Q. How many members do you have currently?
A. Almost 200. Members are exhibition design and build contractors, industry service providers and suppliers. They range from large international organisations to one man operations, but more than 70 per cent are smaller companies with an annual turnover below £2 million.
We are moving to a single harmonised membership fee in 2010 of £1,400 per annum, which brings us to the position of one company, one fee, one vote. Our membership procedures are rigorous, which means we occasionally turn potential members down until they fulfil the requirements. These include proof of trading history and suitable insurances. Details of membership applications are posted on our website, so any issues can be raised. In this way, the members themselves help maintain the quality standards of the association.
Q. ESSA was born out of the AEC and BECA merger, how did that impact member numbers?
A. The merger resulted in an increased combined membership, but some companies were members of both, so there was some rationalisation. Over the past 18 months we’ve seen some companies merge, cease to trade and leave due to changes in the direction of their business. The merger raised questions from both sides and the only practical way to address them was to jump in the car and discuss issues face-to-face. I travelled the country explaining exactly what the merger meant, what members would get and how the new association would deliver benefits. It helped to gain member commitment. Since the merger we’ve seen a regular influx of new members and, now that we can show tangible benefits, we expect this to continue.
Q. What have been the key achievements of ESSA to date?
A. There have been many, but these are the most significant:
• All members with an outstanding appeal against their inclusion in the CITB -Construction Skills training levy have been declared out of scope. This has meant huge savings for these members, some of whom had appeals outstanding for years. We have developed a procedure to allow members to ascertain if they are liable for the levy and, if not, how to prove it. One company has just joined ESSA for this specific knowledge and support alone.
• We bring together the industry’s most influential people at the G50 Conference to discuss issues and propose solutions. The third G50 will be held on 30 October 2009.
• We are developing working groups to look at issues affecting members and develop new initiatives. Issues addressed to date include electrics, standards and logistics. The sustainability group is developing practices to make event management as sustainable as possible. The new group focuses on communicating the value of ESSA members to end users and providing tools to market these benefits. One member has already been asked to provide proof of ESSA membership before being included on a tender for an overseas exhibition stand.
• We have launched ESSA Answers, a panel of volunteer member experts who advise other members via our website.
• We have maintained all core services previously provided by both merged
associations. For example, members can still call the ESSA Hotline for support from our health and safety expert, which is cost effective for smaller member companies, who would otherwise have to bring in an external specialist.
Q.How do you provide a voice for your members?
A. We communicate with our members via e-newsletters, quarterly newsletters, regular drop-in sessions on the exhibition floor and the ESSA website.
Externally, we are strengthening our trade media presence and as part of the EIA, are working to promote and protect the industry as a whole. We are currently developing communication activities and resources for members to reinforce the benefits of using an ESSA member when procuring services. In part this is being done through communication to end users, local authorities, government departments, local development agencies, regional development agencies and other strategic bodies. Our goal is for ESSA to become a prerequisite of the buying decision providing the benchmark of service standards.
Q.What are members’ key issues?
A. The issues most commonly raised are those which reduce efficiency or hamper members’ efforts to deliver a quality service. Every minute has to be productive and we are working with the other associations and their members to streamline processes, harmonise standards and help all parties free up as much time and creative energy as possible to deliver the best for the end customers.
We are also working on some exciting new resources to target the organising community and support members in their sales efforts.
Q.Why should a company join ESSA?
A. There are different reasons for joining. For design and build contractors, it’s likely to be the ESSA Bond, a guarantee of completion of an exhibition stand. This has been retained from BECA and has proved an asset when tendering for contracts. Others want direct access to a wide network of industry colleagues and potential customers. But, most importantly, people should join because ESSA, through its working practices and associations, delivers practical benefits to its members.
Q.What are your members’ biggest issues with venues and organisers?
A. The most common concerns include a lack of understanding and appreciation of each other’s roles in the market. Costs and margins are a continuing issue, especially now when members have to justify costs that are beyond their control to end customers. More specific and recurr
ing topics are consistency of standards and procedures, general costs of exhibiting in the UK, electricity and internet, late working and protection of the UK market.
Q.What are your future goals?
A. In the next 12 months we will work towards achieving parity of voice with our partners in the industry and so continue to represent members’ interests.
We want to increase membership despite a constricting economy and increasing buyer demand for ESSA membership to support our members’ sales efforts.
In the long term, we will be working with all parties to promote, protect and grow the industry as a whole.