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IAA makes membership case as China opens doors

China’s opening and Asia’s rebound will help IAA grow, writes Sharon Desker Shaw

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Making a case for membership in industry associations is never easy. Industry executives are spoilt for choice, but starved for time. For the 66-year-old International Advertising Association, its 39th World Congress in Beijing in September -- dubbed "the Olympics of Advertising" by its new world president Michael Lee -- provided ample opportunities to make a compelling case for membership from what will become the world's second-largest advertising market. By hosting its world congress in the Chinese capital, the IAA has given mainland industry leaders a vivid snapshot of its capabilities, from its solid grassroots operations to its international network of 56 chapters in 80 countries, and its education and training initiatives. At a time when China is hungry for marketing expertise and knowledge as it prepares to fully open its US$12 billion-plus advertising industry by end 2005 as required by the WTO, the IAA offer is undeniably persuasive and relevant. In his welcome address, China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce minister Wang Zhongfu talked about improving the legal system for the advertising industry and strengthening its self-discipline -- efforts that could well benefit from IAA collaboration given the association's platform of championing advertising as a force for growth. "The IAA's mission is simple -- but it's not easy. Our mission is to promote and facilitate excellence and investment in global advertising," notes Lee. Indeed, the subject of self-regulation has become more pressing of late. In recent years, the industry's growth has been threatened by a variety of issues. Rising obesity rates have sparked concerns over the way food and snack firms advertise. Underlining the association's role in ensuring that regulation remains with the industry, Lee notes: "The IAA can be an effective, objective link between all sides of the industry. With food, children's and privacy issues, the IAA has considerable resources within its ranks to offer its views and submissions to supplement government views, and work with government, lobby and NGO groups." As Lee points out, the IAA is known for its participation in discussions on self-regulation and freedom of speech, championing the roles of advertising and responsibility in its 'Campaign for Advertising' -- the right to choose. There are firm plans to relaunch the 'Campaign for Advertising' next year, extending it to corporate social responsibility themes, according to Lee. "One of the IAA's traditions has been the premise that if a product is legal to sell, it must also be legal to advertise," he notes. "In today's complex world, any dogmatic, black-and-white premise is probably a bit too simplistic. But being practitioners in advertising, we see time and again that the basics usually win out. "Certainly, the basic principles of 'responsibility' and that 'good advertising is good' and 'good for business', contributes to, rather than detracts from society, is as important now as it has ever been." Its focus on China aside, the IAA is clearly keen to build on its accomplishments in Asia-Pacific, where the association has in the last two years succeeded in stopping the membership erosion that resulted after the late '90s financial crash sent regional economies into a tailspin. During the economic upheaval, a handful of Southeast Asia chapters either scaled back or went dormant. However, the launch of educational initiatives -- with severak planned for next year -- has seen membership ranks swell in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. "We have been consolidating and rebuilding," says Lee of the IAA's regional base, currently standing at about 500 members. "Several markets were losing members until the last year or so when we believe the effects of the Asia-Pacific initiatives began to show through." Adds Lee: "We are aware that the IAA, like many associations, has had to weather tough economic conditions in the industry all over the world, so I am very optimistic about the IAA's potential in Asia-Pacific." As he sees it, the Beijing conference has "energised a lot of people who want to contribute and make a mark".

This article was first published on Media Asia

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