Interview with judge Dr Gerd Gotz
Dr Gerd Götz, Director General, European Aluminium
Dr Gerd Götz has been Director General of European Aluminium since 2013. Based in Brussels, the association represents more than 80 members with 600 plants across 30 European countries from all parts of the aluminium value chain. Here he discusses how to successfully lead a vital European association.
What are the most important issues currently facing European associations?
In today’s world, being active in Brussels alone is no longer enough. Many policy areas associations are working on have an increasingly global dimension that requires collaboration and advocacy on a macro-scale. Trade, intellectual property and climate change are just a few examples.
The forces of globalisation are of course not limited to policy. Many companies have an increasing share of their business in foreign markets or are part of a large international group which can potentially cause conflicts of interest. For example, the policies pursued by a national association to which a subsidiary belongs may be at odds with those of an international association to which the parent company belongs. Similarly, the interests of a regional SME might be completely different from those of a large corporate member. Building consensus between national associations and international actors is crucial because national associations can nudge their governments to vote a certain way, which helps to build a qualified majority or blocking minority at key stages in the EU decision-making process.
Another critical issue is the increasing importance of building alliances and coalitions with other affected stakeholders. When it comes to high-level cross-sectoral issues, EU policymakers expect stakeholders to come back with unified proposals rather than being asked to arbitrate different policy recommendations. In addition, EU policy-making is increasingly evidence-based so policymakers tend to favour stakeholders that can supply the industry data that underpins their policy recommendations.
All these issues demand much more coordination between European, international and national associations and their members as well as other stakeholders.
What advice would you offer associations on how to overcome these issues?
I would advise European associations to have a more macro-view of their sector and work closely with their international counterparts. As an industry with an international pricing system and closely interlinked value chains, we are greatly affected by global trade developments, and thus we often collaborate with our counterparts across the globe. To give you an example, we recently organised an Aluminium Summit together with our sister associations from Canada, the United States, and Japan to call G7 leaders to provide a multilateral response on aluminium overcapacity.
To build consensus amongst its membership, associations should involve national associations in their campaigns from the very beginning, organise regular alignment calls and meetings and jointly create content where possible.
Establishing alliances and coalitions comes down to building personal relationships with other stakeholders and being willing to share intelligence on common issues. And of course, an open mind goes a long way in finding common ground with partners outside the traditional realm of associations.
When it comes to data, European Aluminium has a dedicated data and statistics team that collects and analyses data from our members monthly. Of course, not every association has the resources to do this in-house, in which case I would advise them to commission a study with a reputable agency or pool together resources with other stakeholders.
How have you successfully maintained and grown your associations membership?
To maintain the membership, it is of course important to know inside out what is going on in Brussels, to write dossiers and share insights in a way that is easy to understand for people living outside of Brussels. At the same time, it is equally critical to know and understand industry and business directions and needs. Both dimensions are the most important ingredients and filters for a clear, transparent and relevant strategic agenda.
Do regular reviews with your membership, ideally based on KPIs, enabling you to validate any progress made that has been earmarked as top priority. Keeping a sharp focus sounds like an empty business motto but it is still the recipe to meet expectations and to add value. Satisfaction surveys with your membership are helpful indicators as well. We do such surveys every other year, helping us to identify and eliminate blind spots.
When it comes to growing the membership, one must start doing some homework. First step is to create the long and short lists of those potential targets still missing. Second to prepare sound arguments why to become a member. Third to go out and present your portfolio and track record as a business case. Peer-to-peer support has proven to be extremely helpful to get connected.
What commercial projects have really assisted in this?
We don’t run commercial projects, but we want to deliver added value and exclusivity with each activity of our agenda and portfolio. So far, we have made very good experiences with this concept.
How has digitalisation impacted your association, both the work you do and how you engage with members?
Maintaining visibility is essential to safeguarding an association’s place at the negotiating table and digitalisation is one of our tools to achieve this.
We are very active on a number of social media platforms and constantly invest in the creation of new video’s, infographics and other shareable content for social media which will help us stand out from the crowded Brussels environment and allow pressed-for-time policymakers to grasp our policy issues in a short time frame. This year, we also created the first digital version of our annual activity report. By going digital, we reflect our industry’s commitment to sustainability and can reach a wider audience far beyond our membership. In addition, it provides a more interactive experience, leveraging all the multimedia content we have developed over the year.
Digitalisation is also key in strengthening our relationships with members, who are based outside Brussels. Members will always have varying levels of interest in and capacity for collaboration so the easier you can make working together, the more likely it is that your efforts will come to fruition. That is why we launched a new extranet for our members which connects our database – contacts, documents, meetings – with our members. It is a powerful tool for communication and its efficiency, supports and enhances the collaborative relationship between the secretariat and members. We also send out weekly and monthly newsletters to the full membership. Our statistics and surveys show that many members have come to rely on these tools to learn about our activities and the latest policy developments between our calls and meetings with them.
As a judge for the 2019 European Association Awards, why do you feel awards schemes such as the awards are valuable for associations?
Awards bring you out of the ivory tower and smack into life. Awards offer benchmark opportunities. They can add an extra dose of motivation to the team, ideally even creating special camaraderie. They help to reflect, prove ambition, and the will to win. And if all goes well, they give broad recognition. Hand on heart: who doesn’t want to win an award?