Once again, our two largest trade associations, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association, are in discussions about a potential merger.
As you may recall, they held discussions in 2007 and came to the conclusion that a merger should not happen at that time. I was for the merger in 2007 and I support it again in 2012.
We have barely heard a peep from any of the parties about the process for the discussions or what rationale will be used to make a decision.
All members, which include trade associations, should have a chance to weigh in on the discussions, regardless of their role in the organization. While I hold the management and the boards of both organizations in high esteem, I am disturbed by the lack of transparency.
How about providing an overview of the considerations in this potential merger to members? Why not hold a straw poll or town hall meetings?
What they offer
It’s been stated that there has never been a merger of two equals. In this case, PMA is the much larger organization. It takes in more revenue, has a global reach and enjoys greater visibility with its annual trade show. United Fresh has demonstrated leadership in lobbying and educational programs.
The difference in scale of the two groups adds to the complexity. One could argue that United Fresh needs this more than PMA. I submit the sole guiding principle should be what is best for the members of both groups.
I suspect that one of the challenges in the discussion is that this merger has significant personal impact on the parties leading the discussion.
Will I lose my job? Will I still have my board position? Who will lead the new organization?
I have been through some significant corporate change in my career. I can’t imagine how I would have fared in the process if the decision were left to me.
In the end, I endured a great deal of change in my job, and much of it I disliked. My intent here is not to question the integrity of the people involved in the evaluation process. It is only to acknowledge how difficult it must be for them.
Transparency and focus on the guiding principle will be the key.
The main arguments for the merger include improved efficiency, increased depth in key areas and cohesion of strategy.
The key argument I have heard against a potential merger is that two organizations serve different member groups with differing needs.
Efficiencies are a key opportunity.
Headcount and other overhead easily come to mind. What about the cost incurred by members with trade shows, sponsorships, educational programs, dues and more?
With the growing strength of the regional trade shows, do we really need United Fresh’s May show? Most attend to support the organization, but the value is far less than we are getting from the Fresh Summit or the regional shows.
We are inundated with requests to join associations and support various initiatives like the Foundation for Industry Talent, Washington Public Policy Conference, Produce for Better Health Foundation and others. The competition for our money is at record highs just within our industry.
We are just spread too thin.
The industry as a whole can benefit from a more focused investment strategy in organizations and initiatives. This merger should result in lower cost to the industry. Some of the savings should be invested back in creating stronger advocacy and educational programs.
Lobbying and educational programs are key member benefits of both organizations. With the growing legislative interest in fresh produce, we must have one clear strategy with best talent working together.
Developing a cohesive legislative strategy is a must. Did the industry really benefit from PMA’s increased lobbying efforts? Or, did we duplicate expense and fragment our message? United Fresh is serving us well in this area.
On the educational front, I see plenty of synergy created by assessing the training needs of the industry and building a program. Some elements of both organizations could be included yet I do feel there are some gaps and overlap.
Could one organization offer a more cohesive training strategy? I think so!
The argument that the two associations serve different members is questionable as many companies belong to both. I also believe that the industry is best served with one position that has considered the input of all links in the supply chain for a cohesive stance on issues like food safety, traceability, immigration and trade policies.
We should aggressively debate within the organization, but the external position should be unified. Occasionally, there may an issue where we differ widely. If needed, companies can reach out to their regional or commodity organizations for help. We need to work together to solve the big issues.
A recent Linkedin poll by The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst shows 80% in favor of the merger.
While far from scientific, I do believe the results reflect the overriding sentiment of the industry.
PMA and United Fresh, it is time.
Don Goodwin is the owner of Golden Sun Marketing, which specializes in providing strategy and marketing services.
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