Trade bodies have hit the headlines. From the Radio Advertising Bureau's announcement of its merger with the Commercial Radio Companies Assocation last week, to the challenges and changes at one of the new kids on the block, TV's Thinkbox, they are under the spotlight of the sector they cover and the wider media world.
These organisations are all about finding common cause and persuading rivals to work together for the benefit of all. For them, life can be all about lobbying government and regulators, or running competitions for creatives, or establishing research programmers to get planners onside and holding summer parties.
To find out how they measured up, in their members' eyes, Media Week sent out a questionnaire to well-informed individual members of each body - at least five for each media - and analysed their answers about what's been good and what needs attention. The results highlight their successes, as well as the many challenges they and the media industry face.
RADIO ADVERTISING BUREAU
Digital and analogue radio
Last week's announcement that the RAB is to join forces with the Commercial Radio Companies Association reflects that the medium is going through a tough time at the moment.
For years the RAB has been cited as the model of the ideal trade body, but with the medium on the back foot, it is evolving.
Nick Hewat, sales director at Virgin Radio, acknowledged: "The RAB has been rightly hailed as having done a great job in conjunction with the radio industry since its formation in 1992. However, in any market place, first mover advantage can be quickly eaten away, so it is essential it maintains its standing by continuing to improve its relevance to advertisers."
It's noticeable that many of radio's major players did not want to participate in this survey - sent out before the latest merger development. Some critics argue the RAB should be articulating a new vision for the radio business. "I think the issue for the RAB is the radio industry was on a roll for a long time and the RAB played a big part in that. What it hasn't worked out is how to deal with the fact that radio isn't seen as such a glamorous industry at the moment," said one veteran. Stan Park, chairman of Radio Works, added: "GCap's been in a mess and audiences have been in decline and there's been a division on the way forward for digital as well." However, there have been successes. In particular, two studies - one with the OAA and one with the IAB - have highlighted radio's role in a mixed media schedule, and UK Radio Aid Day - when national and regional stations suspended their schedules to create a 12-hour star-studded special - was an example of a medium that can clearly work together.
Response: The RAB declined to comment.
Influencing sentiment is not just a 12-month task, noted one of the Thinkbox respondents. The youngest of the eight trade bodies arrived with a bang, but has lately found itself generating the wrong kind of headlines.
It started in 2005 with a new website url and an event, the Thinkbox Experience, a new showcase for TV. Suddenly, rival sales directors were talking with the same voice - something that had seemed impossible only a few months earlier.
Recently however, the organisation has become more noticeable for the career paths of its board members. Its grassroots work with planners, while essential, hasn't had the same impact on the headline writers.
The score from respondents shows that its members feel that, while much has been achieved in the launch year, there's still work to do.
"With all due respect to the RAB - invariably held up as an example of what can be done - their success was from such a low base that they were almost bound to make progress. The objectives for television are far less about education and much more to do with stressing the range of possibilities open to advertisers," said John Lewis, head of sponsorship at Five.
Members also called for a greater focus on the commercial possibilities outside traditional spot advertising.
"Having established 'base camp', Thinkbox now needs to push on to the next level. This will involve engaging advertisers and agencies in bespoke conversations about their issues and concerns," said Jeremy Tester, director of insight at Sky Media.
Response: Under new chairman Andy Barnes, 2006 promises to be busy for Thinkbox. The organisation will be revamping its website with additional content, adding information on non-conventional use of TV, with DVDs showing planners how to target groups that don't fit into the buying audiences, as well as a key piece of engagement research.
"The first year was all about launching ourselves and doing that in a very public platform," said marketing director Elizabeth Kesses, who has been seconded from The Ingram Partnership.
INTERNET ADVERTISING BUREAU
As the trade organisation for the fastest-growing advertising medium around, rivals might snipe that the IAB has something of an easier job than others.
Nevertheless, members single out the IAB Engage conference in November, at which Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke, as a particular achievement for chief executive Guy Phillipson, who arrived at the organisation last January.
It also teamed up with the RAB to do joint research on multimedia schedules. A new five-point plan, introduced in April, has been welcomed as illustrating the way forward, according to one key member.
"With the simplified five-point plan and orientation towards advertisers, I believe we're on the right track," the member noted, echoing other praise for the IAB's more focused agenda.
But another member called for "more compelling, better articulated reasons to switch more budget to digital, and more studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the medium in an integrated context".
Other issues raised include the need to highlight activity outside the main portals and a plea for more research.
However, there's general agreement that a powerful trade body can help online grow its share of revenue faster than otherwise by attracting money from outside the medium, as media companies tend to focus on "intra-media selling".
Response: "The IAB has come a long way in a short space of time," says chief executive Guy Phillipson. "We have a number of research initiatives and collaborations in the pipeline that will provide advertisers with even more evidence that online is an engaging and effective marketing medium. The IAB will be at the heart of driving new advertisers online and helping existing advertisers get more out of the medium."
NEWSPAPER MARKETING AGENCY
If it's research, a website and meetings with key stakeholders you want from your trade body, then the Newspaper Marketing Agency has been pressing all the right buttons.
Simon Barnes, commercial director at Independent News & Media, praised a string of initiatives, including the "press advertising effectiveness" evaluations, dinner debates with client/media and creative agency personnel and senior journalists and the creation of four generic category brochures - "some of the highest quality work I've seen".
He added: "Its website is powerful and a 50% increase in traffic last year suggests that it delivers."
Another senior member acknowledged: "The NMA's engagement with clients, planners and creatives is creating talkability around the medium."
Going forward, there are pleas for a greater sharing of case study knowledge, as well as further work to isolate the impact of press in online transactions. "We need research to prove ad messages are received in the paper and that transaction only takes place online," said one sales boss.
This year has also seen the arrival of the Awards for National Newsaper Advertising (ANNAs) to encourage creatives to work on press. "The creative awards have done more for papers in the creative agencies than anything else for decades," said another.
It is, however, a long-term project to change perceptions of the ad community, as reflected by one mid-market comment. "I think they've done a lot with a very small team. Fantastic from a PR point of view. But have we seen a whole shift of money into the sector? The jury's still out."
Response: This year's research will incorporate an online element, says chief executive Maureen Duffy, adding that one of the most unsung and effective things the NMA can do is help develop creative for newspapers.
"It's an area that most senior clients are most fascinated by. Clients want to know what questions I can ask to help (creative agencies) produce better work."
NEWSPAPER SOCIETY REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS
The Newspaper Society is one trade body with a wider function than simply promoting the advertising benefits of the regional press.
That's reflected in the recent highlights mentioned by members, including lobbying on the BBC Charter and the impact of the Olympics Bill.
The importance of this role was reflected in the comments of Sir Ray Tindle, owner of Tindale Newspapers and former NS president: "It can, and does, place our industry's needs before government and public bodies and can influence decisions in a way that no individual newspaper could."
Tim Bowdler, chief executive at Johnston Press, added: "It's more a case of maintaining the high standards which it has achieved, in as cost-effective a manner as possible."
Areas for action however, include the perennial issue of ensuring London media buyers understand the local newspaper market and improving the medium's media profile.
"This year we need to spend more time getting across to young London media buyers how much the local press is part of people's lives and is therefore, trusted and very effective," said Robin Burgess, chief executive of CN Group.
And John Robertson, deputy chairman of the Newbury Weekly News Group, called for extra investment in the effectiveness research programme "to demonstrate to the industry its members' total domination of their local market place".
Response: David Newell, director of the Newspaper Society, swears to the organisation's 100% commitment to ensuring agencies understand the power of regional press, both in print and online.
"We have a major piece of research launching in April, which examines the way that people use media, and a further advertising effectiveness studies later in the year. Our marketing team is talking to agencies to help them use the regional press as an advertising medium."
OUTDOOR ADVERTISING ASSOCIATION
Outdoor and ambient
Highlights for the OAA include its recent tie-up with the RAB promoting the benefits of using outdoor and radio together, as well as a TNS study on the impact outdoor can have on sales. It has also set up a working group focusing on digital outdoor media.
David McEvoy, marketing director at JCDecaux, said its key role is to communicate the social changes that benefit the business. "The challenge is to ensure we communicate the cultural changes that are occurring in society and how they are affecting and influencing communication planning. This is where the OAA can and does make a difference."
Another senior executive praised the organisation for its performance on a budget that's a fraction of that available to the RAB or NMA. "I'd like the OAA to have done more. However, I think they have achieved more than expected within the constraints of their relatively small budget and staffing," he said.
But there are also concerns. Too much time is spent dealing with stakeholder issues rather than "customer-facing initiatives", said one respondent.
At the same time, the dominant role of the five major contractors in funding the organisation means some of the smaller players feel left out, even if they agree with the agenda.
Response: "Over the past three years, the OAA has increased and widened the membership of the organisation to represent the enormous number of exciting opportunities that now exist within outdoor," says chief executive Alan James. "In this time, membership of the OAA has increased from 17 to 50 companies. This 'wide church' approach has led to the creation within the organisation of the Digital Outdoor Media Group, specifically tasked with promoting the digital screens sector."
PERIODICAL PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION
Like the Newspaper Society, the PPA has spent much of 2005 lobbying hard against changes to the competition rules governing distribution.
"They have performed extremely well in the joint initiative with newspapers, covering threats to the news distribution system," said one senior magazine boss.
Marketing-wise there has been the Advocacy programme, as well as the Magazines Uncovered trilogy, bringing ROI thinking, readership accumulation and recency theory to the fore for planners.
"I believe the PPA's marketing of magazine advertising is streets ahead of where it was a couple of years ago," said James Papworth, group ad marketing and strategy manager at IPC Media, reflecting the comments of many.
But, he added, with so much information now in the vaults at Queens House, they need to let people know about it "The PPA is stacked to the brim with thorough, thoughtful and useful information. It's just a case of letting or getting the right people to be aware of it and use it."
Members want to see more attention focused on the ad marketing issues after intensive and much-praised work on the lobbying side. This year, the PPA will be hosting the FIPP Business and Professional Conference.
Response: The PPA is reviewing its marketing activity with the aim of tweaking the approach for the autumn, according to deputy chief executive Nick Mazur.
"At the moment, we are reviewing all our marketing activity both in consumer and business-to-business. It's something you've got to do all the time, because you're there to serve your membership."
ASSOCIATION OF PUBLISHING AGENCIES (APA)
Members of the APA (part of the PPA) are bullish about the work the organisation and its director, Julia Hutchison, have done so far.
Recent highlights include the launch of the APA Advantage Study, a research benchmark conducted by Millward Brown to provide analysis of the effectiveness of customer magazines across a variety of sectors.
Like the PPA, it has also been involved in lobbying the Royal Mail on its new pricing structure.
Perhaps the ultimate seal of approval is that the members have recently voted through a substantial increase in fees to enable the APA to do still more.
The Advantage Study received particular praise from members, with Sean King, commercial director at Square One Publishing, noting: "This has not only brought about a sharp increase in companies now looking to launch their own customer magazines, but also, crucially, it has demonstrated the medium's effectiveness to those clients who also have their own publications."
Mark Jones, editorial director at Cedar, echoed many respondents, claiming the on-going challenge is to move the medium up the agenda. "They can never do enough, but they've done more in the past year than in the previous 10 years put together," he said, adding that potential improvements would be to "do more to get customer magazines up the food chain within client companies".
Response: APA chairman Jason Frost says the aim will now be to focus on new challenges such as "developing our creative reputation and finding ways to make sure that editorial communication is in every marketing director's thoughts".
Hutchison adds: "Our key target this year is very definitely marketing directors. We've got the tools now to convince them about the effectiveness of the medium, which we didn't always have before."