Why so many communications experts lead trade bodies

Gavin specialises in headhunting leaders for trade associations and professional bodies.

There is an increasing demand for communications professionals to be involved in the commercial development of organisations. Previously seen as a limited specialist role, the comms function now reports directly to the CEO and often has a seat on the executive committee – which means greater exposure to, and influence over finance, strategy, and business decisions. Boards of listed companies are looking at a successors ability to manage reputation and communicate effectively and, while there’s a slower take up here, opportunities for comms professionals will increase.

This evolution of the role has been influenced by the digital revolution and the speed in which news – both real and fake – can be spread. This has led to an increasingly complex commercial environment for businesses; regulatory demands have grown, and scrutiny from external and internal stakeholders has become more intense. Reputation management has never been more important – over the past ten years we’ve seen numerous examples of business share prices being impacted negatively because of poor relationship management on the part of the chief executive – so there is an opportunity for communications professionals to step up, particularly in trade associations.

Advocacy is naturally at the core of a trade body leaders’ role. Managing the board of a trade association is a unique position because the board members are not paid to be there, and the CEO doesn’t have normal control and influence. Trade associations offer communications candidates an excellent opportunity to run a business and speak on behalf of an industry. The requirements of the job are very similar to a senior corporate communications position. You have to listen to, amalgamate, and manage the views of a complex group of internal and external stakeholders. Members are not in a hierarchy – in fact, they are in competition with each other in the marketplace, so the chief executive has to be collegiate. An authoritarian manner doesn’t work. You must develop policy positions that meet members’ needs and deliver value, whilst executing campaigns that achieve the set objectives and refereeing any arguments around these positions. And all the while motivating staff and colleagues within a fast-moving and changeable environment.

Not all trade bodies offer comms professionals an interesting career avenue but those that are involved in shaping external environments can be an excellent fit for those with influencing and lobbying skills.

Get in touch with one of our team to explore how a communications function could benefit your business, or if you are looking for your next role check our job board for current vacancies.

Ellwood Atfield specialises in communications and advocacy recruitment with offices in London and Brussels. Many of our clients are trade bodies and we have placed the CEO of the Management Consultancies Association, Executive Director for the Institute of Masters of Wine, Chief Executive at The Confederation of Passenger Transport, and the Director General of the Joint Council for Qualifications. We are currently running searches to appoint the Chief Executives of The Betting and Gaming Council and the British Beer and Pub Association

Ellwood Atfield founder and director, Gavin Ellwood, spoke to Caroline Poynton of CorpComms Magazine for the November/December 2018 edition. This article is based on their discussion and the key findings of the piece.

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