When Two Heads Becomes Better Than

A frequent theme in our blogs is the desire to see what the for-profit world of corporations is doing and how it can be applied to the not-for-profit and trade association world.  Our conversation with Mary Coppola, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at United Fresh Produce Association provided us the perfect opportunity to explore yet another example of this.

This year the Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association agreed to a merger per a press release issued on March 31st to “create a new global trade association combining their resources and expertise to enhance member services, increase advocacy before government and the public, help members grow their businesses, and drive consumption of fresh produce and demand for floral products as a vital cornerstone of public health.”

While the focus of our conversation with Mary centered around marketing, and more specifically BrandStorm™ and the “sound of marketing” as Mary put it, we did dive into this topic of the merger.  With successful properties like BrandStorm™, we can see why PMA might have been interested in working together with United.  Mergers and acquisitions happen all the time in the corporate world, but we do not see this same activity in the association world, and one must wonder why not. Further, why was it not used as a tool for saving a group’s mission during the time of COVID-19 when several associations simply went out of business?

Let us dive into how PMA and United talked about the benefits of combining to create a new global trade association.

Enhance Member Services.

There may be some overlap of member companies in both organizations but the ability to pool assets and broaden the aperture of resources available can only lead to increased engagement with members.  From being able to broaden appeal to global businesses, to sharing more content and education, the offerings are sure to contribute to a more connected community and diversity of thought, resources, and people will naturally follow. 

In the corporate world, member services might translate to product attributes or benefits. For instance, when Google purchased Nest, it was able to expand the offerings of both companies by combining and leveraging the capabilities of both technologies.  New customers and retained customers alike were then able to enjoy the home hardware with increased data and analytics to turn the technology into smarter devices for increased safety and efficiency.

Increase advocacy before government and the public.

In a global market and sometimes volatile international trade environment, it is critical to have representation in all corners of the government and public alike.  Combining the efforts to assure the industry is operating in a compliant but mutually beneficial way is paramount to the success of the members.

Not unlike the automotive companies coming together to be a shared voice in the progress of addressing the emissions issues, associations can create a powerful bloc without jeopardizing profits.  Unique to the association world is that competitors might be fighting to gain market share of like-minded members but traditionally they are servicing these members in common ways.  If the missions remain focused on increasing the success of their members, combining can only strengthen this position.

Help members grow their businesses.

The shared mission to be a resource to a community of businesses in the same trade or industry naturally creates alignment around the financial achievements of said organizations.  An alliance between competing associations can only strengthen the tools they are able to provide to their member companies for success.

Think of eBay’s acquisition of PayPal.  PayPal was already seeing success in creating financial freedom for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs but one day they received an email from a customer who asked if they could use the logo on their eBay account to show they accepted this form of payment.  A conversation ensued and over the next months both eBay and PayPal saw the benefit of bringing to bear the individual strengths of their organization for a powerful growth in the e-retailer profit.  By combining the platform for small resellers to reach audiences with a personalized payment service has changed the face of e-commerce and opened the industry up to more innovations.

Drive consumption of fresh produce and demand for floral products as a vital cornerstone of public health.

Finally, we get to the way Mary really contributes to members’ success through her work in leading the marketing and communication efforts of United Fresh.  The creation of the powerful BrandStorm™ program brings the only industry-wide initiative and conference that specifically focuses on helping producers build powerful and engaging brands.  Additionally, there is a significant push in the programming to promote the greater good through consumer advocacy with nutrition programs and non-profit affiliations, and United Fresh’s own Foundation. When these two organizations combine, they will be able to capitalize on all marketing assets to build an unstoppable voice for health and sustainability which would only be compromised if they were competing against each other for share of voice.

In the corporate world, consider the collaborations occurring across auto makers and battery component companies.  These mergers not only allow for shared intellectual property and resources but also a strong message to the public at large about the need for making our climate cleaner.  The shared capabilities of both marketing teams can assuredly add to the broad reach and loud shared voice.

To merge or not to merge?

Not every trade organization needs to double up with their closest competitor in the market but when it makes sense to create a powerful force for the betterment of the industry and its members, associations should pursue and be open to all conversations.  The corporate world offers a proof of concept for creating efficient, strengthened, and mutually beneficial conglomerates that spur innovation, profits, and customer benefit.

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