B-to-b marketing leaders said the merger of the Business Marketing Association into the Association of National Advertisers will give a much-needed boost to the resource-strapped BMA.
At the same time, the addition of the BMA into the ANA will give ANA's b-to-b marketer members access to more events, content, networking opportunities and b-to-b expertise.
Under the merger, announced earlier this month at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference, the BMA will become a division of the ANA. The BMA board of directors will become the BMA board of advisers, and will continue to have its own chairman. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
B-to-B 'fell off the radar'
"B-to-b is a challenging area for the ANA -- it always has been," said Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA.
He noted that about 160 of the ANA's 630 member companies (25%) are exclusively b-to-b focused. However, "B-to-b fell off the radar at some point. In the b-to-b area, we felt we were underserving our members, and we have had a strategic goal of improving our focus in the b-to-b area."
While the ANA was thinking about how to better serve its b-to-b members, the BMA was trying to figure out how to grow its own organization.
"A couple of years ago, at the [BMA] board level, we were exploring strategic options for the BMA," said Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions, who served as BMA chairman for the 2012-2013 term and is still on the boards of both organizations.
"We were exploring how to grow as an organization providing better service within the b-to-b community -- should we do it organically or partner up with somebody," he said.
A year later, he was sitting next to Mr. Liodice at a b-to-b event in New York, and the two started discussions about merging the two associations.
"I always thought a marriage between the BMA and ANA would be ideal, bringing b-to-b and b-to-c together," Mr. Conrado said.
ANA brings significant resources
Steve Liguori, chairman of the BMA for the 2014-2015 term, said the merger made sense for both organizations.
"Our fundamental missions are very parallel," said Mr. Liguori, founder and CEO of consulting firm Liguori Innovation, and until June executive director-global innovation and new models at GE. "What made this so compelling is they have resources on a scale we could only dream of in the BMA."
The BMA has approximately 3,000 members, whereas the ANA has about 30,000 individual members, of which approximately 12,000 work at b-to-b focused companies. Fewer than 150 of the BMA's current members are from ANA member companies.
"The BMA has run for 92 years as an all-volunteer army, currently with one employee -- [Executive Director] Al Maag. In contrast, the ANA has [about 100] full-time people," Mr. Liguori said.
"Every time we needed to do something, we'd lean on the board. We had the passion to get stuff done, but we were really constrained by limited resources," he said. "Now we can sit down with like-minded marketers who come armed with significant resources."
BMA offers key assets
One of the BMA's chief assets is its annual conference, which has grown from just over 100 attendees in 2008 to over 1,000 attendees at this year's conference in May.
"The annual conference is an important tentpole for the b-to-b marketing profession," said Gary Slack, VP-professional development of the BMA and chairman and chief experience officer at b-to-b agency Slack and Co. in Chicago.
"Each year the conference gets more and more global," said Mr. Slack, who has served as the BMA's conference organizer since 2009. This year, attendees at the BMA conference came from 12 countries, up from eight last year.
"As we're able to tap into the ANA membership that is purely b-to-b, we could well see the conference grow by 50% next year," he said.
The BMA 2015 annual conference will be held May 27-29 in Chicago, where it has been hosted for the past six years. ANA members will be given a member discount to the conference, although the exact pricing has not been worked out yet.
Another important asset the BMA brings to the ANA is its local chapter structure, Mr. Liodice said.
"We do not have a local chapter system and the BMA does -- and they have spectacular b-to-b programming," he said.
The BMA has 17 local chapters, which put on events including luncheons, speaker events, networking functions and awards programs.
"We will get that level of direct event exposure, plus whatever content they have in the b-to-b community, which we will merge with our own," Mr. Liodice said.
The BMA publishes an online newsletter called BMA Buzz and other content on its website. Mr. Liodice said the ANA will begin producing a b-to-b publication next year, which will be available to ANA and BMA members. It will also add more conferences, webinars and other b-to-b content.
"This will give our members a larger opportunity to access terrific b-to-b content and best practices," Mr. Liodice said.
However, Mr. Slack noted there is a little uncertainty in the industry as a result of the merger. "It is such a big change. I think everybody, including people on the national board, feels a little trepidation – it's only human nature. We have to see how it plays out," he said.
"I'm as confident as anyone can be that within the first six months to a year, the BMA membership and chapter leaders will have every reason to be happy we went ahead with this."