named TIGA. It too joined the pre-Budget scrum for coverage and put forth media-friendly evidence about what the UK games industry needs from the Government if it is to continue to create innovative products for a competitive global market. The global industry has been turned on its head in recent years by the regional and national tax breaks offered to developers and publishers in countries such as Canada, France and the USA, making tax breaks a pivotal talking point in our industry.

Although the sense of community within the games industry is strong, realistically we would not have had the resources to fund the numerous detailed research reports and publications necessary to drive such a campaign forward. Nor would we have had time to adequately petition and converse with the Government, parliamentarians and policymakers, convincing them how these tax breaks can benefit the industry and the UK economy at large. This is where a trade association comes into its own. So far, so good.

But there are challenges ahead. Just as businesses have to adapt to rapidly changing markets so too do trade associations. Trade associations have often come under attack for being self-serving. Membership charges are deemed questionable at a time when businesses are finding their finances stretched and so much business advice and industry information is available online for no charge at all. Much like the advent of the freemium business model – prevalent in the mobile games industry – it appears that a something for nothing culture has arisen in which everything is expected to be free. Yes, you can find valuable information online, as well as network with fellow professionals, and if it works for you, great. But perhaps a minimal membership fee, used to fund reports, publications, events and more, may be prove more valuable in the long run.

Fortunately, for my company, the games industry has shown itself to be one of the few recession-proof industries out there. But for industries that have suffered through the recession, trade associations might end up being a key weapon in the arsenal on the fight back to the top. It is often up to industry to lead governments on how best to invest and support businesses and trade associations can represent the varied views of its members while presenting a strong and unified front. That is the point of trade associations.

Oli Christie is CEO and founder of mobile games developer Neon Play

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