President assesses the new CMA

'If you only look ahead to the mountain left to climb, you sometimes forget to look back at how far you've come,' reflects Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) president and CEO John Gustavson. ...

‘If you only look ahead to the mountain left to climb, you sometimes forget to look back at how far you’ve come,’ reflects Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) president and CEO John Gustavson.

It’s been over two years since the 34-year-old industry association dropped the ‘Direct’ portion of its name as part of a broadened mandate to focus on all forms of ‘information-driven marketing’. It was the association’s belief that direct and traditional marketing disciplines were morphing together as marketing organizations adopted an increasingly integrated approach.

Since then, the organization has revised many of its public policy issues and much of its programming to reflect the shift beyond direct response, says Gustavson. And while it’s still ‘a work in progress,’ he adds the newly restructured association has been an interesting, if not exemplary, study in re-branding.

Roughly four years ago, in an effort to maintain the rapid growth in revenue and membership it had been experiencing, the CMA struck up a task force to examine industry and member trends. The list of predictions made by the task force – which included, among other things, the importance of branding, the convergence of marketing disciplines, the convergence of technologies, and the continued importance of customer relationship marketing – would ultimately dictate the future direction of the association.

‘We realized that if we were going to continue to be successful, we were going to have to change along with our members,’ says Gustavson. ‘That task force was quite prescient in terms of what it predicted for five years out.’

Part of the discussion soon became whether or not the name reflected this new ‘broader response to the changing marketplace,’ he says. So with a majority of members in favour of a name change, the organization called for suggestions.

‘We got 47 different suggestions. My favorite was the Strategic Marketing Association of Canada, or SMAC – president of SMAC had a certain ring to it,’ laughs Gustavson. ‘In any event, we did more surveys, as well as a branding exercise and out of that came the sense that there was no ‘Canadian Marketing Association.’ We represented the cutting edge, the largest marketing or advertising association in the country, so why not take the name and grow into it?’

And grow into it they have. Last year alone, the association set a record for new membership revenue. The CMA currently counts 800 corporate members across Canada, including some of the country’s top financial institutions, insurance companies, retailers, charities and e-businesses. (Of the total membership, close to 70 per cent are marketers and the remaining 30 per cent, agencies and other suppliers.)

‘Our revenue has gone up 500 per cent in the last decade – not bad for a trade association,’ says Gustavson.

‘But there’s always a challenge to make sure you are doing what the members need and want. It’s a little like running for election each year. We have to prove ourselves and our value every year to our members, who vote every year by signing a cheque.’

Recently, as part of its ongoing restructuring, the CMA reorganized its councils and education programs to reflect the changing needs of the marketing community. Instead of focusing on specific industry sectors, the councils are now set up to zero in on marketing disciplines (branding and strategic planning, integrated marketing communications, customer relationship management, not-for-profit and database and marketing technologies) and channels (contact centre, direct mail and e-marketing). The number of councils has also been reduced (from 14 to eight), as has the number of breakfast and lunch events, although the CMA still hosts approximately seven one-day conferences, 20 break-fast and lunch events and 12 seminars each year, in addition to its RSVP Awards show and the national convention.

‘There’s no right or wrong to this,’ says Gustavson. ‘This structure is new and different and we’re going to try it. At the end of two years, we expect to have some measurable results. If we don’t, we’ll rethink it, but we’re optimistic that this can work.’ He adds that transition of any kind is always a challenge.

Take the struggle the CMA had in the early days of its re-branding exercise.

‘We had to make sure that the interests of those members who helped found the association were not abandoned, and at the same time, show big brand advertisers and those involved in new technologies, for example, that we were necessary to protect their interests. We were straddling the fence in some ways, but it seems we’ve come along quite well.’

A lot of the association’s programming still focuses on the direct discipline, says Gustavson, if only because general marketers are focusing more and more on measurable results from their marketing.

‘But the number one issue right now, based on what we’ve heard from the board and from members, is trying to integrate all these new channels and disciplines into a cost-efficient, profitable way of marketing goods and services.’

He says that issue will be front and centre at the 2001 edition of the Canadian Marketing Assoc-iation’s national convention and trade show, which gets underway May 8 in Ottawa. At that time, Gustavson also hopes to reveal parts of a recent repeat survey (the first was conducted in 1998), which asked members what they were most interested in and

what they think of the association’s changes.