Association Proliferation: Welcome to Alphabet City

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You can be forgiven if you can't precisely remember the difference between the OPA and the IAB. Or the DMA and the DAC. Or EEC and ESPC. Or WOMMA and OMMA. And, while we are at it, what exactly is a MAAWG? And isn't OLGA the name of someone you'd go out to dinner with?

Gone are the days when a business could belong to one or maybe two trade associations and feel that it was covering the market adequately. At Return Path, association dues devour an astonishing, and growing, percentage of our marketing budget.

At last count, we belonged to no fewer than 10 organizations or associations. The dues of each individual organization are reasonable. But with so many groups that we think we must belong to (hey, if your competitors are there, shouldn't you be, too?), the invoices start to add up.

Of course, it doesn't stop at the dues. There are events and attendant sponsorship opportunities. Not taking part in these activities makes your initial investment far less effective, but taking part it increases your overall spend. And though the best events show positive ROI in the form of new business and better client relationships, the math is still squishy enough that it can be hard to know whether you are spending as well as you could be.

In any case, for most vendors in direct marketing, dollars into associations means dollars away from search, e-mail, advertising, public relations and other marketing tactics that might be more productive and certainly more measurable.

So OK, there are too many associations. Now what? There isn't an easy answer. Each organization plays some role, if an increasingly small one, in fostering a better understanding for interactive direct marketing practices. Just getting rid of half of them won't advance the industry - which still desperately needs advancing.

The good news is that people are recognizing that a problem exists and are addressing it. These people include, actually, me.

I've been working with the DMA [Direct Marketing Association] for a while as chairman of its Interactive Marketing Advisory Board to improve its own value proposition to interactive marketers, but also to think about creative ways that we can collaborate with other associations. Stay tuned for more on that front later this fall.

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