Does membership matter?

There are now a number of associations serving our industry. You see their logos everywhere. You receive emails and newsletters from them. You attend their trade shows, and in many cases you pay to join them. But what do you get in return? We approached four of the major players in the market and gave them the right to reply.

An industry trade group should serve the interests of its members, but what does that actually mean? How do you successfully serve the interests of such disparate groups as consultants, manufacturers and integrators and are the bodies that purport to serve the EMEA AV industry actually doing so?

One of the criticisms often levelled at such bodies is that they are US- or UK-based and fail to offer members outside of those places the same level of service that those in their home markets receive. Another accusation from members is that associations with mixed membership serve one group of interests over another. Are simply acting as an agency to put large numbers of integrators in front of manufacturers whilst expecting them to pay for the privilege?

If you are a member, are you really getting your money’s worth? Many memberships don’t come cheap, especially if you are an SME. On the other hand, if you aren’t getting the most from your membership it might not be the association’s fault, do you know exactly what’s on offer? These organisations weren’t created to run trade shows named after themselves. They existed before and, as at least one of these bodies has proved, they can exist afterwards.


The National Systems Contractor Association describes itself on its web site as “The leading not-for-profit association representing the commercial electronic systems industry.” Interestingly it is alone in the bodies discussed in not limiting its scope to the AV or related entertainment industries, including all low-voltage and electronic systems in its remit. It is based in the USA and according to Executive Director Chuck Wilson its membership is split approximately 65% contractors and 25% manufacturers with the remainder being an even split of consultants and sales reps.

“Our big mission is education, what we do that is different to anybody else is focus on the technical training needs of our members. We look at it at entry level, from the first day a guy turns up on the job, right the way through to a 30-year veteran of the industry. We look at how we can update and enhance their skill-set to be relevant to the technology that’s out there. We spend a lot of time with manufacturers looking at their products to see what kind of technology is in them, and then compare them with the knowledge that technicians have and put together and education package to bridge that gap if there is one.”

But why talk to a body that at the moment claims only 50 or 60 member companies outside of the USA about the EMEA market? Well, NSCA has ambitions. One of the things it does very successfully in its home turf is put together networking and learning opportunities for its members and now it would like to bring those to Europe

“We’ve just starting exploratory exercises in Europe,” said Chuck “trying to figure out as an organisation what the needs are over there. We don’t want to duplicate what PLASA is doing, or what InfoComm or CEDIA is doing over there. That’s what I’d like to hear from people, including your readers, is there a need for a trade association to serve the industry? I think NSCA would be well placed to fill that need and offer in Europe what we already offer thousands of our members in the USA.

“We do a lot of work on advocacy, on initiating good practices and standards for installation as well as providing advice for members on running their businesses. However, if we came to Europe we’d want to be invited to the party. We would want our European members to lead a European organisation just turn up as an American one.”


InfoComm International calls itself the leading non-profit association serving the professional AV communications industry world-wide. With 4,200 member organisations it’s certainly the largest body around, with members including manufacturers, integrators, architects, designers and even students. In the USA it has a successful and established training programme in the shape of the CTS scheme and of course the InfoComm Expo, still the world’s biggest AV show. But what does it offer to its members in EMEA?

InfoComm has probably been the most high profile organisation in spreading its message abroad. The CTS scheme has been successfully running in the UK for five years now, and when InAVate spoke to Terry Friesenborg, VP of international development earlier in the year he talked enthusiastically about InfoComm’s efforts to grow its training offering into the non English speaking world. To that end InfoComm recently completed its first courses in German. However that’s just the start for InfoComm: “The truth of the matter is that we have to develop trainers who are native speakers of German, French, Spanish and so on.” Having such an established programme of education and certification in the USA also means that there’s a lot of material that needs adapting for local markets.

However as with all not for profit organisations, even very large ones, InfoComm is reliant on local partners, volunteers and the goodwill of members in its efforts to move forward. It is making inroads though, the advent of its AV/IT course, which got its first European airing at PLASA, demonstrates its intention to develop.


CEDIA stands for Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, and among the bodies discussed here it is unique in being focused solely on the residential market. Although it was founded in the USA in the 80’s CEDIA also has regional administrative offices in Australia and the UK, each serving their respective regions. Slightly bizarrely, the UK office has responsibility for Europe, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and India. Wendy Griffiths, Executive Director of Cedia Region 1 as it is know, was asked how a not-for-profit body based in the UK can hope to effectively serve members as far afield as Mumbai, Moscow and Manchester.
“It’s difficult being a not-for-profit trade association, we have to concentrate our efforts where the funding is coming from. And it’s only within the last couple of years really that we’ve seen interest coming from outside the UK. Up until now we’ve not really had the membership in these areas to get the momentum going. In order to understand the territories we need a dynamic, active member who understands the CEDIA ethos in the region to help us learn the market, organise events and with translation.”
However, CEDIA is progressing outside of the UK. Early this year they held an event in Switzerland, with assistance from a couple of local parties and attracted over fifty visitors to the training event. Last December in South Africa there were 80 attendees to a similar event.
The organisation’s main focus is also training. Through its Electrical Systems Professional (ESP) programme, it aims to drive higher standards in the residential custom installation sector. It’s worth noting that CEDIA is designed as an inclusive body, you don’t need to be a member to undertake the training courses, but members can do so at a subsidised rate, as well as receiving preferential prices for attending CEDIA other conferences and exhibitions. Apart from education, CEDIA’s other main effort is put into helping the fledgling industry put down strong roots.
“We’re also trying to provide our members with recruitment assistance. A survey we recently conducted said that the majority of our members will try to recruit at least one member of staff this year. We now have a section on our web site, where people hoping to break into the industry can upload their CVs for prospective employers (our members) to look at.”


The Professional Lighting and Sound Association was founded in London and is primarily concerned with providing its members with advice on all business, technical and regulatory issues, and to ensure that no member is left without answers when they need them. To support this process, they also provide a comprehensive online advice centre.
Ruth Rossington is the organisations Executive Director: “We currently have just under 530 members world wide, of these nearly half are manufacturers but in recent years a growing number of service and installation companies have joined the membership and we now represent over 50 installation firms. As part of our efforts to more effectively serve our membership outside our core regions we have extended voting rights to all our Business Members world wide. Our hope is that this will lead to a stronger dialogue with international members so that w can review the services we offer and develop them to reflect what the market needs.”
But what do you get for your money as a PLASA member?
“For a relatively small monthly fee, they have access to a team of people – corporate advisors, employment law specialists, solicitors, technical experts, health & safety specialists – who will do all they can to ensure they get industry-relevant information and advice.” States Rossington.
In the UK at least, PLASA is also at the forefront of trying to develop industry qualifications. They have chosen to use the NVQ (national vocational qualification) route for a rigging certificate and are also working on similar schemes for the Audio and AV installation sectors. Whilst this is a UK only qualification, the organisation does claim that it has attracted significant interest from elsewhere in the world.

Education, education, education:

The common concern all of these associations is that of disseminating information to its members, whether it is on issues of corporate operation, training or legislation. However, they are all somewhat limited in their efforts by their status as not-for-profit organisations, much beholden to the good will of their wealthier or more proactive members in order to deliver services such as localised training to the rest. That’s not to say that they do not run profitable divisions. Until very recently all of the above bodies were the owners of successful trade shows, although NSCA has recently merged its event with InfoComm to concentrate on more focused training and networking dates.
Despite the best efforts of trade associations, for members based outside the core territories it’s probably fair to say that it’s not a case of asking what your industry can do for you, but what you can do for your industry.

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