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What I learned from creating Europe’s largest marketing trade body

In 2015, I oversaw the merger of two leading industry bodies in the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing (IDM) to form a new organisation to promote the highest standards and professionalism within our sector. One of the main drivers for this coming together was the opportunity to form the largest marketing trade body and provider of specialist qualifications in Europe. This offered revenue diversification for both businesses, of course, but the central belief that best practice and skills development should be aligned within the same organisation was key.

Prior to merging, there were already a host of synergies between the two organisations and regular contact points. For instance, many of the experts training students within the IDM were also active participants in the DMA’s councils and committees helping to protect and further the industry’s best interests. This certainly helped.

One of our keys to success was continuing to evolve and grow these connections and synergies between the businesses after the merger had taken place. Initially, the teams were based in different locations which meant creating space and then encouraging staff from both sides to operate from a unified location. To help with the transition we hosted a series of formal and social networking events to give the staff opportunities to meet and get to know each other.

Ultimately though, we brought both teams together in one location at DMA House in Central London. The efforts prior to this relocation, alongside the redevelopment of our central office space to meet the needs of the new organisation, made the move relatively seamless. Once in a single location, the organisation was better positioned to align the brand, culture and objectives. By their very nature, these issues can take longer to bring together, especially when you have two businesses with such a rich history.

Part of that process was also the opportunity to create a new brand proposition to better meet the needs of our fast-changing industry and growing membership. This took us longer than we’d initially hoped – thanks in no small part to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force and the preparation required for our industry – but we launched our new name and brand earlier this year, which was very well received by our community and the wider industry.

The Data & Marketing Association, as we are now known, incorporates learning, talent and membership divisions under a single entity – and the new name. The rebrand also fit our ongoing mission to be the most customer-focused business community and the leading voice for intelligent marketing. The DMA integrated DMA Learning, powered by the Institute of Data & Marketing (IDM), and DMA Talent into its proposition.

With our new classroom to boardroom mission, we’re able to nurture the next generation of aspiring marketers through DMA Talent, educate marketers through our world-renowned Institute, guide and inspire leaders and influence our industry based on our people first, customer-focused principles. The integrated approach we have empowers member organisations, IDM professionals and the broad array of talent coming into our industry to responsibly produce more value for customers through intelligent marketing, creativity and accountability.

In an industry that is constantly evolving and innovating, our journey is never truly complete though. We continue to work with our members and the wider industry to ensure we are offering value in everything we do. If I was to offer myself one piece of advice before we started this voyage, it would be to look at the opportunities across the businesses more closely. For instance, one key challenge we’ve faced has been adapting our learning proposition from the individual marketer to a corporate audience. This has taken longer than anticipated, although GDPR also delayed the process, so I would suggest thinking and starting this process even earlier than we did. You can’t start planning for the future early enough.

Ultimately though, just as our Code of Practice preaches the importance of the customer, the success of the merger is down to communicating it clearly and transparently to our customers. That’s both our members and the staff that have worked diligently to get us to where we are today. By putting the customer and people that make up your organisation front and centre of every decision you make, you should never veer too far from the right course.

Chris Combemale – CEO of DMA

Chris is the CEO of the Data and Marketing Association. He has over 35 years of experience in Europe, the USA and Asia/Pacific including senior roles at agencies, brands and marketing technology companies. In addition to his commercial activity, Chris has taken a lead in industry issues including legislation, best practice and education. His industry roles include being Co-Chair of FEDMA, Chair of the JIC Mail board, and seats on the boards of the Advertising Association, Asbof and CAP.