There are multiple benefits to being a member of an industry association. And not just for yourself. Being a member also benefits your professional peers – especially those who are less experienced – and the (relevant) profession itself.

Importantly, and this is intrinsically salient for public relations professionals more than most other professions, being a member of an industry association is at least partially a selfless, sharing, positive act.

All about me

Okay, so let’s start with you, the centre of your world…

Being a member of an industry association is an indication to others that you take your profession, and by extension your career, seriously. It says you:

  1. care about your profession
  2. value continuing professional education
  3. are in touch with contemporary developments in your field.

This engenders respect from potential direct employers and recruiters. It may even be the difference between you getting a role and not getting a role. Let’s face it, who would you rather employ, someone who ticks points 1, 2 and 3 above or someone who doesn’t?

Getting a job (and even building a career) is a competition. Are you a winner or a loser?

Any good industry association will have the continuing professional education of its members as close to its highest priority. There is a good reason for this: unless you keep up to date with developments in your profession then you will not be the best possible practitioner you can be.

Your potential, simply put, will not be realised without ongoing professional education. It’s your choice. What makes most sense to you?

In the public relations context, the Public Relations Institute of Australia provides education to its members in the form of seminars, conferences and e-newsletters, whilst the Australian chapters (NSW and Victoria) of the International Association of Business Communicators provide seminars, discussion papers and a magazine. Both have a library of resources accessible to members.

Being a member provides you with a plethora of networking opportunities. Why is this useful? Well, it provides an opportunity to promote yourself: the ‘Me brand’. You can:

  • meet potential employers
  • meet recruiters
  • meet peers who can tell you about new opportunities
  • learn from your peers and event presenters
  • put forward your own ideas to engage with and impress people (thought leadership), potentially leading to new opportunities and professional relationships. These may not benefit your career in the short term, but that is irrelevant if you are in your industry for the long term.

Industry associations, as noted above, communicate with their members in a number of ways. By exhibiting thought leadership through articles and/or seminar presentations you contribute, you are once again adding equity to your ‘Me brand’.

The more individuals that join an industry association the stronger it can be. The more funds it has allows for the generation of more frequent and higher quality resources. This is to your and your peers’ collective benefit.

These resources often include recruitment services and mentoring services (and whilst both help practitioners get jobs, the latter helps enhance practitioners’ ability and self-esteem).

The power of numbers can also help industry associations gain greater respect for the industry through forums such as the media and government (the latter helping impact on regulation). The former, in the instance of public relations, should help raise the profile of the industry and increase respect for it, thus potentially making those who work within it prouder of, and happier to work within, their profession.

Another ancillary outcome of larger numbers in associations can be reduced prices for products and services for members that the associations can negotiate.

(Just for the record, I think the PRIA and IABC in Australia both do a shithouse job of gaining greater respect for the industry through the media and government relations. It is their major failing, as much as I advocate being a member of one or both of them for the plethora of reasons enumerated in this post.)

The final benefit I can think of to an individual for being an industry association member is being able to enter industry awards. If you do well in these there are a number of potential upshots:

  • Your self-esteem is enhanced
  • Your resume is enhanced, which leads to more rewarding roles
  • Your understanding of what best practice entails is enhanced and, if you use this knowledge wisely, you will become more proficient at your job.

All about your peers

Public relations, as a professional discipline, is analogous to leadership. Being a member of an industry association is taking a leadership position. It says you care about your profession and want to make a difference.

It says you are, at least to some degree, involved.

We make a greater difference when we are part of a team. It doesn’t mean individual brilliance or perspectives cannot be exhibited outside the confines of the team, but it will enhance the impact of both the individual and the team/group initiatives if both exist to their optimum level.

Being a leader, in this context, also says to younger and/or less experienced practitioners that you care about the profession and that attempting to excel is the only way to achieve the best possible outcomes. Not being a member of an industry association says you are self-centred to the detriment of the industry as a whole.

This is a particularly relevant perspective for those who are more experienced in their profession. It’s my belief that the greater individual benefits of being a member of the PRIA and the IABC are for those with less professional experience, but for the reasons I have just espoused, it is equally important for those who have been around the block to ensure they are members of an industry association.

Conclusion

There is an attitude amongst some people that they are too cool to join an industry association. This is a deluded perspective. The opposite is the truth.

I have benefited considerably from being a member of the PRIA, especially when I was a less experienced professional. I was mentored through PRIA auspices, have learnt a lot through events it has held, have met many professional peers who I have learnt from and formed rewarding professional and personal relationships with. I have also used its resources to help set up a freelance business.

Sure, being an industry association member can be frustrating at times, but it is a low-cost way of contributing to the industry as a whole and giving yourself opportunities for proficiency and career enhancement. It is up to each individual how passive or active they make their membership.

 What are industry associations doing right and wrong from your perspective? Where is there room for improvement? Please, share your thoughts.