Trade and professional associations present plenty of promotional possibilities.

Before “white collar” jobs existed, trades and tradesmen were the professionals of the world. Early trade organizations were guilds, which morphed into today’s trade unions and trade associations. With the evolution of the workforce and the expansion of education across Europe came new groups to foster and encourage professionalism and continuing education—professional societies. Among the earliest is The Royal Society of London, a national scientific academy founded in 1662 and still active today.

Association membership continues to grow; nearly half the 828 associations that participated in a 2016 Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) benchmarking survey reported an increase in member numbers over the previous year. Additionally, fewer associations reported membership declines from 2015 to 2016.

What drives professionals to join such organizations? Networking. The MGI survey notes that members want to network with industry peers; secondarily, they seek to learn and share best practices as well as pursue continuing education opportunities.

“Promotional products for an industry are always an opportunity for raising awareness,” says Dena Hirschberg, executive vice president for Chicago, Illinois-based supplier HHP/Helping Hand Partners.  “They are a great way to leverage a brand. When members use branded products, they are sending a message that the organization is something worth being part of.”

Michael Silverman of distributor SmithBucklin Promo in Chicago, Illinois, says one of the biggest uses of promotional products by professional groups is for partner engagement. “Often our clients buy products that are sponsored by someone else—perhaps a supplier in that same industry,” he says.

“Whether it’s a conference bag or a lanyard, our clients definitely want products that provide visibility. A quality conference bag that is attractive will prompt attendees to use it beyond the conference, providing maximum brand exposure for the association and its sponsors.”

Silverman, who serves as senior vice president of the association management and services company SmithBucklin, says most of his team’s communication is with the organization rather than the product sponsor, though the indirect process can sometimes mean a project takes longer to get approved. “We need to make the association happy, but we need to make the sponsor happy as well. [Association clients] have to make sure the sponsor is okay with how a product looks,” he adds.

Other opportunities for product-driven engagement include membership renewal reminders and event announcements, says Silverman. “With respect to a conference or event, they might use a creative product that’s associated with the location where the event is being held to serve as a save-the-date.”

Hirschberg says in addition to typical marketing strategies that focus on recruitment and retention, professional associations also look for ways to give back, and as a result are giving ethically sourced, socially-conscious gifts and giveaways—items that are a hallmark of HHP’s work, she says. “As a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, our mission is to provide sustainable livelihoods and job opportunities to people with barriers to employment. Socially responsible products boost brands exponentially, and what makes us unique as a supplier is what makes our clients unique as distributors.”

Hirschberg says one of the most important things a distributor can do when working with a professional organization is to become educated on the values and ethics of the group. Knowing this can help distributors differentiate themselves by offering promotional solutions that align with those values, she adds.

Silverman adds that many associations and professional groups may not have their own marketing professional, so it’s important for a distributor to come to the table with ideas. “We bring a lot of creativity and a lot of options to choose from,” he says. “It’s also important to understand—really well—the client’s in-hands date, because so much of what they do is event-related.”

Silverman says distributors need to make sure they can deliver on time; otherwise, “not only is the product unusable, you might also upset the client or the product sponsor.”

The Virage Rollerball pen is elegance defined with a matte finish barrel and polished silver accents. The subtle flares at each end make this black-ink pen stylish enough for any runway. Choose matte black or matte silver.

Cosmo Fiber Corp. PPAI 111334


Say you’ll be there for your members for years to come with the tear-resistant, water-resistant stone paper notebook. Made of a cardstock cover and filled with stone inner sheets—made from mineral powder mixed with a small amount of high-density polyethylene—the notebook cover can be customized with a full-color image.

Promobilia Corp. PPAI 210715


There’s no time like the present to give members a unique desktop gift like this magnetic sand hourglass timer. Flip the six-inch-tall timer and the fine metal filings work their way down to the genuine wood base with a magnetic disc, creating a uniquely striking, fuzzy-looking shape each time. Each timer is individually packaged in a clear display gift box.

Jornik Manufacturing PPAI 111065


Help young professionals realize their potential with a copy of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, discusses how our mindset affects how we approach success—at home, at school and at work.

The Book Company PPAI 218850


The good eggs in an organization deserve a quirky, fun-filled plush toy like this egg. It’s unique and unforgettable, and oh-so-huggable.

Artistic Toy Manufacturing, Inc. PPAI 110753


Recipients of the retail-inspired Ame & Lulu day tote won’t want to put it down. Made with 100-percent, 18-ounce cotton canvas that’s treated to repel water, the tote features a zippered main compartment with an interior and back zippered pocket. The roomy bag is available in eight patterns.

Kati Sportcap PPAI 113758



Take stock of the year ahead with a Year-In-View® horizontal format calendar planner. The calendar is made of heavyweight paper stock and gloss coated with a write-on/wipe-off surface. It comes with dry-erase markers and can be customized with two PMS colors.

TruArt Calendar Co. PPAI 113720


Reach for the stars with the COSMIC Poly Fleece quarter-zip. Made in unisex and ladies’ companion styles, the pullover is made of seven-ounce, 100-percent spun polyester fleece with a self-fabric collar and cuffs, side gusset panels and side-entry pockets. Choose from several color options and sides S-3XL.

America PPAI 351699


Help members keep track of luggage while they’re away at events with a colorful luggage strap that secures with a black snap buckle.

Fields Manufacturing PPAI 111951


Give sweet memories with premium chocolates or fresh-roasted nuts, packaged in a tastefully decorated gift box. Choose from five colors and 15-plus gourmet treats.

Maple Ridge Farms PPAI 114165


Set the mood with a clean-burning soy candle packaged in a sturdy zippered travel pouch. The travel pouch and travel case are produced by individuals in underserved Chicago neighborhoods. Choose from lavender, sea salt, citrus and mint varieties.

HHP PPAI 370596


Real-World Solutions From The Industry

HYPE (Helping Young Professionals Evolve) is an organization created by local chambers of commerce to welcome and support new and current young professionals in their communities by building relationships, gaining skills and knowledge and giving back to the community. One such branch was looking to add more members and held a recruitment event. During the event, the branch gave out the Ezra Canvas Media Case from Beacon Promotions to guests who renewed their membership or joined for the first time. The unisex, trendy media case with its combination of canvas and leather was well-received and is often seen being used by HYPE members.

Source: Beacon Promotions

Professional Organizations In The U.S.

Nearly 100,000 trade and professional organizations, classified as 501(c)(6) organizations, operate in the U.S.

Top 5 Professional Associations By Size

(Approximate Total Membership, 2016)

National Association of Realtors                                                1.2 million

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers                  420,000

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants            412,000

American Bar Association                                                             400,000

American Medical Association                                                    250,000

You’re How Old?

Halifax Board of Trade (Canada) – founded 1750

Chamber of Commerce, State of New York – founded 1768

American Statistical Association –founded 1839

American Society of Civil Engineers – founded 1852

American Chemical Society – founded 1876

There’s A Group For That

If a profession exists, chances are you’ll find an association for it. Some of the world’s lesser-known professional organizations include:

  • National Association of Tower Erectors
  • Potato Association of America
  • American Association of Candy Technologists
  • Can Manufacturers Institute
  • International Association of Youth Hypnotists