4 June 2020

Associations during COVID19: organised, solution-oriented and visible. Part 2

Associations work hard for the interests at stake in their sector. They are visible and seen as the expert, or in marketing terms a 'thought leader' in their field. In part 1 (of 4) of this series you can read more about the role of associations during the corona crisis. In a series of several articles, association managers, relationship managers and office managers of Lejeune Association Management tell their story about their role as a representative, the relationship with policymakers and media, communication and secretarial support. But also how they experienced this role during the changes that were necessary in this Corona crisis. In part 1, Hans Koning and Astrid Lejeune talked about their experiences. In part 2, Hans van Schaik and Jules Lejeune tell their story.

Associations during COVID19: organised, solution-oriented and visible. Part 2

Hans van Schaik
Association management advisor Royal Kartoflex, Folding Cartonboard Platform Netherlands, European Paperboard Packaging Alliance, Eurowaxpack

After the intelligent lockdown on 15 March there was uncertainty and indistinctness. Members had a  lot of questions about the do’s and dont’s concerning health. How should I deal with my staff, how do I guarantee their safety in the workplace? But also how can we continue as a company? Do we supply products to essential processes? What happens to customer orders? Will raw material deliveries continue and can we continue to deliver to our customers? An avalanche of questions. From the beginning, it was a journey with progressive insight in which we joined forces within the association.

Compared to other industries, the members of the associations I work for the financial impact doesn't seem invincible. Several of our member companies supply the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry or they supply products related to hygiene or medical applications. During Corona, these product segments will continue to grow or demand will even increase. This compensates for sales in segments where demand has decreased. 

Personally, I noticed that I was closely following all the information available about Corona. A lot of insights and messages are published by the government and umbrella organisations. That's good, but at the same time it's also an 'information overkill'. It's up to me to filter this information on relevance for our members. But also to think along with them and advise or consult where necessary. We called a lot of people, sent newsletters and organised interactive webinars. Everything to gather as much (practical) knowledge and tips as possible to help each other by sharing this information.

The current corona measures are less stringent. This offers opportunities for the first face-to-face meetings. However, I think from now on meetings and gatherings will continue as a standard in a hybrid form, physically complemented by many web meetings. As a result, there will be more frequent meetings, the pace will be stepped up and we will become more effective.

The world has changed because of Corona, but in the meantime the train rumbles on at several fronts. ‘Brussels', for example, is coming up with far-reaching policy plans and regulations on sustainability/greening. In 'The Hague', people are on the lookout and are now considering the Pension Agreement. Meanwhile, it's time to see what the impact on the economy is. The question is whether responsible decision-making is now possible.

The key word at the moment is uncertainty. Especially in this day and age it is important to continuously acquire, share and support each other within the association.

Jules Lejeune
Association management advisor European label industry association FINAT, PayChecked in Transport Foundation, Dutch Textiles Recovery Association VHT

A lot has been written by my three colleagues about their experiences, and mine run parallel to this (see also my earlier blog). It seems to have been centuries ago when I attended the board meeting of an international client in Amsterdam on February 25th and there the first reports about the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak in Northern Italy seeped through. With just one more week to go until the first 2020 event of another international client, FINAT, in Barcelona (with accompanying board and committee meetings and participants from all over Europe) I decided to contact my president.

At that time, the seriousness of the situation was still incalculable, but the fact that several cruise ships and a hotel in Tenerife had been quarantined made us think. A day later the virus also appeared in Barcelona. What to do: let the event go ahead and take the risk that almost 200 participants will be locked in a hotel for two weeks, or on their return infect their colleagues at home (with the risk of crippling an entire industry); or cancel the event with the risk of substantial (because not claimable) cancellation costs at a time when there was no 'Pandemic' declaration from the WHO?

In the end, the latter option was chosen. Three months later, with today's knowledge, this seems a matter of course, but at that time the consideration was one of ratio versus emotion. The collective mind (fortunately) won. Thanks to the cooperative attitude of the congress location and the realization among the members that they are co-risk bearers of THEIR association, the damage for the organisation has remained limited for the time being. 

The future: 'hug-hungry' and 'web chat

In spite of the physical distance, the association's bond with its members has only grown closer since then. Just before the outbreak, who would have predicted that the share of Zoom Video Communications would rise from $105 on February 24th to almost $225 in early June? Internationally, more and more meetings were already being held by phone and more recently by video, but since the lockdown, national associations have also found their way to video meetings. Our online conference rooms are occupied full time. Even now that there are again limited physical meetings at our office, I expect this trend to continue and the unifying process will increasingly become an alternation of 'hug-hungry', meet each other live at set and predetermined fixed times including additional relationship management, and 'web chat', in which, depending on the need, contact is made at (very) short notice to create goal- and task-oriented things from behind one's own screen. For the latter, the former will always remain essential.

In general, I see examples all around me about the crucial role that associations and professional societies have played in managing this crisis as an industry. One simple example, having just returned from my hairdresser after my first haircut since the 2-months’ lockdown. As a small business owner he expressed his appreciation of his trade association ANKO’s efforts to not only prepare the ground at government level for the reopening the shops a few weeks ago, but also providing guidance on measures to safely do so. “I pay € 700 in annual membership fee and in return receive all kinds of discounts and benefits, but this was the most valuable return on investment from membership I have had so far.” 

If you want to read part 1.? Click here.

If you want to read part 3.? Click here